Historically, different types of media were independent from one other and there weren’t really any links between them. However, as all media, including TV, gradually becomes networked onto a single digital platform, the links between them are becoming very real, very varied and very valuable. Today, consumers (aka people) can easily switch from one type of digital media to another, and equally easily to an e-commerce checkout. The result is that the consumer path-to-purchase, that for a long time used to look a fairly simple flowchart driven by Yes/No decisions, now resembles a bowl of spaghetti, such is the choice of routes through the new media ecosystem. Hyperlinks were the first example of valuable connections between different types of media giving consumers the opportunity to follow their own paths of interest. When reading a physical paper the only way to follow-up on an issue or offer was to rip out the article or coupon and file it away. As newspapers became networked this behaviour changed and people could immediately click-through an article or promotion to find out more. Today, as increasing amounts of media becomes...
...networked the range of links is expanding rapidly as consumers appetite for joined-up experiences grows.
Beyond hyperlinks search has become one very significant way in which people create links between media. When watching a TV ad at home most people won’t worry about trying to spot the relevant URL, even if it is included. They will just bang some vaguely related keywords into a search engine in the hope of trying to quickly link what they have just seen to some sort of associated interactive experience - even if that's a competitor’s website. Of course, many brands now recognise and seek to drive this behaviour. The unique and memorable Aleksandr Orlov is partly there to usher TV viewers onto the web.
In recent years, social media has created a booming share-and-compare economy, where people share aspects of their lives online and compare what they are offered back. This new sphere of traded opinion is now vast with Twitter alone delivering 350 billion tweets per day. This megatrend means friends and family have become some of the most valuable links of all. Should someone I know and trust post a video into their Facebook stream, I'm very likely to at least notice it, and in doing so am relying on them to help me find helpful links from the firehose of information coming my way.
Another major factor driving the variety and sophistication of links between media is the growing range of networked devices (aka groovyware) that people can access. Smartphones, for example, let people link media in innovative ways, such as QR codes. In many countries these little chequered squares have become everyday tools for people to take a quick snap-shot from a print media advertisement or outdoor poster and then jump directly to a website or online shopping basket. However, in other markets QR codes remain baffling, which may explain the appearance of more intuitive visual search tools such as Google Goggles.
Despite these huge trends driving media into a single networked ocean, many parts of the mainstream industry stubbornly hang onto their island mentality. However, while the reluctance of traditional media to recognise the value of links with digital media is well-documented, there’s a good deal of reticence among Silicon Valley's tech-driven bucks to recognise the value of the old guard. Eric Schmidt famously commented that the day Google ran a television ad would be the day that hell freezes over, such was his scepticism of traditional media's value. Then in February of last year, one day before Google ran its first Superbowl spot, the Mountain View boss tweeted that that chilly day had come. This year he has been explaining how effective that advertisement was, and that it drove huge amounts of consumers to try out Google services, particularly mobile devices, thereby immediately paying for itself through increased search activity.
Another example of technology players underestimating the power of links with traditional media is the evolution of Foursquare. In its early days the location-based social network stood alone and could feel like a community of people involved in a strange mass-stalking experiment. However, as it has started to create links with other media its value has become clear. Today, the service is a helpful way for people to link promotions in traditional media with a physical retail experience. The service has even partnered with American Express so that a Foursquare check-in automatically adds discounts and promotions to a linked Amex account.
As investment pours into the networked TV ecosystem the ways to link television content with other media also becomes more varied. IntoNow, quickly snapped up by Yahoo, is a service that lets people point their iPad at a TV screen to find out more about the programme they are watching. The service then lets people ‘check-in’ to that show, share their comments with friends and even pick up points for registering their viewing of commercials, thereby linking TV commercials with the first steps along a brand's path-to-purchase.
Even more ambitious and far-reaching is Bluefin, developed by a team from MIT. This massive system tracks all US TV signals and monitors social media platforms to find out what people are saying about programmes in real-time. The ambition of Bluefin is justified as the links it creates are of enormous value for brands trying to rationalise their media investment in the US TV industry’s $60bn annual marketplace. It’s a service that makes BARB’s UK reporting panel of five thousand homes look like something from the dark ages.
Historically, the only links between media were those created by brands and creative agencies using integrated communications techniques, so that a message on one medium would enforce a message on another. However, despite their efforts, integrated campaigns rarely went much further than a tiny URL shown at the end of a TV spot. The reality was these links were only as strong as the connections between the different agencies working on the campaign (ie not strong at all).
Today, as all media is slowly drawn onto the web, very real and varied links between media are being created using increasingly sophisticated technology. Brands that fail to recognise the high-value of these connections risk consumers creating links on their behalf, often in unhelpful ways, or just being ignored. In the era of networked media, links mean business.