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Beyond the Valley: Attack of the Omnichannel Zombies

03/04/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

Zombies walk amongst us. Hiding in plain sight. Ensuring their temporary survival at terrible cost to people and businesses alike, while markets and consumers move on and away at their own pace. When maybe they should be running.

Do you remember the first time someone spouted the notion of great ideas being "omnichannel", "channel agnostic" or "media neutral"?

A great idea works just as well on Facebook as it does in the papers, on the street, on pack or in the store. Doesn't that sound like a truth we can all agree on?

If we do, then we are condemning ourselves to stinking, shuffling irrelevance as the real world leaves us for dead.

People forced to "socialise" campaigns and ideas created for and from a septic legacy channel pallette are also victims of zombie munching. Whole professional lives are turned into bloodless nightmares in the terrible Frankenstein challenge demanded by brands, agencies and colleagues deep in the deadly conspiracy. At least Dr. Frankenstein had bolts, lightning and sort of usable body parts to make his monster move. These unwilling minions don't even have a flicker of hope or professional pride left.

Pity them, and please don't add to their pain.

Brands and agencies force dead on arrival campaigns and strategies to appear alive, and keep them upright through the collective self deception required to ensure survival. At all costs. Reactions and interactions with reality are just instinct, reflex or special effects.

It's like Weekend at Bernie's without the laughs.

How has this gothic tragedy been allowed to happen? Why has the voodoo conspiracy got its fangs into so many sacrificial people and brands?

One of the great tales of zombie self pity helps to understand why. Big media companies will tell anyone who will listen that "the internet" destroyed all business models and certainty in their spaces.

Like a zombie's loveless hug, these excuses suffocate the truth.

Big media was aware of "the internet" and "social networks" long before anyone else. There was plenty of time for minds and businesses to evolve into something new. 2014-04-02-OmnichannelZombieFinalIllustration.png

And many did, in zombiefied way. A way that avoided radical, painful revision of core beliefs, measurement models and products. Through this necrophile alchemy the same decayed offerings and ideas were born again and again as the corporate undead.

The internet was "just a channel". Along with CD-ROMs, SMS and the rest. Just another way to deploy and promote existing stuff, based on unchanged creative and strategic foundations. Foundations long since decimated by financial engineering, dodgy metrics and a total poverty of ambition. A broken model kept breathing via horrific means.

In the 90s, Newspapers took a scythe to staff numbers and filled the gap with commoditised press agency stories and celebrity fluff rather than original content. Major record labels released albums with just a couple of hit singles and filled in the rest with of the running time with terrible turgid tripe no kid would suffer all the way through, much less dance to. Yet profits looked fat, so nothing could be wrong. Just add a new channel to the winning mix, turn it up, and raise another glass.

Cheers, clink clink and doubles all round.

Until it became clear that big media was giving away a product no longer worth paying for anyway, for free. A child running a lemonade stand would not comprehend such a strategy. Yet the zombies continued to execute it. At least until the smell of gangrene finally reached the big media boardroom and emergency surgery began.

The other side of media - the bit that pays for so much but is ashamed to say it also ended up on the wrong side of history. Marketers became tangled in the same misunderstanding about "The Web". It was "just a channel", one ripe and ready to deploy zombie armies across.

Adverts costing millions are slapped up on YouTube with less thought for the space and optimisation for the place than a 12 year old video game reviewer would expect of themselves.

And then are watched by fewer people than a pub tribute act on a Monday night. In Guildford.

Facebook Pages are infested with press releases, stock photos and product information pushed at legions of bought, fake, indifferent or irrelevant "fans". Advertorial packages no-one asked for and fewer care about end up on blingtard buffed microsites barely recognised by Google's spiders, much less real people. And that look downright satirical on mobile.

Competitions that once would have been an unseen side bar with a write in mechanic in Top Sante now are splayed across Instagram in the hopes that no-one will notice the handful of strangely repetitive entries.

Big media is now running from this toxic truncation of reality. Marketers have much to learn from this strategic retreat from the zombie kingdom, and the changes it requires. For Social media is only a revolution in the technical sense - as in a return to a previous norm.

The eternal, default human storytelling, content consumption and sharing mechanics have been less visible ever since mass literacy, cheap print and broadcast media appeared. Yet they never went away.

These defaults are based around consent and curiosity, rather than interruption and imposition. Clear value exchanges and incentives for all participants in a dynamic marketplace of stories and play are required. The social nature of Great Apes means that Social Media is the common link between the Stone Age and the smartphone.

Unless and until marketers, agencies and brands reject the co-dependent mediocrity required to continue playing the same old tunes in the same "proven" way to a shrinking, bored audience the zombie flannel of "it's just a channel" will continue to smother excellence and business value in its comforting, dead embrace.