Tom Webster, writing and speaking

A Semi-Radical Idea About Offline Media

Added on by Tom Webster.

Funnel CapIt's time for this week's Marketing Companion, in which my co-host Mark Schaefer and I discuss the recent purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, John Henry's purchase of the Boston Globe, and sundry other things related to the future of traditional media like print and AM/FM radio. Mark and I share a love for the topic, certainly--he has a background in journalism, and I cut my teeth on traditional media research early in my career--so we have a lively chat about why Bezos might have bought the Post and what he might do next. But along the way, I dropped a semi-radical idea about "offline" media, so I wanted to expand on it here.

I saw a graphic a few weeks ago that compared the "old" marketing funnel (with TV, Print and Radio at the top) with the "new" funnel (all social and digital.) The basic thesis of this graphic (and it was in a college textbook) was that digital and social media have replaced all of these other media for everything from top-of-mind awareness to purchase. I do agree that online media is as much responsible for awareness as anything else, and with the proliferation of information choices we have, we are as likely--if not more so--to hear about brands and products for the first time online as we are anywhere else.

Where this graphic fell flat, however, was not only in leaving traditional media off of the "new" funnel (that's preposterous), but also in relegating its place on the "old" funnel to top-of-mind awareness only. That makes for tidy funnels, but isn't entirely accurate.

According to The Infinite Dial 2013, our joint study with Arbitron, the number one medium people are exposed to in the 30 minutes just prior to visiting an offline store to make a purchase is AM/FM radio, at 49% (billboards, a favorite with my friend Tim Hayden, were at number 2, and no sign of faxes, Aaron Strout!)

Edison Research Arbitron Infinite Dial 2013 Page 66

To me, this puts a traditional medium like AM/FM radio not at the top of the funnel, but at the action level, right before purchase. If a retail store, apparel brand, car dealer or other purveyor of the bricks and mortar wants to build awareness, the ways are legion. But if they want to communicate an offer right before purchase, to drive an action, radio is a pretty sound bet. And when you think of it in that light, you begin to see how you can work AM/FM radio into a digital campaign pretty smartly--not at the beginning, but somewhere in the middle.

Yet, this is not what I see. Every time I hear a radio spot (and to be clear, I am speaking solely of AM/FM, tower-delivered radio here) that "drives traffic" to an online site, I question that decision. If you are in radio sales, and you sell spots to a client looking to send listeners to a Facebook page, or an online video, you might think twice about the utility of this. Even taking mobile phones into account, there is a layer of friction sitting between a listener hearing about an online action on the radio, and then taking that action when they are in front of a computer.

If a radio station uses the power of its off-air broadcast to drive traffic to an online location, three things are true: first, radio will never be as good at doing this as an online medium; second, radio will have a hard time tracking its effectiveness in this effort (since there are likely other components and promotional tactics going on); and third, if the effort is successful from the client's perspective, who will get the credit? The digital/social agency. Radio gets laundered out of the equation, and that's a shame.

So my semi-radical suggestion about offline media is this--use it to drive offline action. It's pretty good at that. In fact, it's arguably better than online media. Using AM/FM radio or other offline media to drive people online is playing a game that is stacked against you from the start. So, when possible, don't play it. And if you are in traditional offline media, and you must play this game for sales purposes, make sure you are in a position to work SMS and mobile into the play--it helps bring the odds of this game slightly back into your favor.

Am I saying radio should stay away from online? Of course not--that's what radio's own online properties are for. But I wonder if the relentless drive to use AM/FM radio to drive people to web sites (the "power of the tower!") hasn't done the medium more harm than good.

Rant over. Mark and I discuss this, and other aspects of traditional media on this week's Marketing Companion, and I truly hope you'll listen.

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