Marketing in the Digital Age
In a refreshingly down-to-earth talk at Johnson in October, Scot Safon, MBA’84, executive vice president of CNN Worldwide and general manager of the HLN network, shared personal experiences in the marketing field, providing humorous examples on his take of marketing in the pre-digital versus digital age.
At CNN, Safon has observed a dramatic change in how products were marketed in 1984 and how they are marketed today. Marketers used to have complete control; they essentially told consumers what they should want and should buy. “That is classic marketing,” Safon said. “Back then, you’re either a marketing person or a victim of a marketing person.”
Today, however, the modern consumer knows just as much about the product as the marketer, if not more, Safon said. “Consumers today are more creative about finding competitive knowledge,” Safon said, “They will position a product themselves.”
Safon also mentioned that pricing a product has become more difficult due to online, consumer-run retailers. He described a time when he needed to purchase three cars: two to replace old automobiles and another for his sixteen year-old.
“I ended up buying my cars, not from a car dealer, but from Amazon and eBay for $14,000 each — and with very low mileage,” he said enthusiastically. “And I’m thrilled. I’m a satisfied customer. [To pay] $34,000 for a car at a dealership, you’re crazy. Why would you do that?”
Safon also commented that marketers must become more creative with ad placement. “Screens are everywhere!” Safon exclaimed, with a touch of mock hysteria, “Phone screens! iPad screens! Your laptop! Flat screens at the gym, even!”
Furthermore, the Internet has changed the consumer’s experience with the product. In the digital era, the consumer cannot see the packaging, touch it, or experience it.
“Social media has become the newest, sexiest part of the marketing mix,” Safon added. “Before it would be: ‘Who’s the best writer at the New York Times or at the major magazines?’ Now it’s: ‘Who’s the most influential blogger or tweeter?’”
Driving home his point that in the digital age, anyone can be a marketer, Safon cited one of CNN.com’s most successful marketing campaigns last year – the result of a tweet from Lady Gaga. He explained: “Lady Gaga wrote some op/ed article on CNN.com, and she tweeted about it, and CNN.com had 6 million hits.”
The digital era, according to Safon, has changed the nature of purchasing and the marketer’s role, and has made the marketing discussion much more exuberant, creative and authentic. “You can’t be distant, from the perch of the conference room – they don’t want a marketing head to talk marketing phrases to them – you have to be in the mix,” Safon said.
Marketing in the digital age has its pros and cons, noted Safon -- it’s erratic and “there are no rules,” but that dynamism also makes it a “very fun and exciting place to work.”
Safon left the audience on an optimistic and encouraging note. He advised, “Be enthusiastic on how you approach [finding your career]. Be a lifetime learner. I’m on a huge learning curve on my job; it’s scary, but exciting.”