As Bob Dylan might say, "The times, they are a-changin'." The way people are conditioned to receive information that establishes or reinforces preference is evolving. Emerging media—specifically blogs, podcasts, online video, and social networks—enables marketers to increase their reach by delivering content in formats that their target audiences prefer. This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Customers and prospects are already seeking content this way, whether it is a download of an episode of their favorite TV show or to read a blog post on trends in customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.
Emerging media provides an opportunity for a higher level of marketer participation and responsiveness not possible through traditional marketing tactics. If used effectively, this can be a boost for marketers wanting to extend their brand, and drive customer engagement.
What makes blogs (and blogging) so attractive right off the bat is how accessible this medium is. You read an opinion. You post a comment. You get a response. Fast.
If you feel as though you have something to say, you can create your own blog in a matter of minutes. It's the "Wild West" in the sense that there are no barriers to entry and everyone is invited to come out and set up shop.
In fact, in a study KnowledgeStorm conducted in partnership with Universal McCann, called the "Emerging Media Series" on emerging media and how it influences B2B technology solution purchases, 80 percent of the respondents claimed to read blogs and over half visited blogs once or more per week.
A large percentage of those from the survey who read blogs (57 percent) cited the content of expert bloggers as being "as or more credible" than traditional media. A key complaint of the "blogosphere" was the credibility of blog content as a whole and that more expert content was needed.
This is the upside and also the downside of this Wild West—everyone is invited to say something, but that in no way ensures the quality of what's said. However, the fact that blog credibility eclipses traditional media in some people's opinion presents an open door for the true "expert" bloggers to establish a loyal readership and community.
From a branding perspective, blogs offer a lot of opportunity. Marketers can identify an influential blogger to sponsor that aligns with the brand image or become known as an expert blogger in their industry themselves—the biggest challenge and perhaps the greatest branding opportunity if it is done well. This is not the time for the sales pitch, but rather to grow your credibility as an expert voice and thought leader in your space.
In the blogosphere, blogs grow popular by word of mouth and by being referenced by other bloggers. When it is positive, this can be a real boon for the awareness of your brand. When it goes wrong (think the Dell customer service snafu or the Wal-Mart flog PR scandal, or other issues reported in a recent brandchannel article), the devastating word-of-mouth now goes between communities of millions worldwide—in an instant. Take the time to create a solid blog brand strategy and commit to doing it right. It will be worth it.
Podcasting is in the earlier stages of acceptance and usage compared with media such as blogging or online video. The Emerging Media Series study on podcasts showed that the 47 percent of respondents had never listened to a podcast. This was primarily because they did not understand enough about them, how to listen to them or where the content could be found.
For those who do listen to podcasts, the format has several advantages when it comes to marketing; namely, its portability and flexibility. They are easy to produce, fast to turn around—and organizations can quickly establish a loyal following for regular content if they provide information that is compelling.
In addition to the gap in understanding podcasting, another challenge with podcasts is finding relevant podcast content. Typically, podcast listeners find content through word-of-mouth, but sites such as Yahoo! are stepping into the ring with a podcast search engine, currently in beta form, to help podcast listeners track down content. This search engine also lets those who listen to content register an opinion on it, which provides insight for other listeners searching for relevant content.
Over time, I believe that podcasting will become one of the most popular and widely used of the emerging media channels for B2B content. Today, marketers can still get a foothold in because the field isn't as crowded compared to blogs or online video content. They have the opportunity to be one voice in 10,000 instead of 10 million.
Online video enjoys a high level of familiarity, both in the B2B and B2C industries and —according to the Emerging Media Series online video survey—it is the most influential medium when it comes to technology purchasing decisions (57 percent). Online video is one way to engage your audience and make audio content more compelling, while also establishing—or reinforcing—your brand's image.
What sets online video apart from, say, an online ad or streaming video on your website, is that the visitor is empowered. Basically, when a commercial airs on television, you are not given the choice to watch it or not before it runs. When it comes to online video, however, the viewers of the content have the control. They choose whether or not to view the content. Because it was their choice, they are also more likely to retain your message. Mentally, it's a different dynamic than, for instance, a peel-back ad on a news site's home page.
Going forward, online video will only become easier to produce and to consume. This will be important especially when it comes to delivering time-sensitive messages, but can also open the doors for similar issues faced by the blogosphere in terms of overall content quality. As with blogs and podcasts, it is important to place a priority on producing high-quality online video content.
While the online-video world is getting more crowded, there is still room for a recognized thought leader and expert. Ensure that you position your brand consistently and as strongly as possible—don't add to the mediocrity, which can come back to haunt you long after you've pulled down a video file.
Emerging media is giving B2B marketers an opportunity to kick their branding up a notch. The immediacy and interactive nature of these mediums forces marketers to use their resourcefulness and creativity to deliver compelling content. The fact that the consumer of the content is in the driver's seat more than ever before makes solid execution of marketing messages all the more critical. If the message resonates, marketers can capture an audience that is engaged by choice and not by chance—something even the best tchotchke or coolest direct-mail piece could never do.