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IAB Engage: Competing with the niche – can big brands ‘micro focus’?

Alex Christie

13 November 2009

This week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th IAB Engage conference, billed as ‘Get Fit Be Happy’. Whilst this message of health and fitness is really intended for IMG01213-20091111-0853brands, customer engagement and the bottom line – it was most notably felt by myself when running up the theatre aisle stairs…

Contrary to the dayglow-spandex fitness-focussed getup admirably donned by several of the speakers during the day, the lineup was an impressive one. From Charlie Leadbeater, internet futurologist and writer of mass innovation, not mass production message ‘We Think‘, to Matt Brittin of Google UK – not to mention the IAB’s own and very entertaining Keiron Matthews, and the sumptuously enthralling and consummately uplifting Mr Stephen Fry.

Whilst the message for the day was about getting brands into shape – and a certain Mr Motivatior was removed from his cryogenic 1980’s chill to deliver some invigorating messages to the business owners and managers in the room during intervals, I feel that there was a sub plot to the message of shaping up of your brand for modern internet marketing.

The Sub Plot

The question was really around size, mobility, agility, and whether businesses have the means and mind-set to address and more importantly interact with their ever changing ‘audience’.

I illuminate the phrase ‘audience’, as the point was raised early on during the day that the traditional and broad ‘target audience’ is no more – mostly due to market fragmentation, but also – due to the power of the internet, the word ‘audience’ is obsolete. The internet allows more interaction and two way communication now then ever before, and this is an opportunity that must not be missed.

My underlying sub-plot question therefore – How can big brands be focussed on the ‘mass niche’, where the present and the future is all about fragmentation of content, market and demand itself? Are big brands too big, slow and lethargic to ‘microfocus’?IMG01233-20091111-1442

This fragmentation has been seen in the sphere of music – where there is a large shift towards the purchase and consumption of individual songs, not albums (my friends will tell me otherwise – an album is an ‘experience’ and it needs to be absorbed from first bar to final hidden track. The ‘kids’ will say different, thus: 1) the aforementioned fragmentation gives more choice, and 2) see ya later Grandad). This shift is also currently being seen in the world of Rupert Murdoch and the great media silos, and as those who adore using the internet indulge in the ever growing ways of sifting through their interests, desires and musings, this fragmentation will only grow.

A lot of this comes from a need for control. Murdochs floating of a pay for content model this week is the start of proxy against those individuals who graze on the modicums of information they need from a site (journalistic or not) but don’t really stick around long enough for the adverts…

Charlie Leadbitter made the point that to win this battle, brands must not attempt to clamp down – but to infiltrate the way people use online content, and find a model which will support both advertiser and consumer. A point echoed by Mr Fry later in the day, but in this instance, in regard to our previous music example.

It is at this point that I think I should get to the, er, well – point. If the internet is fast becoming an entity where we are all ‘ninja surfers’ – all looking for something very specific, all looking for something that is more tailored to our needs, all wanting it faster than the broadband company say we will get it, and all not sticking around long enough to be sold to whilst we are at it, how can those who wish to get a (cough) advertising message across without forcing it down peoples throats (in most instances to have it thrown straight back) address this?

There was much discussion in an afternoon panel session around segmentation and tailoring of display, almost in answer to this question. Learning customer behaviour, and serving the right ad, at the right time. Funny, I think I have heard that one before somewhere..

Why continue to push a message alongside content, when it can be served to the individual who is actually looking for it within the text they are searching for itself?

Search – the long tail…

Long Tail

If content which is more directly apparent to the users immediate needs is what is actually demanded, and the user is becoming better at finding this content, then creating content that is well suited to the needs of the user, and ensuring that it is well optimised for SEO is the right channel to achieve this goal.

If users needs, and the searches made by users, are becoming more fragmented, then so must the target content’s optimisation. The long tail, mentioned at the IAB Engage session by Kieron Matthews, is the place this can be done. In depth content, explanatory and engaging content, written for the user, can cater for a vast and definitive range of search terms, allowing the user to get to the content they are looking for, at the time they are looking for it.

So, the IAB session may have focussed on keeping your brand fit – but the questions it posed are as great as the answers it offered, presenting the perfect opportunity to answer them at next years session…  how very neat.

Murdoch at the next session? IAB – you’d better make a phone call…




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