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Digital: Beyond Our Control, But Within Our Reach

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Consumers, advertisers, publishers and agencies are all hustling to keep up with the latest digital advancements. As advertisers, we've gone from controlled distribution via the Big Three television networks, radio and publishing to a world where the average consumer is exposed to nearly 3,000 commercial messages a day -- many through outlets that were not in existence five or 10 years ago. Yet, despite the increasing number of messages, people have become more skilled at tuning them out.

Though it's no revelation to say that old methods of marketing are losing effectiveness, many advertisers are still having a difficult time adjusting to this new world where emerging technologies are popping up faster than ever before in areas like social media, web and mobile applications, gaming, and cloud services. The model that seems to be working best is one where advertisers generate attention via engagement. Put simply: Advertising can stand out by inviting consumers in. Marketers should create campaigns and branded platforms that explain how to get more value out of products, and "why" someone should have them in the first place.

In other words, customers don't necessarily want to buy more. But they are demanding and expecting a lot more.

Need a pair of running shoes? Companies like Nike have created digital shopping experiences to help you select the right shoes based on your gender, your preferred running surface, the arch of your foot (Nike even explains how to measure your arch), and your running stride. At each step, Nike explains why the features of a particular shoe are best for you.

But even more importantly, Nike actively engages their customers in the sport of running and, subsequently, into the Nike brand. For instance, through the community-based platform, Nike+, runners are connected with other runners, have the ability to chart their running progress over time, and can create motivational music playlists.

Engaging your audiences through digital experiences that provide value or entertainment helps people connect with your brand willingly. A growing trend for marketers is the idea of co-creation, welcoming the input of customers to inform (and sometimes produce) products, services, and marketing campaigns. By influencing how a product is designed, engineered or launched, customers are given a personal stake in the brand and a reason to become advocates and share their stories. On the same hand, marketers benefit because they truly learn what customers want from the brand and why.

We know it works.

Take a traditional automaker like Fiat. In developing a new car from the ground up, Fiat is asking consumers to submit ideas for all aspects of the vehicle -- from the design to the marketing. The company is soliciting ideas from its Web site and the social media outlets Okrut, Facebook and Twitter.

The effort started in August, and almost 10,000 people have submitted close to 7,000 ideas. With that kind of consumer awareness and engagement, it's only fitting that the new car will be called Fiat Mio, or My Fiat.

In Japan, a band called "Sour" has shown how user-generated content can be effective without losing control of your brand image. The band sponsored a project in which fans created a music video via Webcam. The resulting music video, "Hibi no neiro," is a must-see -- even if you don't understand Japanese.

The band maintained control throughout, selecting the fans and writing the script. Yet it's an example of very cool user-generated creativity and digital engagement. The video has garnered more than 1.5 million YouTube views -- undoubtedly not all are Sour fans.

Today, at HP we are hard at work building a Web site - that is a less a destination and more of a digital experience, with a central nervous system that allows us to take our HP experience into the broader digital ecosystem.

And at the heart of the digital ecosystem are digital people. At HP, they are our focus. Digital people are all about personalization, making things a reflection of themselves. The new site allows them to do that. They like to share what they're up to and what they know. So, we're tapping the collective intelligence of our customers by hosting forums where they can help each other. It's been enormously successful. Instead of fielding calls, we're creating a community, providing better customer service and doing it more cost efficiently. This could work in virtually any environment.

Judging from what's out there-- and on the horizon--it looks like the advertising world finally realizes that while the digital space is beyond our control, it's certainly within our reach.