Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CHALLENGES OF TROUBLESOME AUDIENCES

Media companies have historically been relatively unconcerned about and even disdainful of individuals in their audiences.

Publishers produced newspaper in ways and at times that was convenient for themselves. Television channels offered programs on a take-it-when-offered basis—Too bad if you visited your mother and didn’t see it. Journalists and public service broadcasters conceived the public as an unkempt mass that need to be educated and led to think correctly and do the right things.

Audiences were things to aggregated and sold as commodities, so media executives pretended audiences were a unified, stable group in sales pitches and that advertisers were purchasing the same group of people hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

The reality is that audiences have always been individuals that changed constantly, but media companies needed to pretend otherwise in order to aggregate them and portray them as a unified group for sales pitches. A TV channel would tout itself as best at reaching women between 25 and 54 years of age, a magazine would promote that it offered more business decision makers than any other magazine, and a newspaper would tell advertisers its readers ate at restaurant an average of 125 nights a year. Never mind the others who watched the channel, read the magazine, or stayed home at night.

The fa├žade put up by media companies is eroding rapidly and is one reason why there is so much unease and shifting in media advertising markets today. Advertisers have discovered the big lie that audiences had specific characteristics and were stable.

The ascendancy of customer relationship managements and personal marketing, and the personal identification of audience members in interactive media have moved businesses to view them as individuals and to recognize that approaching them on an individual rather than mass basis increases return on marketing and advertising investments.

Media companies are waking up to the nightmare that many advertisers find the idea of mass audiences less appealing. At the same time, media firms are shifting their own offerings to try to make content—news and information, TV programs and films, and magazine content—available to individuals any time, any where, and across any platform.

Unfortunately most media companies are finding they know everything and nothing about their audiences. They know their average characteristics, habits, and purchases, but they no little about them individually, their individual lifestyles, and how they individually consume media and other products.

Media companies have a great deal of catching up to do in order to understand individual consumer behavior and its implications for their business models. Doing so will be difficult because media companies tend to know less about their customers than other types of companies. In the past media CRM programs have been absent and audience research has been relatively unsophisticated and had limited applicability.

One of the first lessons media executives are learning is that human beings are troublesome. They tend to do what they want, when they want, and how they want. They resist being constrained and controlled. They are prone to changing their minds and interests. They want flexibility in their lives. They make it different to predict their preferences because their tastes and needs change over time. They are fickle consumers who have the audacity behave as individuals rather than an aggregated group.

Some consumers want music while they are walking to the office; some want news about stock prices at 10 a.m.; others want short video entertainment when they have a coffee break at 2:30 p.m.; some want to view a prime time TV program at 5:30 p.m. when they are taking the commuter train home; still others want a recipe from a cooking magazine at 6 p.m. when they get home or a video of their choice at 8 p.m.

These demands are highly problematic because media technologies and industry structures have traditionally allowed them to tell consumers what they would get to consume and when they would get to consume it. Few companies have the competence or infrastructures to handle the new demand-driven world of media.

Media companies need to make understanding audiences and the individuals that join audiences center point of their management attention. They need to find ways to develop better relationships with them if they are to prosper in the changing environment. It is a strategic challenge that must addressed if companies are to remain vital in the media choices of their customers.