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The Impact of the Splintered Consumer on Evolving Marketing Trends

Since the 1980’s, the consumption of mass media in the typical American home has splintered from three broadcast networks into thousands of entertainment and media channels, including cable TV, Web content, games and user generated content. Thirty years ago, with just three networks, marketers could easily reach a large audience and leverage many significant shared experiences. But today, the splintering of the media has created both challenges and opportunities for marketers.

As it happens, the splintering of mass media has coincided with the emergence of direct response marketing and the ability to target advertising and promotional messaging to ever finer groups of people. In some ways, the principles of direct response marketing have emerged as the dominant form of managing marketing and advertising. CMO’s and CFO’s have adopted the fundamentals of this marketing approach in measuring and optimizing all of a brand’s marketing, including branding and awareness campaigns.

In the early days, the Internet accelerated this trend by enabling the targeting and measuring of display advertising, which was almost universally used as a branding and awareness channel. Suddenly, marketers could measure engagement (i.e. impressions and clicks) and test and optimize the advertisement messaging. Equally as important, marketers could optimize placement – favoring sites and content that drove the most favorable behavior. This was crucial, given the splintering of consumer content. Significantly, marketers could both target micro-segments that showed significant response to the brand and messaging, as well as gather insight into the preferences and profiles of their consumers and brand enthusiasts. Along the way, these principles were applied to search marketing, rich media marketing, affiliate marketing and email marketing. Of course, alongside the branding and awareness opportunities, the direct marketers were using the same channels to drive immediate revenue through the same principles of track, measure, test and optimize. In fact, many marketers are now leveraging display advertising, a prevalent branding and awareness channel, for direct response through retargeting and sophisticated behavioral targeting.

Many of the most sophisticated brands are using these same principles in traditional offline advertising channels and newly emerging online channels. The most sophisticated marketers have realized that broadcast, print and other advertising can be measured and optimized to drive significantly higher returns on advertising spending. A substantial part of that optimization is driven by targeting advertising spending to ever finer splintered consumer segments through cable TV, print media, sponsorships, and others.

Social media is evolving into the third wave of finding and targeting the splintered consumer. The ability to drive and measure engagement is enhanced by the nature of the channel. Fans and followers provide feedback that goes beyond simple impressions and clicks. Three ways brands can use social media sites to define and target segments include “share to social” links, “liking” a blind promotion to receive the discount and crowd-sourced promotions. And social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide the ultimate direct response vehicle – targeted, interactive two-way communication at the individual and segment level. Never before have marketers had such powerful tools available to target the splintered consumer.

In many ways, it’s just in time. We’ve arrived at a point where splintered consumers, acting on their own, can have access to an incredible amount of product information alongside the opinions of strangers and trusted friends alike. The ability of brands to broadcast a single ad campaign that can move consumer markets is much more limited than 30 years ago. Newly empowered consumers have significantly increased their expectations regarding brand engagement and only through the full range of marketing tools and channels, especially including online and social media, can brands have the same impact as before.

Jim Wehmann is senior vice president of global marketing for Digital River (, a leading provider of global e-commerce solutions that builds and manages online businesses for software and game publishers, consumer electronics manufacturers, distributors, online retailers and affiliates.