Survival of the most relevant

There is much fanfare citing the growth in time and money spent online by individuals worldwide. Less attention is given to an equally important area: the explosion of digital content.

In 2012, 1.8 zettabytes of data will be created on the Internet. And yes, that’s a “z.” If you have trouble imagining what that looks like, it’s about seven million times the total digital assets stored by the Library of Congress today.

Herein lies the paradox: While the growth of both areas creates an increasing number of opportunities for organizations to reach their customers, connecting with them has never been harder.

Traditional digital marketing was born from a numbers game: Blast out x number of communications and surely you’ll get y number of responses. That worked when we were all enthralled by the novelty of inventions such as email, the first websites, and even Twitter and Facebook.

Do you remember when you received less than 20 emails a day? Bet you opened every one of them. Similarly, early adopters of Twitter enjoyed a love fest of mutual follows. Today, email open rates are about 20 percent and click-through rates are at a dismal 2.3 percent worldwide.

So how do brands survive, stay relevant, and ultimately thrive in this world of digital distractions? Digital marketing today needs to focus on building brand affinity so customers want to hear what a company has to say and offer.

Build digital destinations worth visiting

Those in the publishing industry understand this concept well. Dan Check, VP of technology at Slate magazine, reminded me of this before a presentation he gave at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum. He noted that given the revenue per visitor to Slate, if they had to pay for each visitor to the site it would be a difficult proposition. Slate is about creating a digital property people connect with and want to explore. In today’s world that means producing content people care about, giving folks the ability to access it from any device, and making it social so the content is only the start of a conversation.

In its latest redesign of, the publisher selected a Web content management system that was easy-to-use and supported the latest mobile and social capabilities. No technology could substitute for killer articles, but the right technology enabled writers and editors to quickly produce content and enabled readers to easily share it.

Hair product purveyor ghd is an example of a retailer that gets it. The company’s site has beautiful merchandizing of its iconic stylers, but it also has videos, advice on the latest hair styles, and professional techniques that inspire its core audience to keep returning for another dose of inspiration.

Knowledge is power

In this age of the empowered consumer, no knowledge is more powerful than customer insight. Today, there are analytics and decision support tools that provide marketers critical information to reveal customer intent at every moment of their journey.

With permission, companies, including one of the largest commercial banks in the United States, are aggregating visitor data collected across digital channels and combining it with insight from offline channels and CRM systems to build a unified, 360-degree view of the customer. This insight is helping the bank orchestrate personalized content and offers on its homepage to make it more relevant to each customer.

It’s been more than 40 years since Herbert A. Simon first articulated the concept of attention economics in his work, “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World.” He wrote, “…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”

Only now are we seeing this manifest in a way that forces companies to adapt and optimize for competing attention in the now infinite digital space. In such a world, companies that are able to rapidly create, manage, deliver, and optimize content to drive relevant experiences that build brand affinity will gain the competitive advantage.

Loni Stark is director of product, solution and industry marketing for Adobe Systems Inc.

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