Pleasing a virtual market

Speaker urges travel industry changes

— Step down from your milk crate and put the megaphone in the attic.

That was the message Will Seccombe delivered to an audience of about 150 businesspeople at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel on May 25.

"It used to be, you could stand on a milk crate and shout into a megaphone to get your message out," Seccombe said. "If you wanted to reach more people, you could scream louder. Or you might target a different audience by moving the milk crate to a different street corner. That's how marketing has worked for the past 10 to 15 years."

Of course, Seccombe didn't mean to say modern businesses literally shout into megaphones. However, he suggested the tactics of the last 15 years could be likened to those of a street-corner pitchman when compared to the changes ahead. And business owners who think their marketing strategies are up to date because they have a Web page need to look further into the future.

"Mass messages are becoming increasingly insignificant to consumers," Seccombe said. "They are taking control of what messages they want to hear. There is a new generation of consumers that lives in a virtual world online."

Seccombe is the president of Revolution Communications. He previously spent many years working on promotions for the Colorado Tourism Of----fice.

"The travel industry is not talking to consumers the way they want to be talked to," Seccombe said. "The ads all look and sound the same. People don't believe it any more."

The best sales tool for Steam--boat Springs would be a Web site on which real people describe authentic Steamboat experiences in their own words, Seccombe said.

"Visitors to your Web page have chosen to spend time with you. Reward that commitment with additional content, blogs, video, forums and feedback loops," Seccombe urged.

Young consumers are flocking to sites such as Myspace.com, where they can create virtual communities. At Youtube.com, people can quickly upload, share and watch videos, Seccombe said.

Savvy marketers will grasp how the dizzying pace of these changes is forever altering the way consumers want to receive commercial messages, he said.

"Keep an eye on Myspace," Seccombe said. "They are signing up thousands of users a day. It's an unbelievable community of people."

At the Myspace.com home--page this week, the producers of the new "Omen" film were promoting a shorter film contest. On the same page, the FX cable TV network was trying to snag viewers by promoting a similar contest that offered the winner $50,000 to "shoot their own hilarious TV pilot."

Those advertisers are break--ing out of the old passive mode and urging consumers to interact with them, Seccombe said.

"We recall just a handful of the many advertising messages we receive each day," Seccombe said. "Our adaptive unconscious serves as a filter that blocks out 99 percent of those messages."

Teenagers in particular are blocking out TV advertising, Seccombe said.

"They're just not paying attention, but teens are too savvy to block out all marketing. They understand it can be helpful."

Marketers must find ways to reach millions of audiences instead of the five demographic groups they once targeted.

"You have to create the right message at the right time to receptive people," Seccombe said.

Search engines are aiding in this daunting task, he said. By tagging a consumer's previous searches, marketing experts can learn about their interests and generate customized banner ads that pop up with a personalized greeting, even when that individual is visiting an unrelated Web site.

Seccombe said he was on the Internet recently when an ad pitching oversized golf clubs popped up and greeted him by name. His preferred search engine has learned that he likes to golf.

Not surprisingly, Seccombe said, Disney understands the transformation of marketing that is under way.

The giant theme park operator is building relationships with young consumers before their parents ever take them to California or Florida for their first Disney vacation. The Disney Web page offers youths the chance to play games in the virtual Magic Kingdom. By the time they arrive at Disney World, they know their way around the physical Magic Kingdom and can walk straight to the attractions they are most interested in.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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