Play to Where Your Audience is Going to Be -- Guest Post by Brian Wilhite, Virtual Fan Network

Where your audience is going to beRows of Seats - Photo by Turba 

Flite's Guest Blogger series features the industry's top thought-leaders to share insights on display advertising, agile marketing, and innovation.

Brian Wilhite is the CEO and founder of Virtual Fan Network / VFN Zone, a digital sports marketing platform that connects athletes, fans, brands, and publishers with engaging experiences. 

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In the current digital world, it is now possible to reach millions of people quickly and efficiently.  A message or a piece of content can instantly be broadcast across any number of social channels. 

With this ability, the power and influence previously held by the traditional broadcast networks has shifted to the content creator.  Based on the trends of the last few years, I do not expect this to reverse course. The impact of this power shift will affect the way content is used by consumers, broadcasters, owners and creators.

In the past, people were forced to go to a specific broadcast network’s channel to tune in, at a possibly inconvenient time. Now they are able to be entertained directly from the content creator.  By simply choosing to “follow” or “Like” their favorite entertainer or sports hero, the consumer is instantly entertained through their favorite social channel, their consumer devices, and at anytime or place.

It's important to think about how this affects advertising efforts, especially when you can no longer reach the broadcast audience. The audience is a moving target, and becoming increasingly difficult to hit.

Maria Sharapova in Miami

Maria Sharapova competes in the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open final.

Maria Sharapova is a well-known professional tennis player.  She has social media following of more than 4 million fans who she can message instantly.  Some of Maria’s previous tennis matches broadcast on television surprisingly had a smaller viewing audience than her social graph. It isn’t practical for Maria to set up cameras around her tennis courts at home to directly broadcast her tennis matches across her social channels… or is it?  I am sure at least one advertiser would like to reach that huge audience of tennis fans.  Who would profit? In the past the network would get all the advertising revenue. In this example, guess who profits from the advertising? Maria, because she's now able to unlock the digital spend.

The traditional broadcasters role within entertainment is being made obsolete. For Maria, and other creators of content, they are now in control of their personal brand, the message, and the economics that come with it. 

The NFL’s Superbowl is the number one sporting event in the U.S., advertisers spend millions of dollars for 30 second spots because they know that they can get their brand message in front of the 100 million fans. Advertisers spend money based on the audience, regardless of which network is doing the broadcast. In the future, will the advertiser spend money to advertise on Maria Sharapova’s social channel with a reach of 4 million? I say yes! 

Legend has it that Willie Sutton, the famed 20th century bank robber, was asked why he kept robbing banks. He simply replied, “Because that’s where the money is!” The same is true for the advertising spend for the Superbowl: “that’s where the audience is”.  As the audience moves to less traditional means of content consumption, the advertisers investment to reach and engage with that audience, will move as well. 

When the great Wayne Gretzky was asked how he always seemed to be at the right place, at the right time. He said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  I believe the future of digital will be a more intimate experience between 3 parties; the consumers/fans, the content owners, and the advertisers.  The engagement rates between the constituents will be directly related to seamless brand and content integration. 

This relationship will manifest itself in many different digital forms, all which will maximize the power and influence of social media. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the future of digital will be based on a model of syndication.  Thus engaging fans/consumers everywhere they are, and on every device they own, rather than trying to move that fan/consumer to a specific destination. 

Content owners and brand marketers are already expected to be where their audience is, so they cannot simply rely on tactics to move the fan to another website. I believe that future of digital content monetization is going to be here very soon, and I am skating towards it as fast as I can.