I was recently in a brand planning meeting with one of the bigger media agencies in Sydney in which the senior media planner discussed how their brand idea would work through their channel planning process. He told us that digital is just another channel to consider in the mix and that the consumer is at the centre. Apart from being a bit peeved and of course biased, it did get me thinking – he’s right, but not for the reasons he thinks he’s right.

So why are we pulling digital consumers out as a separate discipline? Well, let’s face it, the digital consumer is a little different. We see people every day quite happily sharing their identities, location, friends, etc. on properties like Facebook and MySpace. Now if I was to say I was going to post blown-up pictures of you on bus shelters and billboards around Sydney and Melbourne along with your contact details, you would probably be horrified – so why do people do this online without a second thought?

It’s often touted that one of the key roles of the internet for consumers is as a key aggregator for price comparisons. While this seems rational and sensible, fresh research from the UK suggests that this is not necessarily true for all demographics. The research found that the key driver for e-commerce is convenience, so all you retailers should add 10 percent to your prices and add it to your usability budgets! But that’s a whole other issue, for now I want to share with you some facts about the Australian digital channel and consumer.

The category is big and mature, but still with plenty of growth left in it, which I think will largely be driven by the new broadband developments recently announced. In 2006, online advertising surged ahead at 61.5 percent year-on-year growth and attracted just over $1 billion of advertiser spend. Yep, a large part of that is classifieds, but still a pretty impressive economy in itself. There was one report I stumbled across the other day by eMarketer that provided a very good summary for Australia:

  • comparative APAC internet penetration is high within the total population online, at 64.5 percent in 2006
  • according to Nielsen, on average these internet users log on approximately 45 times per month and spend 40 hours online
  • there are 5.9 million Australian online buyers
  • $11.35 billion was spent shopping online in 2006 in Australia, and
  • the leading online purchase is online tickets.

No surprises there. There is no one definitive source though: eMarketer estimates 13.2 million users in 2007, Nielsen Net//Ratings 11.5 million and ABS at 10.6 million. We won’t dwell on stats; the point is that the channel is now mature and best of all provides serious ‘volume opportunities’ to create conversations with consumers. The one thing I find in this industry, however, is that the statistics are often used to support an existing idea or strategy rather than inform them.

Here are some examples of good digital strategy, details of how to gain further insights and some future techno stuff…

Battle for the Bronchs

So many times I have seen a great idea or potential advertising vehicle get diluted when it reaches the digital agency, but here is one example of a great digital idea: www.battleforthebronchs.com.au is the digital campaign by GSK to highlight asthma, cleverly incorporating the use of the microphone as a key device to play and experience the site as a way to reinforce the asthma message. It features great production qualities, good planning around developing episodic content and a new approach for this category.

Social insights

Gaining customer insights is key to any great communication idea. So next time you’re about to send out that ‘all staff email’ to the company surveying what everyone thinks of the next big pitch you’re working on… try something different. Go onto one of the many social sites or email sites and target your questions by specific gender, age or location. Or target by favourite music, movies, TV shows, books or interests.

Blinkx

With the increasingly popular use of video in digital it’s useful to keep your eye on what is happening in this space. And www.blinkx.com, the video search engine, is soon to launch a contextual video ad network similar to Google AdSense, enabling advertisers to bid on keywords that are spoken in a show or appear in the video meta data. Pretty cool concept, but how are they going to administer all that tagging?

Of course digital is just another channel, but I think we’re finding that increasingly it’s going to move further and further up the planning chain. Who knows, one day we may be able to say, “Of course TV is important, but it’s just another channel to consider in the mix…”