2011: the year traditional media bites back

Mark Thomson, media director at Royal Mail, gazes into his crystal ball and predicts what the major trends for the year ahead will be.

MarkThomson

2010 has been a year of contradictions. In many ways it heralded the rise of the digital revolution, with social media in particular taking centre stage. This signified the breaking down of barriers between brand and customer, and the start of a two-way dialogue.

However, the economic downturn has also led to a resurgence of more traditional channels, as consumers look for trust and personalisation in the brands they interact with.

For marketers, the recession has meant one thing – innovation. Faced with increasingly stiff competition, they have been forced to explore more creative routes to customer interaction and engagement.

The past year has also seen a subtle power shift in the customer’s favour. Increased competition means that customers are more selective about who they associate with and the messages they will pass on to their peers. This means that marketers need to work harder to be heard above the noise, and also to tailor messaging to an individual rather than a demographic. I believe that this trend will continue to develop during the coming year. Channel selection is equally important as creative messaging here.

According to FastMAP research, direct mail is back, having regained its position as the consumer’s favourite direct marketing channel because people love to receive well-targeted, well-crafted messaging.

In my view, 2011 will see the rise of experiential marketing. This doesn’t just apply to the traditional ’event’ approach either – channels such as direct mail will embrace more interactive approaches, using smell, touch and taste to create an experience for the customer and build word of mouth and deeper brand interaction.

Value exchange will become increasingly important. Gone are the days when customers are happy to hand over their details without receiving something tangible in return. Brands need to provide value such as free events, money off vouchers or exclusive opportunities to make customers feel special and encourage them to share something about themselves in exchange.

Innovations such as this can also provide an opportunity to collect prospect data, which can be used to enhance future campaigns with more personal targeting. ’Individualisation’ will be the buzzword of 2011 – it is no longer enough to merely add personalised touches. The market has a long way to go before it recovers to pre-recession levels, and marketers need to be aware of the importance of maintaining interest levels among their customer base and ensuing content remains relevant to prospects.

Digital communications and social media will continue to play a key role in brand communications. However, it is important to remember that an online strategy should not replace an offline one – many of the strengths of offline channels such as direct mail play directly to the weaknesses of online channels such as email marketing. For example, direct mail is a more effective medium through which to communicate detailed information that the consumer may want to keep and refer back to.

It is imperative that brands serious about delivering sales, building their brands, and engendering customer loyalty look beyond online to a more combined online and physical communications strategy.

WPP recently released a set of results showing that traditional media has seen a rise in popularity over the past year. Throughout the coming year, I predict that traditional channels will go from strength to strength. Having proven their mettle during tough economic times, now that green shoots are starting to show, traditional media channels have the opportunity to showcase a truly innovative new approach. As marketers begin to move away from survival mode and look towards growing market share and taking risks, it’s time for offline media to spread its wings and break the mould.

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