Published on: October 2, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.
I spend most of my time writing and talking about the business of retailing and the world of food, though admittedly I do take the occasional detour into movie reviews and opining about the state of baseball and the near criminality of the designated hitter rule in the American League.
For a moment, though, I’d like to talk about my business…though if you’ll stick with me for a minute, I’ll draw a direct connection to your business.
There as a story the other day in the San Diego Union-Tribune that made the following observation: that “there was a time when newspapers were a monopoly business, when people had no good way to get information other than to subscribe, and when businesses that wanted to promote their products had little choice but to buy newspaper ads.”
You know when that time ended? According to Philip Meyer, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, it was a little earlier than most of us probably would guess. 1923. That’s when radio became a mainstream media entity, and that’s when the audience suddenly had options.
Today, of course, there are more options than ever before, and these options have resulted in the creation of an enormous variety of niche products that target specific consumers. We have sports talk radio, we have a selection of 24-hour cable news channels, we have mainstream broadcast networks, and a plethora of media choices tailored specifically for our interests and preferences.
The enormity of choices means a number of things.
First, it means that the newspaper business is in decline. People like Michael Sansolo and I, who actually started out as daily newspaper reporters for the same chain of Gannett newspapers in the suburbs of New York City in the late seventies, find this particularly upsetting because in our souls we are still newspaper people…even though we haven’t actually worked in the newspaper biz for a quarter-century. But the reality is that the number of people who buy and read newspapers each day is declining each day, which means that the advertisers are looking for other outlets, which means that newspapers are closing up shop or cutting back on their coverage.
The irony, of course, is that according to some experts, more people than ever are actually reading newspaper articles – but they are reading them on the Internet, where few companies actually have figured out the revenue model. I’m a prime example of this – I go through something like 30 newspapers a day, looking for headlines and relevant stories for MorningNewsBeat. But I’m doing so online…which is the only way that people a lot younger than me ever access local, national and international newspapers.
And yet, even though people increasingly are getting their information from Internet sources, advertising on the web hasn’t caught up with the size of the audience. It will, someday, of course. Then again, by the time it does, there probably will some other new technology that people will be using to access products and information, and marketers will have to catch up with that…
There are several lessons here that are applicable to both media people and marketing people.
One is that because change is both inevitable and immutable, you have to be flexible. I always joke that I started in newspapers, went to magazines, found myself working in video and now am in the Internet while still writing for magazines and producing videos. Before I’m done, I may be coming to you via hologram each morning. Before you’re done, you may find yourselves reaching out to customers via formats and venues that you never would have imagined just a few years ago. This is a good thing, and it certainly is better than being irrelevant.
Another lesson is that it is okay not to be all things to all people. Customers, whether they are watching TV, surfing the Internet or shopping for groceries, are used to the idea of customization. As time goes on, they likely will even expect or demand it. So it is your best interests to step back from the “all things to all people” approach and figure out exactly who your customer is and speak directly to him or her. I’m not sure that this means a world without FSIs, for example, but I suspect that such vehicles will become increasingly irrelevant in coming years.
Since the media revolution also has meant that consumers are able to disintermediate traditional sources of information – getting wire service reports directly from the Internet in real time rather than waiting for the paper carrying those reports to be delivered in the morning, for example – I think that retailers have to face the fact that they, too, can be disintermediated. As new sources of product and product information become available, the traditional sources can be abandoned…unless, of course, these traditional venues find new ways to engage with the shopper, create memorable events, target meaningful customers, and, in the end, drive bottom line sales that are sustainable over a long period of time.
Doing this, I think, can give each of us a differential advantage. Not an unassailable advantage, of course, because there is no such thing. But an advantage that maybe will keep us relevant in our consumers’ eyes while we figure out what the next one will be.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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