by Andy McKechnie
Communication theory has certainly evolved over the centuries, getting more and more complex as thinking has expanded. In many respects, it started with Aristotle, who said that all communication has three elements: a sender, a message, and a receiver. This, really, is the simplest model of communication that we have, as models developed later in history added in other factors, such as channel and noise. All of these models serve as accurate – and often detailed – portrayals of what happens when we communicate with each other.
While the later models are more accurate and more detailed than Aristotle’s very simple model, the fundamental elements outlined in Aristotle’s model should not be forgotten in today’s promotional communication. Oftentimes, too much emphasis is placed on the message and not the receiver. This is not to say that the message isn’t important, of course, but there needs to be a balance between the three elements in order to achieve successful communication (channel and noise can also have a great impact).
Even the most compelling message falls flat when delivered to the wrong audience. Likewise, a perfectly pinpointed target audience will not care about a message that isn’t appropriate for them.
In the advertising world, it is commonly accepted that there will almost always be some waste due to imbalance in the three elements of Aristotle’s model. A TV spot on American Idol, for instance, will reach plenty of people, but some of them will be the wrong people. The same goes for a homepage takeover on Yahoo.com; millions of the right people will receive the message, but there will also be waste. This is accepted as part of the price paid for the high impact of these placements.
What I fear many advertisers are forgetting is that in addition to finding the right receivers, the message for those receivers needs to be right, as well. Sure, we can spend hours creating different concepts, testing different messages, and using different calls to action to arrive at the one perfect ad that is right for the largest number of people, but it’s almost always not going to be enough. Instead we need to be more purposeful in marrying the message to the individual receiver in a meaningful way.
Sending the right message: Know your target
Here’s an example. Consider a DVD rental/video streaming service that wants to get new customers. In order to entice folks to join, they offer a free trial. They get the word out by buying a lot of digital media and showing everyone the advertisement for the free trial offer. The problem here is that a few million people who receive the free trial offer ads are already registered customers. This mismatch between message and receiver is a great waste. Money down the drain. In the offline world, as I mentioned, this happens and is accepted as part of the cost of doing business. In the digital world, however, this should not be accepted. Why not? Because it doesn’t have to be.
The DVD/streaming video advertiser could use simple ad serving technology at the point of the ad call to determine if the particular receiver is an existing customer or not. For a new customer, serve the free trial offer as planned; however, if someone is already registered and in the fold, send them a message with a different call to action, such as a referral bonus.
This isn’t a new idea – many retail advertisers have been doing it for years, but I’m still amazed at how many big budget advertisers are failing to utilize this simple, uniquely digital tactic. In short, it takes a media buy from targeting a broad demographic, and makes it much a more personalized, one-to-one experience, based on the brand’s data about a specific individual.
Let’s not forget why we’re here, however. This is just as applicable in the health care space. A patient is highly unlikely to sign up for an offer related to a drug he/she has never heard of. Likewise, if a patient is already on script, he/she doesn’t need top level information about a basic aspect of the drug. This becomes especially wasteful in the endemic content areas, which carry a premium price tag.
The beauty of digital media buying is that we don’t have to play by the old rules, though it seems many still are. Hopefully more advertisers (and not just those in the pharma space…I’m looking at you, high-profile-DVD-rental/streaming-video company) will get a little more Aristotelian when thinking about the way they are running their digital campaigns and remember that the most successful campaigns never divorce the message from the individual receiver.