Don Draper Had it Easy

November 2, 2010

I was speaking with Softlayer’s PR guy the other day. The topic of conversation was the television show ‘Mad Men’. When I returned to my desk, I couldn’t help thinking that Don Draper had it easy. The advertising and communications game has changed radically since his fictionalized time.

When Don Draper was thinking about making his clients happy in 1964, print, radio, television and billboards comprised the palate that he had to play with. The Internet has changed this in ways Don would struggle to comprehend were he to time travel to 2010. This new palate is virtually endless, essentially combining everything that Don was familiar with, putting it in one place (sort of), and then putting it on steroids.

While Don would have a hard time understanding the internet, he would appreciate the power that it brings, and not only in terms of how he can get his message across. The ability to track who goes where and what they do when they get there has enabled market segmentation far beyond what Don would have ever considered. And because the internet has a little something for everyone, companies are able to market with a greater degree of accuracy.

In theory, we ought to be able to spend less money to reach OUR audience, versus spending more money to hit a broader audience only some of whom are interested in what we do. Theory also dictates that companies ought to be able to measure a real return on this investment. Don would be amazed as this was mostly unheard of in his world - the desire was there, but no one really knew which parts of the budget were delivering results. As the old saying goes “I know that half of what I spend is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

The advent of ‘social networking’ sites like Facebook or Twitter has made matters more challenging as they change the relationship a company has with its target audience.

First, a company first needs to be attractive enough to merit being followed or ‘friended’. This theoretically means that a captive, receptive audience has self-selected for you. The challenge is in understanding why people show up in the first place.

A Facebook page provides the audience with a profile – this gives the audience context and a reason for adding you as a friend. Twitter is not like this in that in depth profiles do not exist in the same way. On Twitter, the ‘who you are’ element plays itself out over a series of 140 character Tweets. The odd part is that people often ‘follow’ based on a single Tweet, which may or may not be related to what you do. The audience is there, but the intention is often less clear.

While I understand why I follow the people I follow, I confess that there are Tweets that I get from people that I follow for reasons I have long since forgotten. It gets tough to filter things when you are following only 186 people like me, never mind the thousands that some people do. For example, journalist Leo Laporte follows 1,427 people, while English actor / author Stephen Fry follows an astonishing 53,230 people. When you are following that many people, there is not going to be a lot of consistency regarding a decision made to follow. Indeed, the inflow of Tweets is so prodigious that filtering the noise must be next to impossible.

Does that mean that Twitter does not have value as a marketing tool? Don would probably think so, but I don’t. I think that Twitter becomes a valuable tool, but not as a standalone means to reach your customer. If you start to think about Twitter (in combination with a bunch of other stuff) as a means to build community, then I think you are on the right track… I will get to that line of thought later.

-@quigleymar

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