E-marketing E-ssentials: Is Advertising Really Dead?

Jim Royce
January, 2008

Seth Godin, author of Unleashing the IdeavirusFree Prize Inside! and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, says when advertising is creating only noise, often the remedy is to create more noise to get attention. “When there is too much noise, advertising is dead.” He goes on to say that brands and ideas stand out when they becomes “remarkable” by virtue of their unique voice or natural ability to stand coolly above the racket. For Godin it’s like a long drive in the countryside, seeing one field of cows after another and in a flash one cow is “purple.” It provokes instant memorable conversation.

 “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” -Oscar Wilde

Ideas and products can become sticky in the consumer’s mind, but need constant refreshment to remain sticky. Apple’s iPod has been transformed into so many useful models over time that people keep talking about them and buying millions of new versions, including one packaged in the iPhone. If we had only the one original model, we would not be talking about it anymore.

Arts organizations, unlike Apple, are constantly re-inventing all their core products, not just upgrading them. Like Apple, arts managers must build and maintain strong brand images for their companies that say we’re capable of delivering provocative and engaging products. Every week we should say, “Pay close attention to what we’re up to and trust us to keep you excited.” Make your ideas sticky.

Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, speaks about ideas working like social or viral epidemics. They start small and grow because a few connectors spark something unique, but other people, mavens and salesmen, spread them to gain wider attention and “remark-ability.” It is the power of a lively context in which most people accept interesting products, events or ideas. Make those events gain stickiness and their attraction grows exponentially. Who are the mavens among your customers, and do you know what they are saying about your work? Can you help them in their conversation with others?

Gladwell also points out the power of snap judgment. In his more recent Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by saying we make decisions most often within a few milliseconds before we make a verbal or conscious one. We all make snap decisions occasionally to see a movie, an exhibition, or performance without knowing very much at the time of the decision. Everyone loves a surprise, especially if we can gush about it afterward.

I agree, advertising must be quickly attractive and provoke a glint at something remarkable almost before we know what it is. Advertising should then help organize a consumer’s thoughts to make decisions easier or to pass along, instantly and naturally. This is the new world of entertainment and arts marketing.

In the arts business, we’re well aware of the power of word-of-mouth. It is the most influential element for marketing the arts. Word-of-mouth marketing has only recently become a top priority objective with many Fortune 500 companies. Why? The consumer is in control.

“People love to talk. They may be talking about you and your stuff right now.” -Andy Sernovitz, Word of Mouth Marketing Association

People talk – sometimes to themselves – to each other for advice, confirmation, and validation before committing to a significant decision or purchase. Value is a centerpiece in the customer’s mind and confirming value is critical to the sale process, particularly for high-cost disposable-dollared experiences, like those in our arts industry.

A mere handful of people attend arts events alone. The vast majority purchase tickets to attend with someone else. The most exciting experiences are shared — between two people, among an audience and with those onstage. Word-of-mouth starts between just two people and explodes from there…or not.

WOM is more than just words transported from one mouth to another. We have word-of-e-mail, word-by-blog, by Facebook, text messaging, YouTube, online search, and reader reviews in newspapers and Web sites. Plus, people chatter about what they might imagine they heard. The landscape for social networking has dramatically changed the way people chatter and inform themselves.

Andy Sernovitz, founder and chief executive of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (take a minute to join at womma.org!), says, “Give people a reason to talk about your stuff, and make it easy for that conversation to take place.  It’s all about buzz-worthiness. Word-of-mouth marketing only works if you have good products and services. It works if people like you and trust you. So here’s the deal: You’re getting talked about whether you like it or not. The conversation has started, so you might as well get involved. The best part, I’m convinced, is the more we participate, the more the conversation grows, and the more it becomes about us.”

It is our responsibility to provoke the chatter. Make it interesting and remarkable enough to spread. Participate through advertising, blogs, social networking, and the creation of online content to help fuel the word-of-mouth. We’re in the business of providing experiences people want to be engaged in and talk about.

