The modern internet has provided the worlds of advertising and marketing with abundance, in terms of tools, techniques, data and possibilities. But while everything that's new has been embraced, time-tested strategies of the past are viewed as ineffective and boring. Marketing thought leader Tom Goodwin explores the need for balance, and what marketers should avoid this year and beyond
Measuring precisely the wrong thing
Inboxes today, even after a short trip, look like a paranoid mess: “How did we do? Was your trip OK? Tell us how to improve. We want to hear back!” I’m sure I could take a dump in a petrol station forecourt and I’d soon be asked to rate it (the location) by text. The thing is, requests for feedback are rarely exactly that. “Please tell us how you feel” comes from a noreply@ email address and what’s really been sought is one thing – the net promoter score. What’s happening is that marketers’ bonuses are being calculated about the rise and fall of a very precise, but entirely pointless, score. To make matters worse, the actual labour is done by the most valuable customers there are – frequent users.
The digital age has created endless, abundant, fast, free-of-charge data that is both easy to measure and absolutely and entirely useless. Reviews tell you only how people are, not what they experienced. Scores are barbell shaped to represent delight and anger.
The only scores that matter are soft, qualitative, emotional, anecdotal and slow to change; they are hard to measure, hard to attribute, and there are many unknowns. We must thrive to embrace the wonder of feeling our way to success.
Being distracted by the ‘new’ thing
We are obsessed as an industry with the idea that everything that has been done for years is to pejoratively be labelled “traditional” rather than “proven”, and that anything new that we’ve not found a way to work especially effectively is “innovation”.
Ironically one of the slowest changing industries in the world is marketing. For years we spoke of the year of mobile, while effectively ignoring it; we talked of its power, while bolting it on to the sides of what we did and starving of it money. This created a huge vacuum. Agencies and marketers, who now decide to fund things that work well and are not widely noticed, fear that others in the industry won’t just think they’ve decided to not do virtual or augmented reality, or create a decent customer service on an app – they will assume these naive teams are just slow to embrace the wonder of the new.
As Picasso said, you have to learn how to paint before you learn how to un-paint. Sophisticated, confident, bold practitioners need the balls to say no to the myriad of distractions our industry risks being sidetracked by. Blockchain may one day be interesting, but why not make a mobile site that works now. iBeacons can offer hope, but how about serving a decent mobile ad. What matters in our world now is mostly the same as always: great ideas, a reductive powerful strategy and stories told well.
The pace of change is largely not as fast as everybody makes out. The really big changes and huge possibilities are not as immediately exciting as we think.
Ignoring the past as a starting point
Have you ever noticed how qwerty keyboards today are designed around the limitations of the mechanical arms of typewriters, or how self-driving cars are not vehicles rethought around new behaviours, use-cases and ownership, but some boring Toyota with a spinny thing on the top. We enter new eras in any world by taking what we’ve done before and adding technology: video ads are essentially TV ads; banner ads are classified ads; native content is advertorials; social media ads are print ads. We’ve made nothing new, just augmented.
When internet advertising first appeared, we called it “interactive”, alluding to the channel’s potential future possibilities. Digital is unlike any other medium: It is not a delivery mechanism. It is not a device. It’s a whole new transformation in what is possible – a creative canvas the like of which we’ve never seen before.
We must work around the power of what is made possible by the digital age. We can now make ads where we can measure how people respond, and optimise in real time. We can now make ads that are dynamically created with real-time data. We can now buy against contexts, not against audiences or content. We can now serve ads sequentially. We can make ads that come to life in 3D on the most intimate screens we’ve ever known.
More than anything else, ads are now interactive. Let’s stop lazily assuming the call to action from an ad is “click to find out more”, and instead think of every ad as being in the fast moment of truth – the chance to buy anything, anywhere, with one touch. Let’s explore new formats like high-resolution GIFs, or luxuriously produced high-res images that shimmer.
The more time we spend on devices, the more we check them, the more advertising inventory we create. Abundance means the value of ads is largely suppressed, and to keep afloat publishers need to create ever-more inventory, and the vicious deflationary spiral continues to the detriment of our attention.
We are now bombarded with advertising like never before. The only way to survive is to literally block out what you don’t want to notice. We have to be much more considerate about our audience. We have to learn how to seduce, not interrupt. We have to be far more mindful of the power and value of the customer’s attention spreadsheets have failed to measure this opportunity. We need to think much more imaginatively about the way in which ads are served, for a blend of context, creativity, ideas and (a little bit of) technology together.
As marketers, what do we really notice? It’s always big ads served on a big scale that create shared cultural moments; never automated or programmatically served text-based banner ads. Let’s be more ambitious. Our goal should be to dazzle, not interrupt; to connect, not interfere; to be considerate of what the person is feeling and hoping to do in that moment.
Attributing success to short-term metrics
We’ve all typed in the name of an airline and clicked on the top link served to us by Google, and to many in advertising this appears like success, rather than wishing the user clicked the one below that the brand didn’t pay for. This is a shift towards short-termism a movement away from gut-based decisions and moves more and more money closer to the point of purchase. This doesn’t create more success, but ties more closely with your actions and reactions.
On the surface, this all looks like success, but it means brands slowly wither. We need to balance both the long term and the short term. While keeping an eye on the understandable quarterly goals that management set, brand building needs to be a long-term target, reaching potential audiences that may not come on stream for a while, broadening the ability of a brand to charge a premium.
Lastly… ignore all generic advice
Your job is to be exceptional, no one rulebook leads to success. Some people need TV, some people need influencers, for some press about the latest AR initiative gets you promoted. We all have to find our own way.