Content That Entertains

In case you’ve missed it, the Web has changed; it seems like just yesterday it was good enough to take all your brochures and advertising collaterals and convert them to digital format, add a little search engine optimization, throw-in a little PHP programming and bingo, you’ve got a website. And if you wanted to show how cutting edge your company was, maybe you’d add a little dash of Flash animation, or some royalty free music. Well here’s a bulletin from the frontlines, that isn’t going to cut-it in the new multimedia Web-business environment.

Almost daily I receive emails from people asking me to review their websites and tell them why they can’t convert visitors to customers even when they are attracting significant numbers of visitors on a regular basis to their sites.

The answer is both simple and complex: simple, because these websites fail to communicate the company’s message in a meaningful manner to their visitors, which means no dialog is opened, and without a dialog, no business can be done; and complex, because the implementation of the solution requires a new way of thinking about communicating with your audience using sophisticated presentation techniques that put a higher premium on creativity than they do on facts, figures and old-school direct marketing tactics.

If you are looking for a mantra to begin any new website initiative or to correct an existing website disaster: Think Audience Not Customers.

New Words For A New Web-Business Environment

In the past while I’ve run across three newly coined words or phrases (Communitainment, Branded Entertainment, and Snack-o-tainment) that attempt to capture the fundamental change that has taken place among Web-user expectations.

All of the new terms have two things in common: one, they require the marketer to think of website visitors as an audience and not as customers; and two, they all require the marketer to use entertainment techniques as the basis for delivering content.

Communication + Entertainment + Community

The Piper Jaffray Internet Media and Marketing research team recently released a report entitled ‘The User Revolution’ in which Safa Rashtchy coined the concept of ‘Communitainment,’ a blending of the words communication and entertainment. Rashtchy uses the term to denote the “melding of communication, community, and entertainment,” as a new formula for implementing the delivery of marketing content.

The report points out that “Video ads will be the driver of the next major growth in brand advertising …” with the Web being “the leading medium at work and the second leading medium at home behind television.”

For any business that thought they could conduct business as usual, this should be a wake-up call. The Web has changed: the market is no longer content to be informed, they must be seduced, and you are not going to seduce them with key-word density and biz-speak.

Contrary to popular belief you can deliver a marketing message faster, more powerfully, and with better recall using creative video presentations than you can with a page of text. Now no one is saying you shouldn’t have text on your site, but your copy better be damn interesting and well written if you expect anyone to actually read it.

Meaning + Sharing + Experience

The idea of ‘Communitainment’ provides a conceptual framework for creating Web-video presentations that work: your business communication must convey meaning through a focused presentation that uses all the various techniques available to the savvy Web-producer; your audience must see enough value in the presentation that they are willing to contact others in their colleague-community and share it; and lastly, the delivery of the message must create a memorable entertaining experience associated with the product or service provided.

Branded Entertainment

Leta Baker writes in her ‘Adobe Magazine’ article ‘Creative Persuasion: The Rise of Branded Entertainment’ about her concept of using entertaining online video presentations as a means of effectively creating brand awareness.

What Baker is talking about is video that doesn’t hit you over the head with a hard-sell sales pitch or bore you to death with meaningless platitudes, but rather presents entertaining short programs that companies can attach their brand to so viewers gain a memorable positive impression of your company. This is a long-term strategy that takes into account the reality that not every genuine prospect that comes to your website is ready to buy your product at that moment but might, when and if they remember who you are, when they are ready to buy.

There are many ways to implement this ‘branded entertainment’ concept and they all don’t have to be completely devoid of salesmanship. The Apple iPod commercials are an example of what I would call ‘branded entertainment,’ even if Leta Baker would object. Unlike most commercials that people race to avoid, the iPod commercials are actually anticipated: people want to know what Apple is going to come up with next, and the result: iPod has the lion’s share of the MP3 player market.

The Apple Macintosh commercials are another form of ‘branded entertainment’ that involves a sales pitch. Here we have an ongoing campaign with well-developed characters that the audience has gotten to know over the length of the campaign. The audience looks forward to what these characters are going to do next. This does not mean that every PC owner is going to run out and buy a Mac, but over time Apple is getting people to recognize their product as an alternative.

Because the commercials are entertaining, people are listening and waiting for the next installment of the campaign. Audiences are getting the message and that is all any good marketing campaign can achieve.

And here is the big hurdle for many small businesses: good marketing requires patience and should be aimed at opening a dialog, not just making a quick sale.

Most website sales pitches are like bad ‘pick-up’ lines: crude and ineffective; an audience needs to be wooed with tender loving care before you can expect to see any results. If you’re not willing to invest the time and creativity in opening a dialog with your audience, you can forget about using the Internet as a marketing tool.

Snack-o-tainment: Fast Food Entertainment

The term ‘Snack-o-tainment’ was used by Nancy Miller in her ‘Wired’ magazine article ‘Manifesto for a New Age” in which she equates consumption of new media to societies addiction to fast food. If the audience is addicted to entertaining media, we as marketers must feed that addiction.

It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest objection to online video was it took too long to load; now we see it compared to fast food. The fact is video can deliver a meaningful message in the quickest possible way because it conveys content using the full arsenal of communication tools.

We can look to television for a blueprint of how to deliver these bite-sized morsels of corporately nutritious, entertaining, marketing manna.

The thirty-second commercial is an example of just how much memorable content can be crammed into a short period of time if a little entertaining creativity is added to the mix. And unlike television, there is no costly premium associated with time on the Internet, so content can be as long or short as the message requires.

A campaign based on this formula can come complete with plot-lines, character development, and signature music all designed to deliver your marketing message in an entertaining way that will not only get stuck in your audience’s memory, but will be anticipated by that same audience. The famous ‘Taster’s Choice’ soap opera style campaign of years ago was one of the best examples of combining entertainment with a commercial message.

Even the lowly jingle can be resurrected to provide some ‘sit-up and take notice’ to an otherwise mundane presentation. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know the recipe for MacDonald’s Big Mac, based on their fabulously successful commercials, even though they haven’t been aired in years. In fact MacDonald’s current roster of commercials are so forgettable that you wonder why they haven’t brought the old standby back to life.

Another bit of delicious marketing entertainment was the series of Chili’s Restaurant commercials featuring various singers interpreting their ‘Baby Back Ribs’ jingle, which provided far more entertainment in thirty seconds than a full CD of Britney Spears. More importantly that infectious ‘baby back ribs’ song has become deeply rooted in the public’s subconscious, and when the inevitable questions comes up, ‘where are we going to eat?’ that jingle starts playing in our heads. If you want to be successful, learn from what works.

Can You Afford To Wait

If your business is expanding as fast as it can with an ever-growing list of customers and continuously increasing profits, then perhaps you can afford to ignore the changes taking place, and the expectations of your audience. But if things could be better, and if you yearn to improve your Web-marketing, then you have to adjust to new ways of delivering content.

You can’t let out-dated thinking get in your way. There is a difference between twenty year’s experience, and one year’s experience repeated twenty times. There is no point in continuing to repeat old methods that no longer work.

You know things have changed so get ready to deliver your content in a way that will allow your company to become the next great Web success story.