 “Deliver more than expected. Do no evil.” -Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google

 Imagine our delight if newspapers could tell us how many people actually read the “Sunday Arts Section” or saw our ads and “clicked” on them. The Los Angeles Times knows the total circulation for any day, but can’t tell us the average numbers of readers for any given section of the paper.

People who hear radio and television spots search somewhere else to get the phone number or check with friends before making the call. Most often the search is online. No wonder corporate marketers are moving advertising online — to be where the consumer is in search mode. (Special note: If someone is searching and can’t remember the name of your company or event title, what have you done to optimize your Web site for searchable keywords?)

Newspaper circulation is declining for papers that are not adapting to changing reader habits. Last night’s news was reported online last night. Why are we reading about it this morning, 12 hours later? It’s tradition. It’s habit.

Do we appreciate the points of view of a few foreign or national correspondents in our local daily paper? Of course we do. However, news and opinion gets richer and bolder with free online access to the New York TimesWashington Post,London TimesAl JazeeraChina DailyForbesBusiness WeekEconomist, and Kurdistan Times, anytime we choose.  Dependence on one local paper’s editorial opinion is a thing of the past.

Anyone can set up their own news digest and populate it with “sections”, international news, domestic, local, sports, business, arts, and culture. It’s a new world for the customized reader, particularly for those in our considerable demographic — the educated higher-income consumers – that make up our audiences.

Online services allow us to put RSS feeds and tags to sources we want added to our range of news and reading habits, such as digg, del.icio.us, Technorati and many others. It’s so easy to add or delete those source feeds.

Will a review from your chief critic impact your box office as seriously this year as it might have last year? The answer is yes and no. Critics will have their readerships, but direct impact might waver. Many of us now have, or should have, large email lists. Include links from many different relevant and intelligent writers in your e-mail, not just the critics.

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” -Duke Ellington

I chatted some time ago with a family friend, an investor whose portfolio contains a wide range of media stocks and bonds. He views newspapers in an interesting light: the large dailies will struggle to adapt and perhaps print readership in the next few years will be cut in half over what it was five years ago. That’s an almost unfathomable and potentially disastrous drop for a paper like the Los Angeles Times, when daily circulation was over a million a few years ago and is now about 800,000. We’re seeing this trend all over the country. Google, Amazon and other services see the rise of online readership and the development of new compiled online services as the key to the future. The golden key for newspapers seems to be about their ability to deliver unique and more relevant services to local readerships.

Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times’ own reader research in 2006 shows a high desire for relevant “neighborhood” connections; news, events, restaurants, experiences. In addition, readers want other readers’ opinions not just the critics’ points of view. The L.A. Times is responding by incorporating those options in their new online services.

Perhaps only the hardiest and best-managed papers will survive the serious downturn. National papers, such as The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and USA Today will not be immune to reader vagaries and market shifts and must pay very close attention to making their online versions as thoroughly engaging as their print versions.

There are bright spots in the newsprint industry. Community newspapers, those in small towns or neighborhoods and alternative weeklies are thriving for the time being. They have always focused on what’s relevant locally and have passionate neighborhood readerships. But smaller readerships may not produce strong enough ticket sale results through advertising. However, by building a large e-mail database, we can significantly add fuel to the chatter created by multiple sources, including smaller newspapers.

There are now so many methods and outlets for people to communicate with each other that the path between the big idea and the user is shorter than ever. The tools are getting easier to use. The most dramatic of all, just in the last year, is the speed and efficiency with which WOM can move through the marketplace.

Here’s my advice for 2008:  1) make your Web site rich with content about your events and company.  2) Spark meaningful word-of-mouth and participate honestly in the dialogue, even if it is controversial.  3) For the consumer, make your e-mail a trusted and useful source of information, service, and most of all, full of sticky news people will want to pass along to their friends. Not just promotion.  4) Build stronger social networks and deep connections in your community.

Jim Royce is Director of Marketing, Communications and Sales for Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group: Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre.  His blog will soon appear at JimRoyce.com.  www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

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