Getting behind the line

01 Oct 2012  |  Michael Bayler 

Michael Bayler, strategist and author, Bayler & Associates, on barriers to reaching the connected consumer...

Those of a certain age who were young enough to see the classic movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when it first came to cinemas, will perhaps remember the heroes' recurring, increasingly plaintive refrain, as they were relentlessly tracked by bounty hunters across the US and into South America to their doom: "Who ARE those guys?".

I often think of that line - all the more poignant since it emerged from a golden age of media when Hollywood - along with a still-effervescent advertising business - seemed, like Butch and Sundance themselves, to be the immortal good guys.

But its querulous tone expressed nicely the Kafka-esque feeling of alienation we all feel on the industry side of media innovation. We've never had more information about our consumers, yet we've never felt such a sense of distance, of disempowerment. Why is that?

Our devices are effecting almost weekly impacts on the connected lives of these new monarchs. Our content is - let's face it - everywhere. So-called Big Data promises insights and innovations fed by information that the consumer is, ipso facto, providing to us just by being connected. What's not to like?

The first panel of the very well-received MediaTel Group Connected Consumer event, that launched at iBurbia last Friday and ran across Monday at Merrill Lynch, was about "Reaching The Connected Consumer". Expertly chaired by the ever-astringent Ray Snoddy, we had the rare privilege of hearing four (five if you generously include your author ...) industry experts bare their souls in discussing this sticky question: who, indeed, are those guys?

My own brief contribution was as follows... We had a lot of conversation about a new form of media ecosystem, one with immense cultural and commercial potential, underpinned by the intelligent glue of Internet protocols, overflowing with data, rife with content.

Smartphones have won the heart of the market hands down, and smart TV's... ? Well, they're certainly selling well, but are consumers using that smartness with the same deft precision and focus that they apply to their phones? Well, not yet.

And this poses a significant challenge for the big bets. Lots of money - and a few giant reputations - are riding on Connected TV. Old and new players are waiting for the promise of the connected ecosystem to deliver. But surely there are, in fact, two ecosystems in play.

Let's call them Macromedia and Micromedia. Big TV, Big Web, Big Mobile and Big Advertising are all largely moored in Macromedia. It's corporate, it's about big stakes and risk, it moves pretty slowly, and, most important perhaps, it has a fair amount of nose pressed up against the window of Micromedia.

Micromedia is that personal, me and my mates, tribal "Zone of Intimacy" that is the most fascinating and troublesome consequence of the connecting of consumers.

If Macromedia is about the power of Big Media, Micromedia's ruler is the powerful and often ruthless consumer (now a troubling word, in terms of its assumptions). If Macromedia is about consumption, Micromedia is about self-expression.

This is, I believe ultimately, why consumption-based business models - the advertising that has always ridden, with enormous success of course - on the tails of Big Content struggle so frustratingly in Micromedia. Both Facebook and - as it stands, but watch the space - mobile advertising remain profoundly unconvincing in terms of consumer acceptance and brand acceptance.

We have talked for ever about above, below and through the line. There is another easy-to-miss line here, an almost tribal one that sits at the interface of these two utterly modern ecosystems.

The technology giants - you know the ones - that have ridden the web to commercial dominance have done so by establishing a strong base in Micromedia, by further empowering an already power-hungry connected consumer. No one needs vigorous persuasion of the fact that having overturned advertising and music (and I intend no moral point here) their future intentions in Macromedia need careful attention.

The formidable challenge for producers, rights owners, channels, format developers, advertisers and their agencies in Macromedia, is to find ways to convincingly cross that line in the other direction, sending ambassadors to sue for a workable peace with a connected consumer who is, let's be honest, quite comfortably otherwise engaged in Micromedia in networked pursuits that seem to depend far less on our content, our brands, perhaps above all, on our own suddenly lonely ecosystem.

Game on, to be sure!.

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