How Digital Media Will Deliver Tangible Benefits

In the Two Weeks Since my Last Column, The Trend Toward Intangible Media has Accelerated

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Last time in this space I outlined my conviction that five years from now all media will either be completely digital or well on its way to becoming intangible. Two weeks later, the trend has accelerated.

Many are questioning the future of major newspaper companies who, faced with declining print ad revenues, are putting themselves up for sale or filing for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the Amazon Kindle is sold out until February and book publishers like Random House are racing to embrace the iPhone as the next big growth market.

Even if you don't share my belief that all media will be digital by 2014, the migration is inevitable and it will have a major impact for advertisers. Here are three trends to watch.

Reach Devaluation
Although advertisers increasingly are exploring other metrics, i.e. engagement and reputation, reach still rules -- at least for now. Unfortunately, reach is slowly losing its value as media consumption increasingly moves deeper into the digital realm.

Where in the analog age we might be loyal to a given media brand, today's consumers are far more agnostic. We're more likely to dip into an array of online sources including traditional news sites, blogs and social networks -- and often via search or social networks.

All of this diminishes the entire concept of reach. After all, if a site claims that it reaches millions but they're all just drive-bys, do such figures truly matter? In the years ahead, advertisers will rethink reach and not pay nearly as much for it as they did when they bought media based on a rate base and/or circulation. This will create tremendous disruption for media companies as they have to shift to new ways to prove their value.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP-director of insights for Edelman Digital.

Just-in-time Creative
Despite all of the advances in digital marketing, ad creative remains largely static once it's placed. It doesn't change based on news or memes like a mood ring might. But that's about to change.

As digital channels supplant tangible formats it will usher in innovation from vendors, the media and advertisers. The lines between widgets and banners will blur as creative becomes more utilitarian. Ads will change on the fly based on preset conversation and search data triggers. They will more appropriately reflect pop culture and the "memes" of the day and therefore be a lot more engaging and relevant.

Further, as consumers continue their transitory ways, advertisers will be able to better optimize the creative that runs across different sites. Ads will "talk" to each other so that marketers can identify consumers who have already been exposed to their creative on other sites and then serve up something more relevant to reinforce the initial impression

Google Unlocks the Value of Back Catalog Content
Finally, there's no denying Google's power. It's becoming the primary gateway to the web for both consumers and the digital marketers. What's particularly noteworthy is how Google is digitizing old physical media.

For example Google Book Search now incorporates a vast print magazine archive, including back issues of "New York Magazine." Google News has likewise digitized old newspapers and Google Image Search has done the same with the complete "Life Magazine" photo archive online.

Media companies will increasingly partner with Google to bring their entire back catalog of content online. Right now these are not monetized with ads. But Google will surely layer contextual search ads into these databases and unlock the value of all of this content. This will offer advertisers all kinds of new opportunities and also throw publishers a lifeline as they make the transition from atoms to bits.

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