Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Media Strategy: Dot Com Déjà Vu?

Are you feeling Dot Com déjà vu? You are not alone among media and marketing people if the current wave of Next Big Things is making you queasy.

A little skepticism is in order. Nobody really knows how all this Great Stuff will work or what will survive. This early in the economic cycle we have room to maneuver and try new things, but most of us still have a business to run and bills to pay. Five quick thoughts:

1. Booms can blow fast and technological shifts often take longer than anticipated. In the last Digital Gold Rush, media got ahead of itself. Further back, hyper-competition among Mini Computer and PC manufacturers (and the related media spending) flushed out suddenly. FM radio arrived in the 60’s but I was surprised to see recently that something like half the peak AM audience still exists (help me out if I’m wrong).

2. Every boom gets romanticized. I recently heard a learned professor lecture on “The Gutenberg Parenthesis” positing that the use of digital media marked an escape from the “imprisonment” and “regimentation” of print to the “freer world” of “linked gradations” where we can all “think like medieval peasants.” You’ll hear similar rhapsodic notions in less academic analysis of our digital future.

3. Money talks in two ways. First, companies like Google with huge actual revenues determine the shape of major parts of the market. Second, VC investors actively promote their investments as the Next Big Things. To exit profitably VC’s need to sell the perception of future value. Once that sale is made, they move on to funding (and thereby creating) the next Next Big Things.

4. Good news can be transitory. Early in the last digital boom, my company made our first foray into email marketing and got close to a 50% paid response rate. I thought we were in digital heaven. But the joy in our little world was short-lived. Although email became the workhorse of our business, response rates quickly returned to earth.. Similar amazing results from online social media (if they occur) are likely to be fleeting. Then we all get back to work.

5. We have to use our own judgment. My biggest mistakes have come from relying on purported experts. The victories will come from seizing on clear opportunities created by the current shifts, directly based on personal knowledge. Ironically, some of the best opportunities may simply be good positions abandoned in the rush to the Next Big Thing.

This is what I see from my humble place – building media properties that actually make money . What am I missing?

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