Apr/May 2013

Our marketing leaders have been on a wild ride for the last few decades. Life used to be “easy” for them. A team would come up with target markets, another the messaging, still another the creative, and then channel managers would bring this all together to ensure awareness and lead generation via signage (retail, roadside, events), print, radio, and television mediums. (OK, it was a little more complex, but stick with me … )

Then along came the Internet, which started complicating everything. First came Web pages, microsites, and ecommerce Websites. A new marketing channel was born. As the data became richer on the Internet, things like paid search and organic SEO (search engine optimization) began to heat up.

Then suddenly, messaging about brands and their products shifted to another new channel: social media. If all this wasn’t enough already, the digital phenomena got a shot of adrenalin when mobile phones became mobile computing platforms. Data plans changed everything, and for the CMO (chief marketing officer) it became another new marketing channel to consider!

All this responsibility has grown into facets of marketing commonly referred to as “digital.” Digital marketing directors, mobile-channel managers, social-media agencies, and SEO experts are all roles that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

This new marketing team is a formidable army of digital savvy marketers learning, inventing, and driving value as they go. With digital channels overtaking traditional hubs, it is hard to find a company where the digital marketing strategy isn’t central to its core strategy.

So What?
Digital marketing as a profession has started to break away from some of the other more traditional marketing channels. One of the biggest differences recognized by this author is that digital marketing encompasses not only outbound content delivery, but also the ability to listen to the insights created by the consumers themselves. It is this two-way communication that is the compelling opportunity for today’s connected world and why we believe the CMO’s world has only started to change.

Right now these armies of digital marketers are laser focused on ensuring a consistent digital experience across the Web (PC, laptop, browser, etc.) and popular flavors of mobile (phone, tablet, mini tablet, etc.). They are refining their strategies to ensure search is optimized on all of these platforms and that metadata is available for refinement of messaging based on all kinds of information (weather, time, location, etc.)

More progressive teams are starting to worry about the “third screen” located in most people’s family room—the Internet-enabled television. Some of these are direct to the TV; others are through gaming systems (Xbox, Nintendo, etc.). This works pretty well to stuff into the above model as it is another flavor of screen that people consume data with and generate feedback through. All three of these “screens” have computing power behind them allowing for some software to run, which the consumer can interact with. Soon all three will be connected realtime, and all the time, to the Internet.


These connected devices that consumers have readily and enthusiastically accepted as a unifying place to consume and create information (and information about the information) make up the heart of most “digital marketing” programs today. But is that the end?

What’s Next?
This massive shift in the CMO’s domain is potentially just beginning. For the strong majority of consumer companies, the “digital marketing” experiences and content being driven and the feedback received is being done through a channel that they don’t control. They are simply passengers on the “information highway” that ends in a plastic and glass rectangle of some size or another. Aside from the two-way nature, there may be more similarities to traditional channels than differences.

For traditional vice presidents of marketing this consideration may allow for a sigh of relief and the ability to put some of these crazy “digital” requests back in the box. But hold onfor one moment …

More progressive CMOs who take a longer term, strategic view will probably recognize the next wave of digital marketing is right around the corner. This is the movement that will be fueled by the readers of this publication. It is the channel that doesn’t connect to the consumer through a different brand’s device, but rather the one with their very own logo embossed on it. The next digital marketing channel is the connectedproduct itself.

This will most likely come in several flavors depending on the nature of the product; most notably, does it have a way to digitally interact with the consumer directly or not.

In order to directly interact digitally, this means it has visual, touch, or audio inputs and outputs. Examples are vehicles, future appliances, and even thermostats. The nature of the usefulness of this interaction is often grounded in the convenience of the interaction points. Consumers may actually choose consumer content through a newly connected device rather than their trusty consumer electronic rectangle. Examples of this are already easily seen: Internet radio through the vehicle directly or groceryapps through the refrigerator.

These third-party enhancements to the core experience have suddenly taken center stage in the “connected conversation” for many product companies. Promises of new revenue streams or “i-store” like business models are echoing all over the halls of IT and engineering conferencerooms. The secret, however, is the connected device may actually be theultimate consumer marketing touchpoint. This device is one that allowsfor realtime market research, immediateconsumer satisfaction feedback,upgrades and customization withdigital accessories, and a constantforum to share the brand message.

All of these scenarios lend to making the connected product the next great marketing channel (two-way). It is the designer vision, engineer- created, IT-enabled next generation ultimate marketing channel. It is almost as if the CEO of the company went to all of his/her key departments and said “go in that room and make something together.” Each function has an equal share of responsibility. Each plays a different role in the lifecycle. Together they will live and die by the mutual success.

The connected product channel is not only for the owning consumer. If designed correctly it can additionally speak to prospects. It can draw them in and start a digital relationship where the buying process really starts, upon exposure.

The most successful connected channel campaigns may be offered through products that don’t even have a screen. It will force more subtle interactions informed by sensor or metadata about consumer behavior with the product.

All of this change could be mindblowing to some professional marketers, but don’t fret. Many of the tools being incubated in today’s world of digital marketing will be applicable immediately to the connected channel. Deep tagging, predictive modeling, search, and placement are all elements of the connected channel. The interactions just get richer. So before 2013 is over, make sure you take a few minutes to surf the digital channels a bit more. Get way past the traditional channels. Go even beyond those new channels that have gained popularity with the kids. Really get out there and try envisioning what your brand’s connected channels may look like!

Gregg Garrett leads a team that advises clients on how to harness innovation in the connected economy as CEO and president of CGS Advisors, LLC. He lectures at several universities and contributes to Connected World. Previously, he served in chief strategy & innovation roles at Volkswagen Group of America and Deutsche Telekom in North America. He can be reached at greggory.garrett@cgsadvisors.com

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