Thursday, September 21, 2006


Is Media “Fragmented” or Is Something Else Going On?

For many years the phrase “fragmentation of media” has been used to refer to the splitting of communications budgets across different media. An important part of this phrase is the assumption that the same total dollars are being spent on media (as best as I can tell, that is correct), and the main reason for the use of the phrase is that those dollars are being divided up differently than before. Perhaps you have heard it as the phrase “the changing media mix.”

Through these years, the phrase has made me uncomfortable, but I could never explain why; now I can. "Fragmentation" is a media victim's word.

It reminded me of the old fairy tale about Humpty Dumpty falling and no one could put him back together again. Thank goodness for plastic flower pots: I've dropped clay ones, and I know they can't be put back together very well. There are fragments all over the place and there is no way of finding all of them.

The words “fragmented” or “fragmentation” imply something that is not as originally intended, is broken, or is missing pieces. That is, there may have been a precipitating contrary event causing the fragmentation. There are only fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls remaining, inflicted by centuries of storage under harsh conditions. People spend years studying them and grappling with what is there and making educated conjecture about what might or might not be missing. Fragmentation is usually unintended. Dead Sea Scrolls scribes had no intent to produce fragments. Neither do media planners.

If it's not fragmentation, what is it? It's called media planning. If a medium is allocated less than was historically, that is referred to as fragmenting; the media that get more refer to it as a media shift. Fragmentation is how an outsider describes it, especially the media on the losing side. Fragmentation is a word for media allocation victims.

The primary case against using "fragmenting" is that the overriding goals of the media planning process have not changed: effective and consistent branding, messaging, that create audience awareness (and reaction) across media. The search is for synergy, to get the best return for the least cost, a greater ROI for the package than can be produced by a single medium.

The measurable effectiveness of media has traditionally been difficult. If sales went up, the ads must have worked. If sales went down, the ads must have been bad. Companies carry out many simultaneous activities to stimulate sales, such as have sales people with incentives, or add dealers, improve product quality, or act to deal with competitive action. Any claim to a single act causing an improvement is likely bravado and not empirical. No executive is likely to run an experiment to find out what the primary causal activity was from a scientific standpoint, especially when doing the research can be expensive.

A new book, What Sticks, attempts to determine how one part of media, advertising, is best deployed by consumer marketers, by extension helps explain the change in the demand for print and the use of printed products like magazines, inserts, and others. John Wanamaker's quote that “half of advertising is wasted but I can never find out which half,” is now out of date. The authors have determined that it's actually 37%, at least of the companies studied. The biggest problem they found was spending too much in a category, usually broadcast TV, beyond the point of economic return. The same budget, they were able to demonstrate, was to reallocate “extra” budget dollars to other media, and achieve better returns. The authors studied marketers whose total budget in advertising was $300 billion; of that, $112 billion was considered wasted. One of the underlying reasons for cross-media, therefore, is that each medium in a media mix has its own diminishing returns. Spending more is not the approach, spending differently is.

Fragmentation is not something decision-makers seek, but synergy is. Maximizing ROI is something that applies to the whole budget, not just one medium. Communicators are trying to find the “Goldilocks” allocation to media where everything is “just right.” Unfortunately, this allocation will always be changing, because the marketplace will always be changing as well. Competitive actions, technological change, innovation, targeted geographies, consumer preferences, and other factors, are dynamic, so skills in creating optimal media mixes are bound to be sought aggressively by agencies and marketers alike.

Most of all, marketers have realized that multiple media are more effective than just one. As the authors write about their research “...we found that an exposure to one TV ad, one magazine ad, and one online ad preformed better than seeing three ads concentrated in any one media type...” They also state “Seeing a consistent pattern across media creates a more powerful pattern in consumers' brains than the mere repetition of the exact same message in the same media.”

What does this mean for print and commercial printers? It means that printers have an opportunity to get into this fray by finding ways to dispel confusion about the effectiveness of media, and especially print, even the most basic print. First, printers must understand that the print orders they get are only a brief glimpse of what its customers are doing in their overall communications. Be curious: have casual discussions with client decision makers that fill in the gaps and provide a sense of the overall plan, if there is one. Printers can play a role in suggesting media mix alternatives and making sure that clients get the most out of what they do. Most printers have customers who are not sophisticated in media allocation. They may not even be aware that they should have a media mix.

Ask questions when exploring their needs: Is there a business reply card that is part of a product brochure? Can direct mail stimulate e-commerce activity? Does the client web site capture the proper information for sales leads or a follow-up mailing? Do trade show lead forms capture the right information for print and e-marketing follow-up? Can text of printed materials be available on a web site, or as a PDF, or have an e-marketing campaign built around them? Is there a consistency in the graphics and overall design that makes the communicator's message appear consistent in the media they use? It's easier to repurpose images and content of a job at the outset rather than later. There are obviously many more questions that can be asked depending on the client.

The extent to which printers can be proactive in media mix decisions, even for small clients, is actually up to the printer, and not the client; “proactive” means that you take the first step, not the client. Small clients may not even realize that they have a media mix or should have one, and that they should measure the results they get. Imagine that: printers helping customers measure effectiveness of what they do. Cultivating greater media savvy among clients who are not as wise to the media reflects positively on our industry.

The What Sticks data demonstrate is that media allocation without data to support looks like “black art” but is probably more like guessing. If 37% of advertising expenditures is wasted for the largest and best of marketers, one can only imagine how high the percentage might be for others. The decline in commercial print volume since 2000 is not just competition with other media, but a dissatisfaction with print. If people were satisfied with their results, they would not have been reallocating budgets.

Our industry can become a valuable resource in improving the effectiveness of all communications spending, but only if we take the time to understand that there is a media mix and the search for communications synergy. If not, we can be on the side that blames our failures on something called “fragmentation.” Seeing it from the communicators side puts the whole question in richer perspective.

What Sticks

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