Media Strategy Forum a mind-expanding day

Today's consumers are simultaneously gods and brand sluts. And those are just two of the big ideas that rocked the room yesterday.

Sporting a revamped moniker in its third year, yesterday’s annual Media Strategy Forum attracted nearly 300 of Canada’s most forward-thinking media, creative and marketing professionals to a jam-packed day in Toronto.

All were galvanized – if not gobsmacked – by thoughts like these from star keynote speakers: ‘We are marketing to the gods – tell your clients to stop acting stupid.’ ‘Brand loyalists are a thing of the past – today’s consumers are brand sluts.’ And ‘Marketing has been outsourced to the end users.’

First up was Ryan Mugford (pictured), Microsoft’s director of worldwide business management, entertainment and devices division. He was obviously pumped by global excitement about the very recent launch of Xbox’s Halo 3, which he described as ‘the biggest entertainment launch in history,’ with day-one sales in the US alone of $170 million.

Sketching out some of the partnerships Microsoft has recently struck to penetrate a much wider market than in the past, he bottom-lined the thinking as convincing key targets that ‘Xbox gets me.’ This strategy, said Mugford, is part of the reason why he’s predicting that his company’s gaming division is set to turn record profits this year.

Afternoon keynote: Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO, Denuo; chief innovation officer, Publicis Group Media

Imagine it is 10 years ago. A person walks up to you and says, ‘Do you know that I have in my pocket a device that allows me to talk to anybody I want in the world? It allows me to take a picture of you. It allows me to transmit the picture. It allows me to look at a picture of something else. I can listen to recorded music. I can look at a map, and find directions. I can look at the stock price. And the whole thing costs $399 and falling.’

And a decade ago, you would say, ‘Someone who has that in their pocket must be crazy.’ Or you would say, ‘Someone who has that has God-like power.’ Chicago-based Rishad Tobaccowala capped off his story with a blunt message for the crowd: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are marketing to the gods. Tell your clients to stop acting stupid!’

‘You know when people say consumers are in control?’ asked Tobaccowala. ‘Well, consumers were in control many years ago. Today, consumers are God. We do not want to be constrained by time, by place or by party. Any company with a service that lets me be God is good.’

That was one of the five concepts Tobaccowala suggested marketers consider when planning for the future. Another consideration: We are living in an age of voyeurism, when a tool like Google Sidewalks lets a person ‘see when someone is walking into a porn store.’ Also, Tobaccowala added, 40% of young people believe they will be famous in the next five years – and it’s possible, considering how many friends they can make on MySpace. ‘The French philosopher Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Today, it is ‘I blog, therefore I am.’ That’s fame, and we have to speak to fame,’ he said. Also, marketers must consider facilitation in an age when marketing has been outsourced to the customer.

Tobaccowala shared a plethora of insights and big-thinking advice in a presentation he called ‘Future Comes From Slime’ and ‘Mind Bullets and Stem Cell Thoughts.’ At the outset, he warned everyone: ‘This is about re-invention and re-imagination.’

Tobaccowala said that if you’re a content person, you should be creating for one ultimate platform – the Global Decentralized Linked Network. ‘It’s the only network that really matters. Everything you see is driven by the Internet, even if you are not marketing on the Internet,’ he explained, adding a label to it: The Big Bang. Nobody owns or controls it, but it works, and it links everything. ‘If you’re a content person, that’s what you’re writing for. It’s what will eventually take over. We’re already basically seeing it. Any company that programs for it succeeds against a company that doesn’t program for it. And it changes the rules of the game pretty dramatically.’

From this argument, Tobaccowala branched into an outline of four trends. First, we’re going from a world of centralization to a world of scatter. Centralization (placing marketing messages in one place) is not yet dead, he said, but you’d better get your content out there rather than counting traffic at your company’s home page.

