Marketers Win When They Put Consumers First

The article below was originally published in similar form on top industry site iMedia Connection:

CTR, CPM, CPC — sometimes you can’t help but wonder whether we’ll ever shake off the alphabet soup of acronyms online marketers coined back when they first emerged from the caves. A decade-plus into digital advertising, this is the jargon that still rules our world. But today more smart marketers – even as they continue their search for the ultimate metric – are going back to basics: creating advertising that puts consumers first. No matter how the digital landscape evolves, this is a strategy that’s bound to pay handsome dividends.

In decades past, amazing creative was what pushed the advertising envelope. Consider Apple’s pivotal “1984” ad or Wendy’s unforgettable “Where’s the Beef?” But now, thanks to technology, innovation in advertising is about connecting with consumers. Want to make a great ad? Make it engaging, informative, useful, or fun (or if you’re really good, all of the above).

The service-oriented approach to ad creative is even more critical in the changing digital landscape. With the emerging maturity of so-called “digital natives,” we have a new understanding of how profoundly media and technology are altering the ways in which people interact with content and advertising. Recent studies show that 98 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds [1] use social media and 63 per cent of those 18 to 29 [2] use geosocial (check-ins) or location-based services. Just imagine what numbers we’ll see when today’s kindergartners stand up to be counted.

And yet, at the same time, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), in a recent poll [3] of its membership, found that only 30 per cent consider online ads effective, down 2 per cent from 2009.

In our mad dash for CTR and attribution, we often forget that an ad doesn’t work unless it works for consumers — a notoriously diverse and difficult group to target.

One approach that’s been effective for marketers, both online and off: creating ads that contribute something to consumers’ lives, without distracting or annoying them. User-initiated campaigns are giving consumers greater control of how and when they engage with brands — through in-text, in-image, and toolbar-based ads. Video spots are beginning to evolve from pre-roll and other “forced view” strategies, toward more user-initiated, immersive formats. [4]

At the same time, more smart marketers are embracing strategies that allow them to be contextually relevant to consumers by delivering ads in the right place and at the right time. Ads that provide utility, entertainment, and value are an asset for the consumer, whether they’re recipes from a food brand or road conditions from an auto maker [5].

Smart marketers are also taking note of the shift to mobile, which is rapidly changing the way ads work. Sure, everyone will still watch TV at home and maybe use desktop computers (at work at least) for the immediately foreseeable future. But consumer behaviour is definitely on the move, with mobile Internet usage projected to surpass desktop by 2014 [6]. Especially in the cities, the mobile and tablet lifestyle is taking over, with more of our lives and decisions outsourced to FreshDirect, Seamless, Netflix streaming, and Yelp.

What will it mean to add value, fun, and engagement as we move into this new context? How will ads remain relevant alongside apps, gaming and mobile ecommerce? One thing is for sure: Users will be dictating the terms of engagement.

And what of the digital natives, the generation growing up in a world that is all mobile, all social, all the time? How will they engage with marketers five or 10 years down the road? Time will tell, but my bet is that if those of us paying the closest attention to consumers are going to figure it out first.

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