Matt O'Connell | Mar 21, 2012
With Signal San Francisco, Federated Media has provided another stellar tech conference with insights from the industry’s leading innovators. This event focused on audience interaction, and the methods by which companies large and small must initiate and maintain an engaging conversation with the consumer in order to find and fit their needs. Consumers know when they are being marketed to and when they are being spoken to and they can always tell the difference, as Caterina Fake of Pinwheel told us. Growing numbers of social media participants have been forming the image that interacting with the customer is the most effective way to get their attention. So, the shift in focus from targeted advertising to honest engagement has been an intuitive one for most digital marketers, although it remains a complex beast.
Many presenters touched on the value of listening to your customers in the evolving digital environment. Tom Bedecarre, CEO of AKQA, summarized a GAP campaign that encouraged major fashion bloggers to market the clothes for them in a sort of social competition. Not only did this produce a huge surge in awareness for the brand, it also built a perpetual machine that allowed them to understand the best way to market their clothes directly from (and then to) the consumer, and by responding to that, built a level of trust with them. Similarly, Microsoft’s “people powered stories” initiative allowed them to spark a dialogue with the customer that was not dependent on a particular website or platform, but rather a connection with the brand. Levis merged this idea with a more sentimental and noble goal, citing a “profit through principles” mantra. While taking action to reduce their water consumption, they were also reaching out to customers with an altruistic (and real) value, giving them plenty of incentive to join the conversation, associate with the brand, and of course, buy the jeans.
The design and consistency of Signal SF make it an easy event to summarize, despite the complexity and breadth of the content. John Battelle’s concise and sharp interviews rotated with case study presentations built a momentum that never veered off of the conference’s common theme. Instead they built a foundation to reinforce a narrative which tells the future of digital marketing. Our destination lies in a synergy of brand and content, where one builds upon the other. Social media is used as a tool to share valuable content, and must be treated as such. Efforts to exploit demographic data alone, despite the incredible quantity of it that’s available, are going to fall short of genuine engagement between brands and individuals (not to mention, cost more). Because they know when they’re seeing an ad, and they know when they’re being offered something of value.
The solution for marketers is to spark a conversation, or at least join an existing one. And they must add value to it by contributing, not trolling it for exploitation. The digital frontier is progressive and intelligent. It expands our thoughts and perceptions of ourselves and our world. It brings us together. It does not divide us into calculable segments. When a marketer understands his audience, he can reach them. In many of the examples and insights offered at today’s event, the marketer understands the consumers by directly conversing with them on a large scale, putting the product into their hands to interpret, and standing for something of value. In these ways they are creating a signal, instead of contributing to the noise.
About the Author: Matt hails from Boston and has a background in Film and Writing. As weather phenomena go, he prefers earthquakes to Nor'easters these days, so he's currently residing in the East Bay. He produced a feature film called "Night Sounds" after graduating from Emerson College, which premiered at a film festival in Massachusetts. Matt continues to write screenplays and work in the film community, while working as a freelance copywriter, editor, and part-time member of the Hound.