AOL's Friedman: Branding Cuts Through Clutter

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NEW YORK -- Clutter is the central reality of the modern media consumer, and we haven't seen anything yet, AOL's Robert Friedman told a packed room of attendees yesterday at the Direct Marketing Association's show here.

"The more clutter there is, the more we have choices, the more important brands become," said Friedman, who heads corporate marketing for AOL Time Warner. "When you have more choices and clutter, you have nothing else you can rely on but a brand."

Amid all this clutter, the Internet clearly has become an important part of the consumer's life, he said. For example, 16 percent of the consumer's media time is spent online, averaging 50 hours monthly. Sixty percent of U.S. households are online, accounting for 142 million consumers. Friedman cited internal research showing that subscribers spend 70 minutes a day on AOL. And 39 percent of teens are claimed to be on AOL.

This online trend was one of many showing changing consumer habits. Who would have thought a few years ago that movies would be made solely for home video, DVD or pay TV release?

And, as Friedman noted, 70 percent of U.S. households now have a dedicated gaming system.

Online, consumption patterns are changing even more rapidly. Friedman cited Forrester Research numbers that show 58 percent of people nationwide shop online. An estimated $500 billion in spending is influenced by the Internet.

In addition, 14 percent of buyers research mortgages and 12 million trade stocks online. Fifty-seven percent of travelers research for deals online before booking. And if stuck on an island, 66 percent of surveyed consumers would prefer an Internet connection over television, radio or any other medium.

The events of Sept. 11 had an even more telling effect on Internet use. Friedman said that the next day, 50 percent of people online e-mailed by regular or instant messenger means someone they knew in New York or the Washington area.

Friedman said the Internet is the only medium that encompasses four stages of the buying process: raising awareness, answering questions, making sales and following for loyalty.

What solution did Friedman offer for direct marketers attending the keynote session on cutting through the clutter and creating an ongoing relationship with customers? Branding.

With a company of AOL's girth, for example, positioning in the consumer's mind was critical. It devised this slogan: "So easy to use, no wonder it's No. 1."

"We put everything through that filter" reinforcing every idea that comes across AOL Time Warner through this slogan, Friedman said.

But for AOL Time Warner, the biggest challenge is packaging online assets with offline. And then, how do you cut through the clutter and extend reach?

AOL Time Warner is selling itself to marketers through cross-channel deals across the company's TV, print, online, radio and music properties, Friedman said. Eighty percent of the nation's top 50 advertisers are AOL partners, he said.

"AOL wants to create unique integrated programs around holidays, major events and yearlong opportunities," he said.

Friedman ended by expounding on lessons garnered by his employer.

One, the Internet is a good tool, but marketers are still figuring out how to charge for online services. Only 1 percent of media dollars is chasing consumers who spend 16 percent of their time online.

Next, how do you reach consumers in their daily activities or while they are at their regular rituals of life? This is possible through alerts, reminders, upsells and ads on TV complemented by efforts on other media.

"If we play with the media correctly, we can sell them more stuff," he said. "It really comes down to reputation and relationships. Leaving this [Internet] piece out of any marketing plan is really silly."

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