From Bowling to Pinball - how successful marketing organizations are adapting to digital
—Wharton: Knowledge For Action
Rob Malcolm, Lecturer in Marketing, The Wharton School and Peter Sieyes, International Marketing Leader explain how successful marketing today is more like pinball than bowling. It’s less about trying one ball at a time, over and over, to reach consumers. It’s more about keeping that ball in play as long as possible, to rack up points and build impressions.
Digital has changed the "game" of marketing, and some companies are doing a better job adapting than others. The "winners" at the new game understand how the game has changed, and have done a better job using digital channels to create ongoing consumer engagement by actively managing digital conversations.
The traditional marketing game was like Bowling. The large TV budget was the ball marketers rolled down the lane, trying to hit all the pins. This is the old push model. Marketers were in control, happily counting how many "pins" they had hit, and how often. Success in this game was clear-cut, and the metrics clear.
With digital, the game has changed. The new "game" feels more like Pinball. Marketers still partially control the ball, but a lot of action has shifted to the top of the table. Messaging, and other content bounces back and forth between "bumpers" - consumer sharing/co-creating/discussing - and the marketer's most important role is to try and keep a conversation going, racking up points by keeping the ball in play as long as possible. (We are indebted to marketing strategist and author Michael Bayler, for co-developing the pinball analogy.) In a pinball world, marketers can't know outcomes in advance. Instead, marketers have to be prepared to respond in real time to the spin put on the ball by consumers. When mastered, though, pinball can deliver big point multipliers, like reaching networked influencers, advocates, and other high-value consumers, who sustain and spread positive conversations about brands across multiple channels.
Here is a bit of what we've learned observing some of the marketing world's Pinball "Wizards":
- Wizards don't get lost in the tactical pursuit of clicks, "tweets" and "likes." Successful brands have shifted from "campaign planning" to developing sustainable "participation platforms" with carefully managed "engagement plans." Smirnoff is a great example. They launched a global participation platform, the "Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project," where consumers in 50 countries created content, and which reached 10 million people worldwide on a single, record-breaking night! The takeaway? Consumers are no longer just the destination for scripted brand messages, but a starting point for broader brand conversations.
- Brand "conversations" require listening. Today's most successful digital marketers use "listening" technologies to understand the dynamics of networked conversations, uncovering target audience interests and discovering why, where and how consumers interact digitally. Planners and researchers must incorporate these techniques, and shift from delivering "insight in hindsight," to providing useable "foresight."
- Conversation requires a lot more content. The amount of creative content required to keep consumers engaged has increased massively. The cost of developing this content is significant. Creative content has traditionally been allocated as a "non-working" budget item, while media buys were considered part of "working" budgets. Brands' approach to these budget ratios has to be rethought, especially in light of the "free" media that strong creative can deliver through consumer sharing and co-creation.
- Conversation stops when you run out of interesting things to say. Wear-out has become a real issue. Companies must develop participation platforms that can stretch broadly and deeply enough to support fresh, compelling content over multiple planning cycles. Old Spice may be a fabulous case of using pinball thinking, but how sustainable is their campaign?
- Conversation is hard if out of context. Brands must channel-plan before the creative process begins. Creative that appears in the right context is always stronger.
- Some conversations are not worth joining. Marketers should focus only on conversations that are strategic. Just because consumers are talking about something doesn't mean you should.
- Pinball requires new metrics. Marketers need to find new ways to measure how much value-generating conversation and participation their platforms are igniting. Coca-Cola, for example, recently announced that they are shifting from measuring "impressions," to measuring consumer "expressions."
- Conversation requires new skills and resources. Companies need to build a host of new marketing capabilities, including real-time analytics and enhanced content development. In social media channels, community management is critical - probably too critical to outsource.
- Multichannel conversation needs orchestration. And good multichannel orchestrators understand the interdependence of the creative and the technical. Companies must develop or recruit leaders with expertise in both digital content creation and data and analytics.
- Innovation requires courage. The best companies in the digital marketing space carry out disciplined experiments. They place small, daring bets, while striking a productive balance between proven, predictable approaches, and new/experimental ones.
- Integration needs to be a way of working. Marketing teams are being reorganized to simplify execution of "always-on" multi-channel conversational marketing. Siloed structures based on channel or discipline hand-offs tend to struggle most with the new game. Integration needs to be a way of working. Marketing teams are being reorganized to simplify execution of "always-on" multi-channel conversational marketing. Siloed structures based on channel or discipline hand-offs tend to struggle most with the new game.
In summary, the new game in town is Pinball. Is your company ready to seriously step up to the table and start playing?
"When mastered... pinball can deliver big point multipliers."
Rob Malcolm has enjoyed a 37-year international marketing career and has taught marketing at The Wharton School.
Peter Sieyes is a transformational leader in direct, CRM and digital marketing.
- Published June 2012