MI6 Day 2 takeaway: Know thy consumer

Activision's Will Kassoy gets under the skin of today's in-control consumer and reveals how technology can make a marketer's job easier.

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SAN FRANCISCO--The second day of the MI6 Game Marketing Conference got under way this morning at San Francisco's Moscone Center, and the message from the podium built on what keynoter Chris Di Cesare had introduced yesterday: To be a successful marketer, one needs to understand the power consumers have at a time where technology permits the skipping of all marketing messages--where, as Activision SVP of global brand management Will Kassoy said in his presentation, "consumers are in charge."

With the displacement of TV as the single entry point into the consumer marketplace, Kassoy said in his morning presentation that the challenge for marketers is to intelligently use the plethora of devices and platforms consumers interact with to make "fragmentation a business model."

Kassoy, who is responsible for establishing worldwide brand strategy for Activision games, focused his presentation on fragmentation not only as a phenomenon but as an opportunity. "Fragmentation drives real markets, and it's here to stay," Kassoy said.

Acknowledging that "broad connectors" and "campfire events" such as the Super Bowl--and to a lesser extent, TV in general--are becoming less numerous, Kassoy advocated that the same technology that fragments the consumer experience can be used to make smaller markets viable.

Referencing the Long Tail, a theory that posits that products and brands can use a cross section of low-tech, personalized, and recommendation-based outlets such as blogs and review sites to see a product promoted, it's no longer just the blockbuster, hyperpromotoed product that can find traction with consumers.

"Consumers have unprecedented power in the retail sector [today]," Kassoy said, "going well beyond the usual rating of products."

Kassoy then gave a short lesson in the history of advertising, in the interest of contextualizing the current state of consumer empowerment. He broke advertising into three ages, defined by those who owned the technology-owning information, and by extension, the consumer. "Whoever controls information can own the market," Kassoy said.

From 1946 to 1973, according to Kassoy, it was the broadcast-TV networks that held the upper hand; there was virtually no other conduit into the consumer marketplace.

From 1973 to 1995, it was the retailers who took control of the broader consumer marketplace--all based on the introduction of the bar code, which Kassoy said gave retailers unprecedented data on exactly what was selling in their stores, and that subsequently helped determine which products would be featured in ads. During those years, Kassoy said, major brand ad spending was down, given that all retailers needed to do was consult internal sales data and then selectively promote items that were hot sellers.

Since 1995, the power has shifted to the consumer. Kassoy noted that for the first time, consumers were spending more on PCs than on TVs and spending more time online doing their own research and trading information within their own network. "Now, when the consumer walks into a car showroom, they know more about the car than the salesman [on the showroom floor]."

So what can marketers do to reach these empowered consumers? Kassoy left attendees with a five-point agenda. First, have a unifying brand idea, such as Dove Soap's new "Real Beauty" campaign or BMW's long-standing "The Ultimate Driving Machine" tag line; second, to use new technology to be as relevant as possible, such as Toyota's "Build Your Scion" option on that auto company's Web site; third, to use as few or as many consumer contact points as necessary (such as Apple's online presence; physical presence with its new, open-24/7 Manhattan storefront; outdoor advertising; stickers, and so on); fourth, to be likable (again, Kassoy referenced Apple and the iPod); and fifth, to give people the tools to pass along ideas (a Web site URL, for example).

How all this influences the game publisher was a point Kassoy didn't overtly make, but his message was clear: With advertising messages so easy to skip, the traditional "media hammer" is no longer enough to sell products, including games.

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