As an industry - be it as agencies, marketing service providers, media agencies, or even as brands - we think we know it all. We believe with misguided passion that we understand how consumers think or what they want. We believe you know their habits, which medium they want to be engaged through and how effective those channels are. We believe we can control brand interactions using billions of dollars of media and technology spend.
From a consumer’s perspective, I assure you: We.Do.Not.
I have spent 20 years in the advertising and marketing industry. I am now taking a break from it all and have learned a lot from spending a year purely as a consumer. Whether it was trying to close a 20-year relationship with a telco in Hong Kong, opening a bank account in the UK, changing medical insurance or purchasing a new family car -no matter the brand, no matter the channel, no matter the level of personal interaction, the system is broken.
Despite brands spending billions on media and technology, you’ll be surprised that ads meant to attract and engage consumers fail to do so with many doing the opposite!
Know your customer
Data and technology ought to be a means to an end and not the end itself. Data, insights and intelligence should be used to generate true value, underpinned by dollars and cents.
Meaningful customer engagement is not measured in likes, shares, and meaningless metrics showing interaction with millions of 14 to 20 year olds who have low or even no disposable incomes; who could never buy that BMW advertised to them. Marketers and agencies must know how to use technology to distinguish intent from affinity.
Marketers' supposedly smart programmatic interactions are mostly delivering the wrong ads to the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong place – trust me on that one. Yet these campaigns cost millions in media spend, and millions more in services from trading desks, who mostly cobble solutions together from various buying platforms, using multiple logins and manually generated reports.
Imagine this: A friend recently bought me a pair of "allbirds" from San Francisco – super comfortable shoes made of merino wool. I googled how to protect them from the rains of Singapore—a simple action looking for a simple answer. Now, I am targeted everywhere with branding and sales pitches, not just for allbirds, but other brands of sneakers too – a waste of media dollars, confusing my affinity with the brand for intent. Unsurprisingly, such experiences cause consumers to be disengaged from advertising. Many are bored, some are annoyed.
If only a brand looked at its marketing objectively, it will know how much of its marketing budget is wasted.
Disruptors get it
There are a handful of organisations, some in Asia, who have seen this and are using it to their advantage.
Take Uber, for example. I use the service in almost every country I visit. My experience has been amazing so far, apart from the high-profile headlines about a handful of unpleasant rides. It is a great app, providing all I need when arranging a journey with great service. I have not seen an Uber ad on any platform I use in the last six months, and I can only assume it is because they do not see a need to target me, someone already spending a good couple of hundred dollars a month.
Another example is Lazada, the e-commerce play for Southeast Asia. Great product selections, ease of purchase even including cash-on-delivery, and good time-based re-marketing. Leave a product in your shopping cart and you get a reminder by email, occasionally with an offer and a few hints as you read the news or look for flights. But they disappear. Lazada knows that intent does not last forever.
I wish Amazon would do the same – I clicked on an ad for a banana peeler about 10 months ago and it keeps popping up as I browse the latest kitchen gadgetry!
Increasingly, you just need to look at any direct to consumer service to see a new disruptor who gets it. These brands know the axis of power has shifted to consumers, unlike established brands, media and technology companies that are still in denial.
This new generation of organisations know the consumer is now 100% in charge, as every possible want or need can be met by a democratised service of some kind, whose popularity is not driven by display ads on the market-leading social platform with an outrageous valuation. They succeed because they are addressing a need, and doing it in a way that provides a great customer experience that the old ways do not. They grow not because of what they spend on media, but because those experiences are memorable and inspire the customer to organically talk about them.
Democratise consumer engagement
Media agencies that held so much power for so long, and which I believe have committed on brands and marketers some of the greatest extortions of our time, have only months to transform or they will fizzle away.
The media and ad tech industry is heading for mass consolidation, whether you are a publisher, an agency, on the buy side or a technology intermediary. The democratisation of media and consumer engagement, whether brand to consumer, or even consumer to consumer, is upon us now. I hope you're ready because I am, and I am excited at the opportunities ahead as a consumer too.
The writer is Dominic Powers, the advisor to the CEO and board at CtrlShift.