Second: people will continually favour authenticity over authority. For example, said Tobaccowala, consumers shopping for cars will place more belief in a GM vehicle when the company is not the source of the information received – beyond the bare facts, such as how many doors are on it. They won’t even believe the price, if it comes straight from the automaker.

Third: we’re moving from a distribution focus to a content focus. Newspaper content, for example, doesn’t just hit the doorstep anymore, and all the paperboys have grown up to get real jobs – likely on some part of the Global Decentralized Linked Network, and maybe even for the same content provider.

Fourth, marketers aren’t just interested in buying space, they’re interested in buying audiences. In the old days, space and audience were the same thing. Now, it’s not the only way to get attention – you can buy audiences without buying space. Two words: Google AdWords. ‘If I’m a marketer and I can buy an audience without buying advertising, I’ll do it,’ said Tobaccowala. ‘Especially when I can eliminate the waste. I’m willing to pay 56 cents [with AdWords] for someone who raises their hand.’

More ideas to keep in mind? Keep things relevant, simple, open and elegant (pick three of those four to make it work, said Tobaccowala). Don’t just talk to consumers – listen to them when they talk back. And consumers want content anytime, anywhere, Tobaccowala continued. They want to connect to people and to content. Instantly. That means mobile – whether it’s an iPod or a phone or a laptop. The fact that participation needs to be an option is important, but no longer big news. The big news is re-aggregation.

The best way to target in media will be through media behaviour, not databases of consumer facts. Knowing a consumer’s credit card history is less important than knowing what they’ve browsed online in the past 90 days. ‘We’ve all grown up on segmenting, and segmenting is still a big deal,’ said Tobaccowala. ‘You hack at a cow until you get a steak. But in a world where people come to media one at a time, you start with a piece of mincemeat and you’ve got to get yourself a hamburger. So you re-aggregate.’ Companies already doing this, according to Tobaccowala’s presentation, include Feedburner, Google, Tacoda,, ValueClick and Revenue Science.

The future of content? Tobaccowala said it’s Free, Intelligent and Transmittable (FIT). Sooner or later, the big players will stop charging for it. The New York Times online just went free, and Tobaccowala will be ‘shocked out of my mind’ if the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times don’t soon follow. Selling ads around that content will be fuelled by intelligence about the audience – not how many people are reading, but who they are. And people are finding their content in two ways: search engines and social networks. ‘If you’re not intelligent, the search engines won’t find you,’ he said. ‘And if you’re not transmittable, the social networks can’t use you.’ (Jesse Kohl)

Final keynote speaker: Marian Salzman, EVP/CMO, JWT Worldwide

‘Brand Sluts: The Merciless World of the Unfaithful Consumer’ was the apt title of a provocative address by New Yorker Marian Salzman. She is a renowned author and futurist who’s credited with coining and/or popularizing such insightful terms as ‘metrosexual,’ ‘singleton’ and ‘wiggers.’

The bottom-line insight into today’s consumers, in Salzman’s opinion, was expressed on T-shirts she recently spotted in the UK: ‘Just treat me like the Queen.’ That slogan, she said, expresses the new deal being demanded by shoppers – who fully understand their power in the marketplace. Another eye-opening description of consumers, which headed one of Salzman’s amusingly bold slides, was: ‘They’re everybody’s and nobody’s.’

What it all adds up to is a reality that marketing professionals ignore at their peril: ‘Brand loyalty is a thing of the past; today’s consumers are brand sluts. They will buy from whoever offers them the best deal.’ Cameras are a prime example of this behaviour, Salzman explained. In the past, people were steadfastly loyal to one of the top brands. Today’s buyers of digital cameras ‘care nothing for the brand… they just want the latest technological features, and don’t care who makes the cameras.’

Shopping has become a sport, and consumers expect to be ‘edu-tained,’ whether they’re grazing in-store or online, Salzman added. And, she predicted – reiterating her opinion that today’s consumers have a profound understanding of their value to marketers – that people will soon ‘be aggregating their social networks and putting them up for sale.’ (Terry Poulton)