The freewheeling early days of the digital marketing wild west may finally be coming to an end.
As the backlash against the opaque practices of the adtech/digital ad industry begins in earnest at last (GE, Proctor and Gamble, Sears, and many other major advertisers are currently auditing their digital ad buys), many FMCG marketers have been left wondering just what the next step in the evolution of digital and online marketing might actually look like.
More importantly, those same marketers, once so secure in their position at the forefront of the digital advertising revolution, have been left wondering where the current shift - toward hypermediation and analysis from the brands moving to take back control of their own advertising positions online - will leave them when all is said and done.
While brands’ questions about what bang exactly they are getting for their digital adspend buck certainly needed to be asked, the answers from the marketing world have, thus far, been less than satisfactory.
This disconnect has led to no small amount of uncertainty on both sides, with many brands either drastically reducing/limiting their participation (as P&G have done), or freezing it entirely (like Havas Media Group UK), leaving many marketers and agencies scrambling to respond.
There is no question that marketers will continue to play a key role in how digital advertising shapes up.
The big question is, what role will that be, exactly?
What Role Will Marketers Play in a Hypermediated Digital Advertising World?
In spite of all the issues currently plaguing the digital display ad sphere, adspend within it has actually remained buoyant to date (in fact, it’s even increasing slightly!), even as the viewability of such ads has decreased (thanks, ad-blockers!).
In a perfect world, where everyone (consumers, marketers, and brands) were happy with the current state of affairs, this buoyancy would keep the industry’s gears turning as it grinds its way into the new digital reality.
Sadly, it appears as though this may not turn out to be the case:
A recent report from Forrester, ominously titled “The End of Advertising As We Know It” posits that as much as $2.9 billion could be pulled out of digital display advertising in the next year, citing “interruptions” to online user experience and “casual indifference to advertiser interests” as the Achilles heels of the current state of the industry.
But that is only part of the story.
The End of the Interruption Era
“Interruption only works if consumers spend time doing interruptible things on interruption-friendly devices.” – Forrester’s “The End of Advertising As We Know It” report
The thing is, people will always consume online content, it is the very engine of the internet. But that content is only worth producing if it generates revenue for the interest which produced it. Since internet users are increasingly viewing free access to online content as the norm, – one could easily make the argument that “interrupting” a users attempt to access online content to extract some form of payment for it is the ultimate disruption of user experience – that revenue will most certainly not be coming from the end user. Thus, revenue simply must come from another source, and this will mean some measure of “interruption”, which will most likely look like some form of advertising.
If any level of interruption becomes viewed as completely intolerable by the content consumer, what we will be left with is a zero-sum game in which consumers, internet users, brands, content providers, and marketers all walk away as losers in the end and no-one gets what they wanted.
Nobody “Likes” Ads
Advertising in one form or another has been a ubiquitous presence in all things internet since the inception of the world wide web.
So it is with all media.
Print media, television, radio, professional sporting events, even a walk down the block. If people do it, someone has probably figured out a way to put an ad on it. They key has always lain in finding the right balance between providing a positive experience to the person accessing the media in question and the placement/design of the advertising involved.
Consumers (by and large) understand that if they want their media for free (or at least as cheaply as possible), advertisements will be a part of the package.
Again, it is in balancing an acceptable level of user experience disruption/interruption that the implicit compromise between the end user’s desire to access the content/media on offer and the advertiser’s desire to work their brand’s message into the conversation on some level.
In print, TV, radio, sports, and outdoor ads, this compromise has been generally accepted and adhered to by all parties involved.
In the digital world, however, things are not quite so simple (yet)
The digital media conundrum
The digital world is changing very, very quickly.
It is changing so quickly, in fact, that marketers have never really been able to catch up.
From the first pop-up blockers to email spam filters, from the birth of social media to the race to monetise its audiences, and from the advent of affiliate marketing to the current revolt against dubious digital display ad ROI data, the rapid evolution of digital media has drastically outpaced the parallel evolution of the strategies of the marketers hoping to exploit it.
Even as the debate rages about the efficacy of digital display ads as they currently manifest, new technologies like voice activated AI and live streaming social media video have become a reality which may completely change the game once more.
In the arena of the digital marketer, this has resulted in a proliferation of marketing strategies which are eternally one step behind the platforms and audiences that should matter the most.
That this approach must change (and quickly!) is no longer in question.
The danger for marketers is that if the internet’s social giants, and even the brands themselves, lose patience with the process, they could decide to take matters into their own hands and cut out the marketing middleman entirely.
As it stands, the “show me the money” cry from the world’s biggest brands represents little more than a call to action to the marketing professionals of the world to get ahead of the curve for once and make the most on the amazing marketing opportunity that the internet and its associated technologies represent.
What might that look like?
“Marketers should take 2017 as a two-for-one opportunity and choose to invest in building deeper relationships with their customers.”– Forrester’s “The End of Advertising As We Know It” report
There are many ways in which modern digital marketers can both improve existing digital marketing processes and get out ahead of the processes to come. We here at Adimo have been working toward doing both for quite some time, and we’ve got a few suggestions:
1) Get on board with the current trend toward shoppable digital ads immediately
Shoppable ads are the future. The old process of steering prospects to a website and turning them loose on a clumsy and disruptive journey to purchase is quickly coming to an end. Instant conversions will become an expectation for brands very quickly, and digital display ads which are not shoppable will soon look like lumbering dinosaurs (they kind of already do).
2) Make friends with voice activated AI, or your competitors will
Alexa is your friend. It won’t be long before”tell your AI to choose [brand]” is the call to action of choice for CPG and FMCG brands online. Claiming a permanent place on consumers’ digital shopping lists will be key for brand success in the years to come.
3) Collecting data now is essential
The move away from brick and mortar stores and toward online retail is picking up steam. To make the most of this opportunity, pushing consumers to digital retailers, groceries, and brands now and collecting the resulting data will pay big dividends. Early adopters with the datasets necessary to “train” AIs and direct them to the right products will have a key leg up as the relationship between AI and digital retailers begins to scale (which it will).
4) Relationships matter
Brands that can build effective and mutually beneficial relationships, both with consumers and retailers, will win out in the end. Adding the right elements to your marketing technology stack (especially elements that improve customer experience) will bridge the gap between the message marketers want to get out there and the experience of the end user. Focusing efforts on improving the lives of consumers always has (and always will) produced the best results. Commerce as convenience will pave the way to a brighter future for all.