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Marketing to the Empowered Consumer

May 7, 2014

In part 1 of this series, we began with the impact of new media in 2009 that led us to a seismic shift in the market and a realization that it’s not about new media. It’s about how technology is changing consumers, offering ever-increasing new technologies, platforms, and channels. In this post, we’ll talk about the theory behind it.


In January, I was at the annual Carnegie Conference on Integrating Traditional and Digital Marketing Strategies, which had an outstanding stable of speakers. Augustine Fou, one of the presenters, made the following point about the current state of the market:

a live tweet from the Carnegie Conference, Augustine Fou session

a live tweet from a presentation by Augustine Fou at the Carnegie Conference

Back in 2009, as I was processing all the changes that were going on, I began using the phrase, Technology Empowered Consumers. While it’s certainly still true, I think Fou is spot-on. We now have technology and information empowered consumers. And their expectation is that their use of technology and information in the purchase cycle will deliver them what they seek NOW.

But what kind of information are we talking about and where do consumers get it? The answers to those questions are critical to marketing strategy, and can be found in the marketing theory that has been developed since 2009 by research firms such as Forrester and the Altimeter Group, and thought leaders like Brian Solis and Jeremiah Owyang.

In 2012, Owyang, then of the Altimeter Group, and Rebecca Lieb published an Altimeter Group report, Converged Media: How Brands Must Combine Paid, Owned, and Earned Media.

Convergence of media Altimeter

Courtesy of Altimeter Group

(For those who wish to go deeper, check out the Brandsphere by Brian Solis.)

In this diagram from the Converged Media report:

1. Paid media is traditional and digital advertising.

2. Owned media is all the content we produce on various platforms and in multiple media.

3. Shared media is organically produced and shared by our audiences and markets, separate from us, and as they interact with our content and other content in social media.

The Converged Media report summarizes:

Consumer behavior is undergoing a rapid change. The person who surfed the web, today moves quickly across an impressive array of screens, sites, channels, and devices, often simultaneously, or very near so. Logos pervade consumers’ lives, from the programs they watch to the billboards they pass, to the clothing they wear. The average person sees some 3,000 brand impressions every day.

The media and information they consume might originate in traditional media, social media, advertising, or with increasing frequency, a hybrid of all three. Consumers rarely pause to take note. Media are a veritable blur. The primary quest is for information, entertainment, or shopping.

For marketers, the goal is to find the “right “ media, be it paid, owned, or earned, along this highly dynamic customer journey.

Brands are challenged to intercept this elusive customer and cut through the media clutter, regardless of whatever channel or medium consumers are engaged with.

Converged media will happen and is happening. If marketers do not take action, the effectiveness of their marketing efforts will suffer.

What I take from this is that, as marketers, we’re basically in the content business. Our job is to create and deliver paid, owned and earned content that will cut through the media clutter and engage the consumer. Thus, developing and implementing a content strategy is vital–especially for marketing higher education.

In a graduate-adult college search market where, according to Google, 61% of website visitors take at least 30 days to convert, and 53% take at least 60 days, and in a traditional undergraduate market that is months and years long,

  • our owned content must attract and sustain interest while our prospects go through the “highly dynamic customer journey” we call the college search process.
  • And if our branding is authentic, our earned content will be supporting what our owned content says about us,
  • while our paid content will be reminding prospects about our brand and driving new prospects to our content.

These new market dynamics have been hard to ignore. #ContentMarketing and #InBoundMarketing are the new buzz words. Vendors abound. The Social Media hype of 2009 has now morphed into the Content Marketing/Inbound Marketing hype of 2014.

But if we’ve learned anything from 2009 it’s that we need to get beyond the hype and understand what’s really happening–that it’s about the empowered consumer.

The Converged Report goes on to say:

Welcome to the empowered buyer: a savvy and dynamic customer, armed with information, multiple options, and devices, and backed by an ever-expanding network of peers and references.

Remember, this report came out in 2012.

In 2013, Forrester Research announced that we had entered the Age of the Customer, and introduced the phrase, The Mobile Mind Shift:

In the world of the mobile mind shift, a customer expects any desired information or service to be available, on any appropriate device, in context, at their moment of need.

Or, as Augustine Fou put it, empowered consumers expect NOW.

Thus in 2014, marketing higher education is about being prepared for today’s empowered buyer by having authentic, helpful, and compelling content on multiple platforms and channels. In other words, we need to have content on our website, landing pages, social media, college search engines, paid media, etc. And given that most of us don’t have an unlimited budget, there are critical choices to be made.

All of this has been driving conversations and strategy for our Marketing and Communications team at Concordia University Irvine. One of our decisions was to go with responsive web design so that our website content is mobile-optimized for all platforms.

We’ve also been producing content for our website, social media, and for paid media. I’ve included a number of case studies on this blog regarding some of our projects, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks showing how we’ve moved beyond the hype of 2009 to address the empowered consumer of 2014.

Part 1 of this series: Marketing. It’s No Longer 2009.



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