I must admit that I find writing this piece about the “future of digital advertising” ironic; actually, a bit eerie to be honest. Nearly four years ago, I was sitting in a dorm room in Washington, DC penning my thoughts about the same topic for my thesis. At the same time, marketers were trying to understand social media in the age of a young social network launched in a dorm room similar to mine a few years before.
This subject, and one that I studied long and hard for years as an undergraduate student through the lens of a liberal arts degree, then later at a global advertising and public relations agency tasked with dissecting ROI for clients and now, our startup Scoop St. whose growth stems from buying together via social media, keeps me up at night – is what I’m writing about right now.
Compared to pundits, I’m not going to pretend to know the next great technologies which transform the space this conference is based upon. Rather, this should be a forum to address how far advertising and the effectiveness of the medium has come in the span of a few short years, perhaps across two of the most important generations of day: the Millennials and Baby Boomers. Perhaps it can help us understand where this is all going.
At the core, advertising connects messages with people who (ideally) are interested in hearing, watching, interacting and playing with the message. Ultimately, these “adversumers” become paying customers of the message and share the result amongst friends, family and co-workers. In this regard, no channel more powerful than the Internet in the last two decades supported a cause of interactivity between today’s consumers. In my experience as a Millennial (whose business caters to both my generation and my parents’ generation of Baby Boomers), what these two age groups simply dowith advertising is a case study worthy of a dissertation. Fortunately, at Scoop St., we’ve had the opportunity to analyse their actions during the last year and a half in real-time – an opportunity I wish I had in previous roles as student and an agency employee.
Our business, if you’re not familiar with the current group buying and local coupon craze, focuses on limited time deals at small businesses in neighborhoods throughout New York City. popularised in the last year, the space transformed into an overnight frenzy of daily deals delivered to subscribers via email (primarily Millennials) for savings on dining or spa treatments at local businesses (typically owned and operated by Baby Boomers).
The intent is two-fold: by offering an unbelievable deal on services, small businesses receive an influx of new customers and subscribers get to try a new business with a compelling offer. Some writers and analyst believe this latest form of local advertising, where small businesses receive a performance-based campaign (new customers) rather than a direct capital outlay for traditional media (for instance, small businesses continue to market their products and services via print classifieds), is a revolutionary means of reaching the country’s and the world’s offline market. In fact, the model is so successful because of its simplicity compared to that of the proposed complexity we may speak about for digital advertising’s future.
Consider this: every morning in the email inbox, a generation of young professionals who grew up sharing their lives on the web see a new form of an advertisement through the form of a deal. I’ll repeat that. They see an advertisement through email. The message is a deal and not a flash banner, a sponsored Tweet or video overlay.
A large portion of our membership is Millennials who receive Scoop St.’s daily deals or “scoops” as we call at headquarters. I’m hard-pressed to find someone on our email list who isn’t on Facebook, Twitter or documents their story in New York with a blog. The stereotype of our generation addicted to their smartphones and status updates in the newsfeed, perhaps, are not applicable to what’s happening in the latest form of advertising through daily deals.
Email, as the most basic glue of the Internet and arguably, the original social network, is not only the most used tool in our business’ digital advertising toolbox but that of our members. We see tremendous activity of members sharing emails, forwarding to friends and click engagement of the message (the deal) with the intent to buy. Of course, that’s not to say that our own advertising message does not spread via other channels like social media, video, mobile or display creatives – it certainly does, but not near the amount like that of email.
As a “veteran” (in the lightest sense of the word) of the social media advertising movement, you could probably imagine my surprise if you told me: “Your business’ progress is actually built on regressing, specifically, you’re bringing back email advertising.” During my undergraduate years, my interest and exploration of digital advertising revolved around social networking. Later at the global agency, our clients were the Fortune 10 who wanted to hold a conversation with their customers through a blog, Facebook or this new tool called Twitter. Email didn’t seem like the right choice all those years as the medium for the message. But why?
Looking past the latest trend(s) in digital advertising, the daily deals segment appears to have re-invented email marketing in the last year. By doing so, companies in this space have created a new medium where two generations connect over commerce – a feat that is certainly no small task due to technology awareness and adoption barriers. Baby Boomers, the largest segment of featured businesses owners on Scoop St., have typically little knowledge of all possible digital advertising opportunities within the marketplace: search engine marketing, click-to-call engagement, location based mobile specials or online display and video advertising. Interestingly, most owners have heard about Google AdWords (the leading search engine marketing tool) but are not sure how to begin the advertising process with a self-service platform. Instead, we’ve heard from small businesses that due to unawareness of digital advertising opportunities, print advertising through local newspapers served as their go-to advertising channel. The digital dichotomy between the typical email subscriber and small business owner couldn’t be starker.
Fortunately, daily deals have helped bridge the first of many steps into connecting two different generations with one deal at a time. However, as a marketer at heart, I cannot and will not be satisfied in knowing that small businesses miss out on an addressable market for efficiently welcoming and retaining customers. Consider this a call to every startup, agency and services provider catering to small businesses to realise their duty for merchant (and in effect, generational) education. It’s the only way to help lift a rising tide of innovation in local advertising.