Advertising 3.0: Don't Chase. Attract.
Our times shift and rumble; culturally, socially, technologically. Take this moment, for example—our globalized world has never been more protectionist, entire industries are working remotely from the cloud, and people are experiencing a slow but steady return to civic-mindedness, as they realize that their personal well beings are dependent on the overall performance of the community. While the way we navigate the world around us, and our expectations of engagement, continue to evolve at a great pace, the way brands communicate struggles to keep up. Some ignore rather than embrace an increasingly important truth: Attention is our most valuable currency, and brands must respectfully earn it.
While deep data insights via business and audience analytics help advertisers place increasingly personalized and relevant brand comms in front of the right audience, at the right time, with measurable success, there is still a critical variable missing from the equation: Value to Audience.
Time Tested Anachronism
The vast majority of current brand communications leverage the same value construct they did a century ago. They are interruptive, and trade on the value of the hero content and/or experiences the audience actually desires. Meaning, even though we've created techniques to make the communications more relevant, and of slightly increased value to the audience, they are still leveraging a century-old model, and invariably put the audience's desires at a distant second to the brand's communications.
"...it is important for us as a profession to remind ourselves from time to time that the fundamental purpose of marketing revolves around creating value for people." —Forbes | Andrew Stephen: Director of Oxford Future of Marketing
They Want (and Deserve) Better
With our current onslaught of messaging, ad fraud, fake news and roughly targeted ads, there is a lot of noise, and it is little wonder these same consumers expend considerable effort to reduce it. Even further, if they generally consider interruptive advertising "noise," then programmatic efforts simply supply "more relevant noise."
"Over 90 percent of people feel digital ads have become more intrusive over the last two years; researchers estimate that $7+ billion of digital ad spend has been wasted." —BrandingMag
And now, during a time when basic needs such as food, safety and hygiene are at the top of everyone's minds, there will be very little patience for anything that seems even remotely superfluous.
To cut through that noise, shift perception and create meaningful relationships in the way the audience demands, we must change the work that we do. We are putting forward a more ambitious challenge: Trade less on interrupting, and create more work that places the audience first.
a) A change in strategy. Don't chase. Attract.
b) A change in values: The work is a gift.
In doing this with thoughtfulness, authenticity and empathy, we may hope to shift our role from ad salesman to good neighbor and fellow human being.
Every brand and product has a value proposition. I believe marketing campaigns should have one, too. When we ask ourselves first "What value does this bring to the audience?" we have created a catalyst for change, one that can introduce intrinsic value to the audience, and thus meaningful impact to our work.
This kind of value is most clearly evidenced in marketing grounded in good experience design. Meaningful experiences offer release, entertainment and self-expression through play, connection, discovery, beauty and utility. Whatever the output, the heart of good experience design is that it is a gift—thoughtfully crafted for an audience, to fulfill their unique desires, freely given with no ulterior motive. Rather than thrust upon the audience, they are invited. If we have done our job correctly, they are happy to join on their own terms, and the resulting impact starts with them and ripples outward.
"We don't believe brands are built from advertising anymore, They are built from an amalgamation of customer experiences." —Brian Whipple, CEO, Accenture Interactive
Clearly, now is not the time for IRL pop-ups and stunts. But the principles of good experience design extend and apply to all forms of marketing:
i. Intrinsic value—The work should be transportive, inspire play, induce wonder, be a tool for education, expression and advocacy, and have a business impact.
ii. Democratic use—The work should utilize thoughtful technology, foster community, have multiple points of entry, and low/no cost of entry.
iii. Culturally resonant—The work must be mindful of current anxieties, and speak the language of now.
iv. Audience first—The work must place value to audience before business, should feel deeply personalized not customized, ideally participatory, and feel like a gift freely given.
v. Community minded—The work should connect friends and strangers, foster dialogue, and work on multiple levels, from the nuclear family and local region to the global community.
The genesis of these types of work starts from the same strategic stronghold of traditional campaigns. They begin with data translated into insights, but are viewed through the lens of empathy, to uncover more than targets and generalized needs, but deeper emotional desires for validation, play and self-expression. Strong creative instincts and an artist's view on the world are of critical importance, but ideas backed on evidence construct the stage from which it can sing. Only then can we confidently refute "shiny object syndrome," and create informed works that seek to bring real value to our audiences and to our clients.