Surviving The Shift To Smart Everything

December 12th, 2017 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

How will brands talk to consumers in the future?

It’s a question long asked by marketing and agency heads and few can ever be certain of the answer.

But at a recent ACA webinar, Paul Neto, VP of Digital and Media at Kantar Millward Brown posited a theory: in the future, companies will talk to audiences through a network of devices and things.

First some context: how brands communicate with consumers is always evolving, but generally there are some static ways by which companies get their message across.

Paul Neto
Paul Neto

With the advent of TV in the ’40s and ’50s, marketing took its first big leap into the mainstream and ushered in the era of mass reach. The mechanics of television facilitated a way for brands to talk at consumers, Neto says. Companies took advantage of the technology by passing along information in an almost Pavlovian way, using visuals and sound to help audiences build up brand associations.

In the ’90s, the internet shifted the way marketers saw their audience. Marketers no longer spoke at consumers, but rather with them: digital and social media allow consumers to talk back to companies, so marketing evolved to focus on engagement. Even the way we measure success online involves consumers doing something – click-throughs, view time, shares, etc. This is the paradigm we’re in, today.

But, Neto says, we’re on the cusp of another evolution. We’re entering an era where computers may soon be smarter than the entire collective human consciousness. The signs already exist: IBM’s AI software Watson is supposedly better at identifying cancer than doctors, and early tests show that legal advice given by software is more accurate than that given by flesh-and-blood lawyers. Soon too, media buyers may be obsolete as computers will be able to crunch data from a myriad of sources in order to deliver the most effective ad at the most appropriate time, to the exact right consumer.

This trend pairs with the fact that soon, everything we touch and use will also be smart, Neto says. It’s more than just the “Internet of Things,” whereby your thermostat speaks with your phone. It’ll be smart devices that measure your heart rate, shoes that track your steps, AI that programs your schedule, apps that select the most nutritious meal for your day. And it’ll all create complex and unique pictures of how individuals go about their day.

Smart “everything” will mean, quite literally, anything can become a brand touch point.

So, Neto says, it’s time now to start thinking of ways to reach audiences in this new reality. It’s still very early days, he adds, and there are some best-practices brands can begin putting into place.

For one, based on analysis of more than 75,000 consumer-brand interactions, Kantar found only 20% of experiences leave a lasting impression on consumers, resulting in 80% of the impact on brand metrics. “The rest don’t really leave a trace,” he says.

Surviving the new communication paradigm will require marketers to go back to some marketing 101: identifying the key brand promises and moments that stick out in people’s mind and tapping into them in a way that can enrich the experience.

For example, in-store staffing and product experiences are today highly-relevant to consumers – more-so than traditional media touchpoints like television. In the future, these personal touchpoints will become more powerful ways of connecting with shoppers.

There’s no set answer when it comes to identifying those moments of effective brand touchpoints either, Neto adds. But people who are able to start identifying them today will be well positioned to handle the deluge of new channels in the future.