Net Neutrality And How It Will Affect Marketing

Arm Wrestle   It’s no secret that politics in Washington is a contact sport, and just about everything is grounds for an argument. One item that’s been in the news in recent months is the subject of net neutrality. In basic terms, the debate is over whether companies that provide Internet services can offer certain content providers faster speeds than other companies receive. It’s analogous to a debate over whether all drivers should share the same highway, or if people who are willing to pay more money can access special lanes that are less congested.

While most of the dialogue is centered around technological and regulatory issues, the final resolution of this issue will have a profound effect on marketing for decades to come. Let’s look at how various outcomes could change the game for companies and organizations that are trying to get their message out.

For a start, video is now an essential part of effective marketing campaigns — and it requires a fast connection — if a video stalls while loading, four out of five people will click away. Enormously popular with all types of consumers, it’s efficient and produces results.

A few statistics illustrate the impact of video:

If you’re concerned with marketing, you’re probably already thinking about short-term and long-term scenarios — with and without net neutrality. With video, factors such as speed, access and cost will be affected. While the issue is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, you may need to re-think content, distribution, and budget to maximize results.

Why Objects May No Longer Appear Closer Than They Are

There’s no doubt that consumers view faster content favorably and find it more engaging. Poor performance makes people act fast – they’ll quickly abandon content if videos don’t download quickly and seamlessly – whether using a laptop or mobile device.

With net neutrality, content is required to travel at the same speed, theoretically treating video distribution by newer, small and mid-sized companies the same as bigger brands with deeper pockets. Without it, many expect the rise of fast lanes with premium pricing. So, if you can’t “pay to play,” your video may be stuck streaming at a speed that won’t hold the attention of potential customers. That may call for adapting content – using shorter videos, optimizing video to play at slower speeds and mixing up how you get your message out.

Taking the Toll Road or the Back Road  

For now, significant portions of online video content – as with YouTube – is free. That’s how many companies reach new customers and it really helps the bottom line. In the search to generate profits, however, new economic models are constantly being devised and what is free today may not be free in the future – with or without net neutrality.

In the absence of regulation, marketing costs for using video may increase. Many expect a move to tiered pricing with fast lanes available only to the big national or global brands that can afford them. Needing to pay for the best user experience – a fast lane – or optimized video, will undoubtedly cost more. At the same time, blocking video content from others over price – forcing companies onto a slower back road – is unlikely to win loyalty for ISPs, mobile providers and others.

Consumer limits on data use, especially on mobile devices, may also extract a higher price. Marketing workarounds include developing sponsored content or aggregated content that would be exempt from any limits or additional cost.

Redrawing the Content Map

With projected tiered pricing for fast lanes, marketing campaigns might need to adapt their video content and distribution strategies. Tiered pricing and geo-targeting (which might begin to include ISPs) would make it more difficult to easily reach a national audience and might require the delivery of different content based on better video streaming performance in some regions vs. others.

The need to develop and distribute multiple versions of content to support a single campaign obviously costs more money. It’s good for business if you’re hired to produce content, less so, if you have to pay for it.

By 2019, 90 percent or more of Internet traffic may involve video bits. Whatever happens on this issue, marketers must focus on providing the best consumer experience possible. Especially with video, effective marketing calls for understanding the type of connections your customers have and creating content that matches their devices and needs. We’ll be counting on technological innovation and sheer marketing creativity to meet these challenges.


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