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The Algorithm is the Message: Our Emerging New Truth in Marketing

July 6th, 2013

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan famously said in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,“The medium is the message” meaning that any communications channel has a direct affect on the world not only through the content itself, but also by the inherent qualities of the “medium” itself. Important words that continue to ring true today because the emerging new media broadly employed in marketing continues to evolve to empower brands and customers to find each other in ever more dynamic and direct ways.

Deb Roy, Twitter’s Chief Media Scientist, presented at the Cannes Lions Festival two weeks ago and captivated audiences both in attendance and online—setting Twitter ablaze with the most followers during this heavily followed and analyzed event—and for good reason. He was presenting the latest toolbox in the marketer’s ever-growing arsenal—a way to monitor social media content specifically referring to television programming and the commercials that support it.

Television is undergoing fundamental changes as the social media revolution occurs all around us. Research data reveals that most mobile users (smartphones & tablets) use their mobile devices simultaneously while watching television and often employ these devices to discuss with others the content on screen. But you already knew that, since there is a high probability that you and your family has been behaving this way for quite some time to the point where it has become a normal natural part of life.

Those previously unseen conversations continuously created by households just like yours around the world, about programming, events, services—and often the brands that support television in the first place—has been the focus of Mr. Roy’s work at the MIT Media Lab which resulted in his technology being acquired by Twitter for reportedly $100 million. Smart move.

And as Rich Brooks, President of Flyte New Media, reports in 2013, Twitter will also apply an algorithm that will personalize your twitter feed: this algorithm will include factors like influence, engagement, alignment, gravity and personal interests.

By analyzing social media data the employment of these emerging algorithms touches one of the primary pulses of consumer behavior; and their utility in TV programming cannot be denied because it is current and relevant and the first broad feedback since Nielsen entered the market decades ago with their ratings. This was a revolution at the time and remained our only reliable window—until now.

This is only the beginning.While watching the reaction to Mr. Roy’s presentations unfold across my Twitter feed live during the Cannes event I was thrilled to see what can arguably be said as the future of marketing. Twitter has become my favorite pipeline for experiencing a big news story or event because of the myriad of conversations about a story that appear second-by-second in my twitter feed @Chris4Whitehorn. The diligence many practice in sharing the hard news is astounding. Yes, a few opinions are off but that would be the same in my living room at home watching the event with my family. And I would naturally tune these errant comments out to understand the story, just like I naturally do on twitter. Except my twitter “family”, like most everyone on twitter, is much march larger, not just our spouses and children.

Why? Because this technology is just the beginning. This methodology and way of thinking about consumer behavior, far beyond Mr. Roy’s initial product, has the potential to encompass information across the full spectrum of consumer behavior:
• Beyond TV
• Beyond commercials
• Beyond Twitter’s stream
• Beyond the forms we currently are accustomed to

Real time data summarizing consumer opinions are a game-changer. The promise is an essentially seamless meta-view into our collective human experience. Not perfect, or entirely consistent—just like we are anyway—but enough data to establish trends, transitions, likes and dislikes in an immediate and current manner not yet seen before.

Just imagine that a group’s position in the river of data associated with any and numerous topics encoded and parsed from the social media feedback loop can be identified, quantified and in turn, associated with your brand. Then you have new data on how to respond, continuously each minute, week, quarter and year.This type of algorithm-based technology will dramatically impact a brand’s equity and could:
• Reduce time to market
• Increase customer loyalty
• Birth many new products and businesses
• Create efficiency in response to buyer’s desires

Sounds like business as usual, except the idea of “Faster Better Cheaper” which gained in practice while Daniel Gold in was the head of NASA is closer to being realized.

The ones paying attention will surely win and the others, will eventually loose touch—first with their customers’ then with their markets. We have crossed the divide, again thanks to those like Mr. Roy.

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