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AIDA’s dead. Give it a rest.

19 Jan

AIDAAwareness. Interest, Desire. Action. When I took my first advertising course almost thirty years ago, our professor intoned those words as if they were gospel. “That is how,” he would say, “consumers move along the path to purchasing this item or that one.” And the whole industry was built around that never-proven, not-based-on-any-credible-research theory — all the stuff about reach and frequency and three-exposures-required-to-gain-awareness. It was how plans were developed, how fortunes made (and spent). AIDA.

For over 20 years now, since the advent of integrated marketing communications, the AIDA theory has been on the wane. Customers just aren’t that simple. The most current research by McKinsey about the Consumer Decision Journey should have put it to rest forever. And yet,… and yet students and clients still talk to me about AIDA as if it were the latest thing, as if all we have to do is make enough people aware of a brand to magically induce some portion of them to take interest, a smaller portion to develop desire, and a smaller portion yet to take action and buy: simply pour enough people into the top of the funnel (awareness) to see some flow out the bottom (action). Once upon a time, the P & Gs of the world placed product on every shelf and could buy enough reach and frequency for a product to make it look as if awareness led inexorably to action. Maybe it was even true in some small way. But not anymore. And even if it were, with people’s attention divided between so many media, so many content offerings, who can afford to buy huge awareness anymore?

The newer models, including McKinsey’s and inbound marketing models, take into account — correctly — the fact that interest now often precedes awareness. People start with a set of acceptable brands,  search for information, stumble upon things they weren’t hunting for, develop a modified set of acceptable brands, search some more, succumb to last minute changes of heart — in short, they act like people, not like lab rats. A brand’s mere presence somewhere on the journey, combined with the ability to establish some sort of connection, based on shared goals, values, or interest — as opposed to a simple bludgeoning of customers with a blunt message — can win the day. Let’s call it “affinity,” rather than “awareness,” that drives the brand decision journey.

Oddly enough, traditional media — notably television — can be effective in developing affinity, because of its great story-telling power, even though it lacks interactivity (for the time being), while most Internet advertising fails horribly in this regard. I urge you to check out two great pieces about this: a blog post by David Aaker and a video of a tremendous TED presentation by Chris Anderson. One of the key nuggets of knowledge that drives them both is the fact that the advertising value of an hour of an Internet user’s time is only about a dime. The reason is not only because the Internet’s infinite inventory of advertising makes it very cheap, but because we have not yet cracked the code on how to make it  effective, that is engage people and drive affinity. Most of us are still caught up in the AIDA model — impressions, eyeballs, clicks.

This is partially a measurement problem. Impressions, clicks and the like are very measurable; affinity and connection not so much. But we are also faced with a creativity problem. Knowing what we know about how individual customers make decisions, understanding that they are now in charge of what they see and when they see it, how do we use all the available new platforms to enable them to meet and engage with brands on their own terms? In a world where advertising is more like wildflowers and less like bullets, how do we spread our messages?

Social media has blossomed as a brandland strategy in response to this dilemma. But it’s only one answer. What seems clear while we grope to use digital and traditional media more effectively is that building brand communications around a full understanding of individuals’ complex motivations and habits, rather than forcing messages down any available throats, seems a better prescription for long-term brand health.

All I got for Christmas was a digital refrigerator.

31 Dec
The Pandigital Novel

My new Pandigital Novel, a little digital refrigerator.

I’ve thus far resisted both the iPad and Kindle: iPad because I figured it would both improve and come down in price if I waited a little longer; Kindle because I figured I’d eventually go iPad, which would render it redundant. But my family just couldn’t bear to see me without another digital device in my paws. That goes for my wife, especially, who was sure my headaches were caused by reading the New York Times on my iPhone every morning in bed.

So when my older son drew my name in the family Secret Santa sweepstakes, he and my wife conspired to fix the problem. Because the iPad’s price put it way over this year’s family Santa limit, and they thought I needed a little more breadth than the Kindle could offer, they settled on the Pandigital Novel, a moderately priced stepchild of the two. With the Kindle’s screen size and an Android OS, the PN offers a backlit color display, with email, Internet and access to Barnes & Nobles’ Nook Books. It’s an eReader with greater aspirations.

There are lots of reasons to like the PN, as well as yearn for the Kindle (lighter and easier to read text) or iPad (bigger, user-friendlier, lots more functionality). Whatever, I’m grateful for the gift, which is now part of my daily life. But that’s not what this post is about. No, what this post is about is how I use my PN and what it says about The Future.

My iPhone is a phone with other goodies. My TV is a TV I can hook up to the Internet. My laptop is primarily a business machine (even if increasingly less primarily). But my PN is simply a portable content delivery device. I find myself moving seamlessly between email, internet and books, checking my blogs on Google Reader, browsing the B & N book store. The PN’s a little slow, compared to a laptop or iPad, and— most frustratingly — won’t run most online video formats, which leaves out YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, et al. Regardless, this little critter has quickly become the thing I drag around the house when I’m home, like Linus’ blanket. Let’s assume for a moment it did serve video (not such an odd notion; the iPad does). It would then contain just about all the content I needed on a daily/hourly/immediate basis.

That, of course, is not news. But what’s interesting is how I begin to think about that content. Because it’s now all coming out of the same device, all the lines blur. TV, movies, books, email, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, music: it’s all stuff that comes out of the same little device. Think of content like food. Once upon a time, people gathered their food in all sorts of different places and stored it in various ways. Much greater distinctions were made between beef and pork, milk and meat, raw foods and cooked. Now we all go to the supermarket, pick up what we want and put it in the refrigerator. There aren’t so many mental distinctions between milk and meat, root vegetables and leafy greens. They’re all in the same box. When we want something to eat, we go to the fridge. Devices like the PN are like digital refrigerators. When we want some food for the brain, we can open it up and take our pick.

The ramifications of this complete convergence of content make the current debates over who will “own” TV delivery or music delivery a sideshow. The real question is how long will it be before we see Digital Content Supermarkets, virtual Safeways where you can scan the aisles for the latest Grisham novel, this season of SVU, or whatever else your brain desires. How much power will those Digital Content Supermarkets wield? Who will lead the way? Amazon? Netflix? Apple? A Player to Be Named Later? Will subscription services, like uber cable companies or Netflix be the wave of the future? Parochially I wonder, what will that mean for advertising? For brands?

Aaaaugh, it makes my brain hurt! Must go to my digital refrigerator and grab a cookie!