Marketing and the Art of the Dribble

Can you imagine the game of basketball without dribbling? It seems inconceivable. But in the heady days of 1900, somehow, basketball players didn’t dribble. They could bounce the ball once, and then they had to pass. In 1901, dribbling was introduced — a full ten years after the game itself was born. Today it’s an athletic art form all its own.

So what does that have to do with anything? We mention it not just to show off some wicked Wikipedia skills, but because it’s worth remembering that rules change — sometimes in very big, sudden ways. And when they do, the game itself can change.

That’s the moment marketers are facing right now. And yes, we’re aware that every year, someone announces the “new rules” for marketers. At this point, it’s predictable and maybe even trite. But the rules really are changing that quickly. If you don’t believe us, just dig up some old marketing plans from 2007. Chances are many of them would seem relevant but incomplete today. No mobile strategy? No social media? Riiiiiiiight.

Today, seven weeks’ worth of new material is being uploaded to YouTube. More than 300 million Twitter users will tweet over 300 million times, generating more than 1.6 billion search queries. Google’s one million servers will process about 24 petabytes* of user-generated data. That’s roughly ten times the entire capacity of the human brain. Every. Single. Day. If you want to get through to users in the thick of that online storm, expect to play by some new rules. Here’s our take on the three rules that have taken on new importance today. Full disclosure: There may be more next year…month…week.

Make it portable

While it may seem like everyone in the world has already gone mobile, in reality the mobile boom isn’t close to being over. In 2009 there were 360 million mobile broadband connections. By 2015 experts expect there will be 3.4 billion. And mobile marketing works — on average, mobile campaigns return 4-6% click-through rates, which is about ten times better than Internet advertising. That’s one reason why, when we asked 1,200 digital marketers about the future of marketing technology, most indicated that mobile- and location-based marketing are the future.

Why does mobile marketing work so well? Here are a few good reasons:

  • It’s truly personal. Each subscriber has a unique number, unlike a shared IP address.
  • It’s always carried. More than half of mobile users carry their phones to bed and to the bathroom.
  • Mobile is permanently connected. No other media is 24/7 for most users.
  • Only mobile has a native payment channel. Users receive one bill, making purchases easy.
  • Mobile is most available at a point of impulse. We have a camera, dictation, Short Message Service (SMS) and many other resources immediately available to record, review and research.
  • Mobile measures audiences accurately. Advertisers have debated the effectiveness of measurements for decades. Mobile has the ability to accurately represent the actual user.
  • Only mobile captures the social context of our consumption. It not only tells what, when and where we consume, but with whom and how much.
  • More than half of adult cell phone owners used their phones while holiday shopping in 2011 to help make purchasing decisions.*

Another way to look at this revolution is that mobile devices allow us to effortlessly connect the online and offline world. Life doesn’t happen on the desktop.

That adds up to big opportunities for marketers. If you’re not baking mobility into the strategy and execution of your plans, it’s time to get with the program.

Make technology adapt like people

This isn’t just another way of saying “be flexible.” It has real, immediate implications for our work as marketers. Here’s what we mean. Consider that a few years ago the average TV screen measured 34 inches, and the average computer monitor was 17 inches. If you wanted to design in pixels, those were your targets. Today we’ve added tablets and smartphones into the mix. The iPhone has a screen size of 3.5 inches. That means we’re designing for a range of screens with 1,700% variance — starting with portable devices. That’s one example of what we mean.

In fact, this rule applies to just about every application of technology in marketing. After all, people change in real time. The technology they interact with needs to change in real time too. Do you have tools and processes in place for detecting and monitoring these changes? Twitter and Foursquare aren’t just for broadcasting — they’re for listening, too.

Imagine all of the technology that exposes customers to brands. That technology can be like your greatest salesperson as long as we design it to respond correctly. Customer says “A.” Brand responds with “B.” Customer says “P.” Brand responds with “Q, and have you thought about R?” Marketing technology should allow the customer to work less to get value. That’s how you create more nuanced, integrated experiences for your customers — the mark of a world-class brand. Which brings us to the last point.

Provide value or die

Friends tell us that advertising doesn’t really work. More specifically, they think they’re immune to advertising.

Of course, they’re wrong. Maybe that’s because they’re operating from an assumption that advertisements are trying to make them do something immediately: must … buy … more … Corny Puffs. In reality, the best advertising works in much more subtle ways. Instead of succeeding through an argument or call to action, great advertising creates positive memories and feelings that influence our behavior over time. Advertisers understand where they can add value to their audience’s lives and generate messages that reinforce that value over time. It’s not a one-shot proposition. It’s a conversation that unfolds over time.

Game on

Here’s the thing about this game: you’re playing it whether you know it or not. If you‘re not playing by these rules, well…the bench is calling. Your customers are there. Your competitors are there. The clock is ticking. And there’s a lot at stake. Be portable. Be adaptive. Be valuable. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

* One petabyte is equal to one quadrillion bytes or 1,000 terabytes.

** Pew Research 2012, www.pewinternet.org