Engaging Audiences in an On-Demand World

Engaging Audiences in an On-Demand World
September 18, 2008

I had the opportunity to speak to the eCommerce Council of the Mutual Fund Education Alliance in Chicago. I was invited to be on a panel moderated by Dale Line of Sentinel Investments. I was joined on the panel by Michael Stull of Nuveen Investments and Martin Gawne of William Blair & Company. The topic of our panel was Engaging Audiences in an On-Demand World. If you would like to watch a Brainshark version of this presentation click here.

Due to the events of the past weekend with Lehman, Merrill Lynch and AIG, the subplot of the event was how to communicate critical information to the channel and more importantly to shareholders quickly during difficult times. While this was an event for those in the mutual fund business, the concepts we discussed apply to anyone trying to communicate to an audience in today's business world.

The main theme of our panel was how to engage the audience with on-demand communications that satisfy both the salesforce and the compliance department while giving investors the information they need to make sound decisions. We discussed three main ideas which I will summarize here.

1. The Changing Preferences of the Audience

The general population has clearly shown its affinity for multi-media content. Newspaper subscriptions have trended down for 20+ years. According to ACNielsen, Most Americans own at least 3 televisions and watch an average of 28 hours/ per week or 2 months per year AND today's children see an average of 20,000, 30 second commercials each year. We not only like our television, but we like it on-demand and the major cable distributors have built products to satisfy out desires for having what we want when we want it. These trends carry over to business communications. More and more companies are modifying their communications mix with less focus on face to face meetings and becoming more virtual and more on-demand with positive results to productivity and the bottom line. A case in point is a major financial investment firm that we work with today. They evaluated that three months after purchasing the Brainshark platform their communication mix was 50% face to face meetings and sales calls, 40% virtual meetings on the web, and 10 % on-demand content. Eighteen months later they had adjusted their strategy based on the response of the audience. What happened was they listened to the audience (to their credit) and were open to change. The new communication mix was 65 % on-demand communications, 25 % virtual and 10% face to face. The bottom line was that in 15 months they were increasing sales, reaching 250% more people and saving money and time while doing it.

2. The Changing Role of Marketing

Historically, the sales team ventured into the marketplace positioned the product to customers or prospects and then came back to marketing with ideas for what they needed from marketing to sell a product or service. Marketing reacted to the input of sales by producing a glossy brochure or white paper to support product sales. The consumer relied on the sales person to tell them everything they needed to know about the product before the purchase. The internet has changed this environment dramatically. Consumers have multiple ways to find out about our products today. They can conduct their own research, investigate companies, compare products, read blogs, access hundreds of new organizations and research groups that provide volumes of data all while sitting at their desk or perhaps in their pajamas.
Marketing has more environments to monitor and design content for, with respect to messaging and product information, than ever before. Not only do they have to provide a useful, informative, persuasive web site, but they need to maintain intranets, extranets, master the science and art of search engines and evaluate the data to give the audience what it wants. So while the challenge is greater, so are the technology and the opportunity. Multimedia content (like Brainshark) gives today's marketer the ability to create a consistent, entertaining, concise message for the marketplace. This is critical because it is what consumers are expecting when they venture out onto the web. They are not looking for glossy brochures and lengthy papers. They are looking for informative, concise, bits and bytes of information that help them to make sound decisions. And they want it now, and they want it at their fingertips and they do not want to have to work to find it or play it.

3. The metrics of on-demand (Brainshark) communications and the impact of metrics on messaging

So the audience is changing and forcing a change in marketing and the executive level is concerned about the bottom line, ROI and being more efficient. Metrics is one of the key catch terms of the 21st century. And Brainshark has more than enough to fully assess the impact of any communication.

But first a word about a problem that I see as prevalent and relates to the busy worker I referred to in my last blog. What is lacking is not actual the data, but the analysis. More often than not, we work on a project (campaign, web site, training) and once it is completed we take a breath and then begin the next project. What we have not done is take the time to assess what happened in the previous project and learn from our successes and failures. Part of this problem is the ‘busyness' of business and part of the problem is realizing that we now do have the data necessary to analyze the success of the communication - and we have it in a short time frame. Historically, you send out a mailer and over the course of the next few months you can monitor phone traffic and sales to guesstimate the impact of the mailer campaign. In today's world, you can use and email distribution package that will tell you immediately what the open rate of the email is, which emails bounced, and which people clicked your link. Add Brainshark to the mix and you know now exactly how many slides they viewed, how long they viewed them and which ones they did not view. If you put all of this information together you can very accurately assess which part of your messaging is working. And more importantly, you have the opportunity to modify the pieces that are not working. And, as anyone who has run an email campaign knows, all of this can be started within 24 hours of releasing the communication. How long it takes to make the changes to the messaging is up to you. It could be minutes, hours or days.

So the key thing to remember is that with a multi-media communication platform (like Brainshark) you are giving the people what they want, in the way they want it, at the time they want it and you can track their behavior to modify your message, which gives you what you and your management wants - more effective, efficient, impactful, lower cost communications.