Politics show weight of new media

While this might be the first time US citizens elect a black man, a woman, or a 72-year-old first-term president, this might also be the first time millions of voters have learned essentially everything they know about that leader via new media options. A major precedent-setting feature of this year's campaigns: Shaping messages and candidate brands by effectively leveraging a wide array of new media tools.

While this might be the first time US citizens elect a black man, a woman, or a 72-year-old first-term president, this might also be the first time millions of voters have learned essentially everything they know about that leader via new media options. A major precedent-setting feature of this year's campaigns: Shaping messages and candidate brands by effectively leveraging a wide array of new media tools.

Party campaign managers seized on two new media realities that many businesses continue to address inadequately. The first being that the advertising competition for "eyeballs" is moving increasingly to Web-based programming on smaller, more mobile media. Second, whether raising money, putting across a key message, recycling a sound bite, or positioning a person or company as a brand, the key is no longer just the type of technology being used, but making the activity more interactive and social.

Companies that aren't examining how to take advantage of these developments and/or using effective communications and PR efforts to make constructive use of them, might find themselves falling behind an ever-arching upward curve.

The simple fact is that decentralized brand building requires collaboration between companies and consumers. Companies are not used to collaborating with consumers - at least not directly - on their marketing approaches and outcomes, yet it might prove a beneficial strategy. A well-designed and orchestrated plan of shared creative activities can result in unrealized opportunities for increased customer intimacy and loyalty. If companies stick their heads in the sand on these issues, brand terrorists might hijack their image and message, so it's important to consider these new media factors:

Know how customers collect, create, and collaborate. Even carefully crafted commercials, news releases, and Web sites are fair game for consumers to share and revise using new technology tools.
For better or worse, new media is egalitarian.
No matter how much you spend on production, there's no guarantee that your YouTube ad will be any more popular than other videos that address your brand (in fact, slick and professional do not typify popular YouTube videos).

Not responding is no longer an option.
Attacks cannot be ignored. America's political campaigns clearly demonstrated what happens when the attacked parties are either slow to respond or fail to retaliate at all - the attacker wins the day. New media has greatly expanded the sources of threats and the speed with which attacks spread.

To prevent losing control of an image and messaging will require thoughtful due diligence, well-conceived strategies, and well-timed and effective tactics. In the end, a proactive approach to the possibilities of new media, a sustained program of credible corporate responsibility, and transparency in all possible public dealings might offer the most effective antidotes. Collaborate with your consumers now, before they join the media bandwagon that intends to collaborate on your brand without you.

Robert Underwood is a senior manager. Laura Skladzinski is a manager at Deloitte Consulting.

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