Live from DM Days: 'Shift Happens' and Marketers Must Be Prepared, Says Ted Leonsis
June 10, 2008 — During his keynote address today at DM Days New York Conference & Expo, AOL Vice Chairman Emeritus Ted Leonsis explored new paradigms for marketers, as they strive to meet the changing needs of today’s consumers. The conference, which is being held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, is taking place June 10-12.
“There’s a real meltdown going on now in the psyche of individuals,” Leonsis explained, adding that there has been a fundamental change in the way people are managing their households. “People today want to be able to have a higher quality of life and are really questioning what the meaning of their being is,” he said.
The needs of today’s consumers are shifting, Leonsis told attendees. For example, although consumers may have more purchasing power, they may have little or no leisure time. Families may have dual incomes, but fewer savings. Family life today tends to be more fractured, and people tend to be on the move and overscheduled.
Additionally, he noted, people today, while aging, are staying healthier and living longer. Moreover, these older consumers are increasingly engaged in new media and the Internet. But he said marketers aren’t fully prepared to accommodate them.
The Importance of Honesty
Leonsis stressed that honesty and the lack of deceptiveness, are paramount for marketers. “A consumer can smell lack of authenticity a mile away,” he told DM Days attendees. “The worst thing you can do as a marketer is to be perceived as tricky.” He strongly advised marketers not to show up with “an offer that shows a little bit of sleight of hand.”
At the same time, Leonsis pointed out, consumers want choice and control of their online experience, of their expressions, applications, content, and of their lives. “For the first time,” he said, “the media is totally in the hands of the consumer.”
Time Is Money
Time is of the essence for consumers today, more than ever before, Leonsis stressed. “Their biggest wallet is their time,” he said. “If you’re not respectful of people’s time, they will reject whatever you are selling. And people want to be able to mash things up, which is different from what marketers want to do, which is to give them an unadorned message.”
Consumers today are also more global. In fact, Leonsis explained, North America accounts for just 17 percent of worldwide Internet users, down from 35 percent in 2000. “We have become a marginalized country,” he said. “We invented the Internet, populated it, and made it accessible. Today there are more people in China on the Internet than there are in the US. . . . So we really have to do that gut check to see what we need to do to be more globally competitive.”
At the same time, Leonsis said, “What we do have going for us is that consumers are very sophisticated. Young adults have grown up living their lives on the Net.”
Everything about the media today is more user-generated, Leonsis went on to say. “It’s a Facebook economy and a YouTube world,” he explained. “You are always connected and you can always be reached.”
Therefore, the distinction between business-to-business and business-to-consumer has become blurred. Today, Leonsis pointed out, people are performing activities at work that used to be reserved only for lunch hour. For example, fantasy football traffic spikes from 9:00 to 10:30 on Monday mornings, indicating a big attitudinal shift. “It’s now much more acceptable to be working in the office and acting like a consumer,” said Leonsis.
The Internet Enhances Happiness
Leonsis shared with attendees that, after having a near brush with death, he “vowed to become a student of consumer behavior and happiness.” As a result, he spent a lot of time trying to find out what makes people happy.
His research led him to conclude that happiness hinges on five major areas: relationships, community, self-expression, giving back, and pursuing a higher calling. The Internet, Leonsis contended, enhances each of these.
Marketing to the New Consumer
Today, Leonsis explained, the media business is shifting, with fewer than 35 percent of people under age 34 reaching for the daily newspaper. Further, he noted that both display and search revenue are expected to continue to grow in line with the overall online advertising industry growth rate, and consumers today spend approximately 20 to 22 percent of their time online.
Leonsis pointed out that marketing today isn’t just focused on people any more. “Managing, treasuring, and understanding every pixel is what every marketer’s job will be,” adding that marketers today actually have to market to algorithms, such as those used in Google Search. “More and more, consumers are abandoning the search after that first page,” he said. “That algorithm is going to become the overarching oxygen for our industries in the coming years.”
In summation, Leonsis reiterated some basic tenets for marketing to today’s consumer, advising marketers to be authentic and humble. “Embracing the new consumer comes down to some basic things that might be anathema to some of the things we are taught in basic direct marketing,” he said. “In order to succeed as marketers, it’s essential to listen to consumers, and be open.”
“No longer am I going to tell you what you should buy,” he told attendees. “I want to listen and watch what you’re doing so I can serve up something with relevance.”
# # #
back to top