Best is yet to come … if marketers build it

It is a time of intense transition in the music business. New technologies are changing the definition of content and distribution. A young singer competes in a popular show and wins the audience vote. His victory is just the beginning as he is plugged into a marketing machine.

Lee DeWyze and American Idol in 2010? Try Frank Sinatra and Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour in 1935. The new technologies? Radio, phonograph records and electric microphones, which when combined, enabled the kid from Hoboken to become, as James Kaplan’s new biography dubs Sinatra, “The Voice.”

More proof that there are no new ideas, only innovative, well-timed twists on existing ones. Keeping with Ol’ Blue Eyes for another minute, let’s quote a line from Kaplan’s attempt to explain Sinatra’s appeal to women: “When he was onstage, every one of them, every last one, believed … that he was singing to her and her alone.”

It is perhaps the best description yet of the challenge we as consumers are laying at marketers’ feet in the social-media age: We’ll tell you all you need to know about who we are and what we want. All we ask is that you learn to read and interpret our signals, stop wasting our time, and deliver relevant, targeted, engaging messaging. And figure out how to do it at scale.

Good luck.

There’s so much at stake, and no easy answer. Internet entrepreneur John Battelle summons mesmerizing visions of a world in which marketers synthesize an array of social media signals — what we want (search); what we buy (e-commerce); who we know (Facebook); what’s on our minds (Twitter); and where we are (Foursquare) — to make us feel as unique as the swooning girl in the back of the house who believes Sinatra is singing only to her.

Battelle concedes the difficulty of achieving one-to-one communications. “It’s your job to build it,” he told an audience of marketing executives.

Even those of us jaded by proximity to marketing actualities are fascinated by the idea of being truly known by brands, of walking down the street and having our mobile devices let us know that shirt we’ve had our eye on is on sale and in stock in our size in the store just 15 steps to our left.

Direct marketers have the most to gain as technology erases the blurred line between “performance-driven” and “brand-building” communications. Brand values can no longer be dictated from afar. Everything defines a brand.

This requires new skillsets at every organizational level. Marketers have to act as publishers who engage and interact directly with consumers, enabling and enhancing experiences rather than disrupting them.

Doing so, Battelle points out, will end “campaign mentalities” in favor of “continual conversations.” Marketers need to adapt.

You and I are learning the value of sending out signals, “training” Netflix, Pandora and Amazon to tailor their offerings. 

Brands, of course, need to have something to say that’s worth our time and must walk the fine line between targeted marketing and creepy Big Brotherism. They must harness technology to talk to us as individuals while grouping us together to achieve scale.

Sinatra figured it out decades ago, using the microphone to deliver mass intimacy. If we follow our dreams as devotedly, perhaps we can too.

Scott Donaton is CEO of Ensemble, the branded-entertainment arm of Interpublic’s Mediabrands. The End (USER) is his consumer’s-eye view of life.

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