The only panel comment that remains with me from last fall's MediaPost Future of Media Forum at The Times Center in Manhattan was offered up by Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The fact that I can only remember one comment from two hours of panel discussions by media industry illuminati like Cathie Black, Joe Uva, Ken Auletta, Michael Wolff, Mark Cuban, Randy Falco and others is commentary enough on the effete and tepid state of current media industry leadership – although I suppose it could just as easily pass as commentary on the increasingly shabby state of my memory nowadays.
Either way, during the event Q&A a member of the audience asked the panel to comment on what – if any – downsides they envision in a digital media future. Quite predictably, a couple of panelists responded as senior managers, citing the enormous difficulties presented by the transition of analog, brick-and-mortar franchises to digital. Others, including Isobar CEO Nigel Morris and publisher Bob Guccione Jr., were all smiles and quick to dismiss any potential downsides, predicting instead nothing but blue skies ahead. The aforementioned Mr. Goodby, however, betrayed his creative pedigree with an altogether different concern: He wondered aloud whether or not we might someday rue the loss of wonderment to digital rendition.
With apologies to Mr. Goodby – I'd like to expand on his statement a little. When we sacrifice our sense of wonderment to our digital prowess, we forsake the very intangibles that make advertising and marketing work in the first place. When we lose our sense of wonderment, we lose our ability to attract an audience likewise motivated and attracted by wonderment, and are compelled by default to deploy our technologies to hunt them down like animals instead. We now know for instance that digital targeting technologies – like all media technologies – generate diminished returns on investment (DROI). Massive failure to perform in the digital media channels is the crazy aunt in the attic who no one in the digital marketing industry wants to mention. The truth is quite the opposite of our claims about digital accountability and ROI: the more targeting technology we deploy, the less performance we see in return.
In the chain reaction that ensues (the irony of unintended consequences), the more targeting technology we deploy in our marketing efforts, the less of our own wonderment we feel compelled to impart, the less attractive and more predatory our work product becomes, and the more inclined our audiences are to avoid us at all costs. The less wonderment we engender in our audiences, the less inclined they are to stand still long enough for us to engage them, and the harder and more expensive it becomes to reach them. Isn't it therefore better and doesn't it make more sense – in an on-demand universe where no one demands more advertising – to pique a sense of wonderment and provide our audiences with better reasons to engage us instead? Isn't it better to let our audiences target us? Isn't our ability to engender and convey wonderment the primary reason advertising ever works in the first place? Consider the words of Albert Einstein, who said…
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Einstein would likely suggest that our failures to engage our audiences are largely failures of imagination. We have methodically and digitally stripped the wonderment of imagination from our work product, not because it makes sense to do so, but because we suddenly have the technologies to do something else: target and hunt them down relentlessly. The digital marketing industry – immersed in its obsession with and addictions to technology – has become all but mindless in its pursuit of things that don't matter and things that don't work. Unfortunately, no one drinks more spiked Kool Aid nowadays than digital marketing professionals.
But there is an alternative, and it becomes increasingly apparent the very moment we ask why instead of how. The question how typically directs the spotlight outward. By contrast, the question why just as typically turns it inward. Perhaps the keys to the kingdom reside less in the exploration of outward things we can measure and more in the inward things that resist measurement, less in the quantifiable and reproducible comforts of digital expediency and more in the discomforting anomalies and one-offs of the heart and soul.
Eleanor Roosevelt once suggested that we must do the things that we think we cannot. Best efforts notwithstanding, our digital technologies offer no hedge against failure; they only expedite it. We can't avoid failure; it's guaranteed (even Willie Mays failed seven out of ten times at the plate). But we lose our sense of wonderment when our fear of failure exceeds our willingness to assume risk – exactly what happens when we increasingly consign our dreams to the vapid ether of electronic spreadsheets, especially in tough times. We fail to engage others when we hide behind our own technologies. Successful marketing and advertising campaigns owe their success far more to emotion than to reason, far more to intuition than to intellect, far more to simple expressions of the heart and soul than to the glorious misconceptions of the mind.
The next set of viable metrics to emerge in the digital marketing industry will express and describe the quality and emotive impact of engagement rather than the mere quantity of encounters. The science of reach and frequency will lose ground to the art of engagement. We will begin to describe the quality of engagements per the emotions they elicit in us, and it all begins with the impartial question, "Why?" The answer then becomes obvious: to elicit and induce wonderment. And if there's one thing we know about our human predisposition for media, it's that we will seek out those things that elicit and induce in us a sense of wonderment. Simply stated, the audience will target us if we offer our own sense of wonderment as bait.
About Jeff Einstein and the Brothers Einstein
Jeff Einstein is one-half of the Brothers Einstein, a creative strategy and branding boutique. The Brothers Einstein work with select rapid-growth clients to help define and execute healthy brand strategies in a toxic media environment.