The World: Insider's View - The US

By treating digital in much the same way as other media, marketers have missed out on a chance to realise its true potential, Matt Freeman writes.

Well, it is boom time again for the operatic world of interactive marketing. More reasoned this time - rational exuberance, you might say.

And while the rising tide of interactive media allocations continues to raise surviving ships in the digital sea, it seems a new maelstrom is swirling just below the surface.

Truth be told, interactive remains a startlingly ill-defined, misunderstood and vastly underestimated world for marketers and agencies. While internet advertising has risen in prominence to become de rigueur for most major brands, consumer attendance to everything from video games, instant messaging, interactive TV (in all its forms), blogs and non-commercial internet has sprinted far, far ahead of most brands they consume. I think most of us intuitively know this, though the collective does not act. Why?

Why do we (on average) only use 7 per cent of the features of Microsoft Word? Less, actually, if you analyse Windows in total. There are great features entrenched that beg to be used (in case that cloying Clippy has not articulated the point already). Professional betterment or at least expedience may lie within. Why the lack of love?

Perhaps it tracks to some innate, postlapsarian behaviour: the human brain is purportedly only 7 per cent employed on average (the entrance fee to world peace clearly hovering somewhere in the double digits). Perhaps MS Word represents an antiquated product-development model: invent features to answer every need imaginable from every type of consumer; push monolithic product out to mass audience.

It seems, though, that the yawning gap between the potential and the existing state of interactive marketing lies in something more fundamental.

It seems that instead of facing this revolutionary new environment in a revolutionary way, interactive marketing to date has treated the interactive world primarily as a medium. Which it is not.

The new medium, really, is the consumer. We have gone from a supply chain of brands-media-consumers to a brand-consumer-community loop model.

The medium is the messenger. The media empire of the public collective has eclipsed "professional media". The key to unlocking the remaining 93 per cent of interactive marketing potential is held in their hands alone.

Beyond marketing, business itself will increasing rely on an open-source approach to the consumer marketplace. Participatory business models suggest consumer customisation may be a new path to loyalty.

But how can brands employ the power of the new consumer medium without losing control? Success takes a leap in navigation. So, deep breath, perhaps a Holmesian cocktail and greet your new creative department. If you do not use them, someone else will.

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