By Hannah Johnson
Consumer-oriented innovation, online content strategy and digital brand management were at the center of many discussions and panels during the Digital Life Design Conference (DLD), which ended on Tuesday in Munich, Germany. DLD was started six years ago by Hubert Burda Media, one of Germany’s largest magazine publishers, as an invitation-only “platform for progression” and a meeting place for Europe’s “creative class.”
With speakers like Thomson Reuters’ CEO Tom Glocer, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, and Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, DLD offers an insider, top-down look at how large and small companies succeed in the digital arena.
Tim Kring, the creator of Heroes, and Peter Hirschberg of The Conversation Group presented NBC’s multi-platform promotional strategy for the TV series, which includes creating a large cache of content spread across Web sites and games. The result is not just a popular TV show; it is a brand. Hirschberg said that media companies “traditionally thought of narrative or content as a one-way street.” However, as fans connect online and create a culture around the story, “we now have an obligation to create content that users can push back on.”
From the show’s beginnings, piracy has been an issue as fans created and distributed illegal copies of Heroes episodes online. Instead of trying to crack down on download activity, NBC decided to capitalize on their fans’ tech savvy. NBC plugged a Web site URL into one episode of the show. In addition to adding content to the plotline, the site also asked users to enter information about themselves. Within an hour, the Web site garnered over 600,000 unique visitors and NBC had an instant database of dedicated Heroes fans. Ultimately, Hirschberg argues that if storytellers do not adopt the “second screen” (be it mobile phone, computer, or game console) into the narrative and marketing plan, they are missing opportunities to reach their audience.
This is not a new concept to many book publishers, but the question is, where do publishers fall in this cycle of media distribution? Tapping into a narrative brand like Heroes could be profitable for a publisher, but creating such a brand and controlling its cross-platform distribution could be even more lucrative.
Building a larger Web presence and optimal brand experience requires a serious amount of interaction with consumers for the investment to pay off. In order to do that, companies need to understand what consumers expect of them. As more brands engage with their customers online, those customers expect real-time responses to their comments, questions, and requests.
This represents a shift in the way businesses develop new content and products. “The consumer is squarely in charge,” said Nike CMO Trevor Edwards during a panel about marketing strategy, and “each consumer has a lot of influence” (think one-star ratings for Kindle-less books).
The other side of consumer-focused business strategy requires companies to innovate beyond consumer expectations. Andrew Robertson, the CEO of BBDO Worldwide, says that understanding your customers’ “fundamental motivations” is the key to “creat[ing] an experience that is engaging enough to change a person’s behavior.”
When asked about the creation of the Kindle, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that the company is “focused on customers and innovating on their behalf.” The Kindle was the result of “looking at how to innovate the concept of the book” for Amazon customers.
For publishers, Amazon’s innovations have been disruptive, but Amazon customers aren’t complaining about the $9.99 price point, and that is what matters to Amazon.
DLD is meant to explore the “state of the digital economy,” according to its organizers, as well as showcase new and emerging talent. Presentations and panels touched on a broad range of topics including solar energy, cloud computing, broadband and mobile technology, location-based services, investment strategies, art and music. Organizers promised that Asia would be a big topic for 2011.
Despite the crowded venue and the ironically patchy wi-fi connection, DLD is a good gauge for where media and other digital industries are headed. As the conference concluded, many of DLD’s star lineup were headed to the World Economic Forum in Davos to continue their discussions.
READ: The “Heroes” graphic novel online
FOLLOW: The conversation about DLD 2010 on Twitter
WATCH: Our video report from DLD