Brands Shouldn’t Try to Disrupt People’s Days

Digital advertising often gets it wrong. So wrong, in fact, that by next year it is predicted that 30 per cent of advertising content will be blocked. Even Google, which depends on advertising for a huge chunk of its revenue stream is already testing out an ad-limiting update for Chrome.

Of course, Google won’t block every ad. Just those that are too invasive, pervasive or toxic; the unwelcome disruptors that slow down or compromise customer experiences. All the signs are that, increasingly, these will meet the same fate as their junk mail predecessors – straight to bin. And the rest? Even users who haven’t yet blocked everything are becoming increasingly adept at tuning out unwanted advertising, so they probably won’t get through to people either.

Even users who haven’t yet blocked everything are becoming increasingly adept at tuning out unwanted advertising, so they probably won’t get through to people either.

And it’s not just Google that is concerned about what the war between ads and ad blockers tells us about the future of advertising. Apple, Facebook and Samsung are also offering new ways to limit intrusive ads. All of this may have some short-term impact; yet while it might be an attempt to tackle the worst excesses of wrong-headed marketing, it won’t solve the real problem which is this: old models of one-way “tell and sell” are not fit for purpose in a digital age.

Online marketing is still relatively young, but it has already made too many mistakes. This might be understandable given that the digital marketplace has evolved so rapidly. But the reality of wasting £600m on unseen ads last year has been a big wake-up call for UK brands. Unless the marketing industry sorts itself out, advertising space will continue to be mis-sold and customers will continue to block out the expensive, irritating messages that infest their online space. No brand, no matter how big, can afford to pay money to be ignored by the customers who provide its income. What makes this a matter of urgency is that bad advertising could lead to them becoming disliked.

It must be recognised that it’s not just the brands that have created such a mess, but the agencies who put them out there. Too often, self-interest has been the driver behind the services the agencies provide. The communication loop that connects brands and their customers has been contrived to require an expensive and dysfunctional array of platforms and activities, which are inserted into the process wherever possible. It seems that many agencies are focusing on selling themselves rather than driving sales for the brand. To add insult to injury, some platforms even lie about results which can be easily faked by clickbots. Brands cannot fail to notice that fake revenue generation never translates into real money.

The Internet and social media may appear to be all about instant access for brands, but customers also care about creativity, added value and choice.

The Internet and social media may appear to be all about instant access for brands, but customers also care about creativity, added value and choice. To get connected and get chosen, brands need to offer more than just one-way messaging. It won’t help to just get bigger or faster or shoutier, even if developments like artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots mean that they can. What will help is understanding that every interaction is a survey which provides valuable insights for a brand in real time, all the time, and that every positive interaction will improve the relationship and experience for the consumer. By leveraging the ability of technology to offer more creative and generous solutions, brands can enable the sorts of digital conversations and experiences that people actually want. Services that help solve problems, educate or entertain. AI and chatbots can, and should, facilitate these.

Overall, what is needed is a shift from a brand/agency campaign relationship that places all the emphasis on agency “expertise” to a more reactive model that attributes greater value to what works for customers. At rehab, we call this a shift from Alpha to Beta thinking. Technical expertise is best directed at first establishing what customers want and need, and then using ever-evolving digital technology to create dynamic, digital experiences that add real value and interest. For example, we worked with HBO to develop a chatbot concierge that made use of the Westworld brand’s script-writing genius to provide answers to 1,100 user-sourced questions. The chatbot was designed to tease inquisitive Westworld fans and lead them to hidden nuggets of specialist information, cultivating and satisfying a thirst for the inside scoop.

Pernod Ricard’s chatbot bartender “The Cocktail Coach” is another great example of how a brand used beta thinking to provide value and relevance for people, whilst using tech to the best of its abilities. By offering a free, in-Facebook cocktail app to a primarily millennial customer base last Christmas, it achieved a phenomenal 28% conversion rate. The purpose of the app wasn’t to force a sale, but to earn it. By identifying and solving a consumer problem – people are interested in making cocktails at home but don’t know where to start – the app provided users with a way to get what they really wanted: a memorable and special festive party. There was no pressure to buy at any point, improving sales was simply a by-product of providing a helpful way to easily source the ingredients they needed to get creative for their event.

In everything they do, no matter how big or small, brands need to investigate and understand what consumers need, how the tech operates, what can be achieved, and how they can marry these things to deliver the ultimate experience. The louder brands shout, the less they will be heard. But if they stop shrieking and start listening to consumers, providing them with genuinely useful services that improve, rather than disrupt, their days, they won’t need to gate crash their party, they’ll be invited.

Robert Bennett

Managing Director at rehab

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