Now that we know people are living digital, we better start getting to them where they exist, when they are there, and with content / brand message of true, personal value.  That mainstay banner ad is on the decline—precisely for the same reasons the traditional ad market is on a steep decline.
I think we are all aware of the limitations inherent in traditional media and that the shotgun approach for branding and marketing alone, can’t carry the day for brands that want to survive, let alone prosper.  The audience is fragmented and living digitally across all platforms.  In fact, they are living in specific arenas where they know they can commune with like-minded folks who share their interests, wants and needs. These lean forward consumers are in the driver seat and they can and are asking for brands to chat with them (not at them) on their terms.
Because of this, the traditional banner ad is quickly becoming the digital :30 spot.  They are just there.  And like a print ad or any other traditional media buy, they are still relying upon the “maybe” rather than the “likely” approach that targeted, personal messaging can deliver.  Increasingly, brands are realizing this and I believe we are on the verge of a major change.  Brands will increasingly recognize the power of social networking and will fine tune their approach so that they deliver on the participant’s terms. The San Francisco Chronicle’s, Verne Kopytoff, provides an insightful glimpse into the not-too-distant future.
More and more brands are shifting to a “social engagement” approach utilizing the power of the social networks and giving the consumer a “reason to notice” their ads.  They are beginning to understand and exploit the opportunities that are to be had by reaching the consumer on his terms and delivering real value.
Companies like Dice (the tech job board) are grasping the need to engage rather than wash over their targets with a banner.  According to the Kopytoff article, one of Dice’s recent banner efforts included a call to action, asking readers to “rant about their worst job experience”.  Visitors read more, stay longer, and are more apt to value what Dice is offering. But this is just the beginning.
This is just one example of what the successful brand will do in the digital age.  They will get to the passion centers that line up with the heart of their product or service.  They will deliver meaningful value in the form of rich content that entertains and genuinely engages the audience.  And, within that content, they will deliver value in the form of discounts, contests, conversation starters and other devices that create brand loyalty.  Moreover, brands will realize that by providing real value, they are likely to create brand ambassadors who reach out to others in their network and work for the brand by spreading the message.  As Jim Calhoun of Popular Media notes, the branding tree that can be created by a single, engaged consumer is powerful since the brand message comes with that user’s “seal of approval”.

The other denizen’s of the user’s tree are certainly more apt to listen since they are not being “sold”, but rather they are being invited by a trusted source to join in the conversation with the brand.  And there, lays the key. Conversation WITH. When brands invite comment, suggestion, and critique or otherwise provide the impetus for participants to stick around and live the brand, they are creating the two-way street that generates brand loyalty beyond that derived from any traditional approach. If we don’t feel sold, we don’t put up defenses.  If we don’t put up defenses, our ears, minds, and hearts are open.  Isn’t that exactly when your brand wants to have the chat?