The Uncertainty Proposition
The balance between digital technology and creative is at breaking point, says Ed Owen, editor of the Global Academy of Digital Marketing. While there's good creative out there, too much is driven by the next 'new', and marketers need to be far more circumspect. We don't know how things will pan out, so get used to only uncertainty being certain...
Digital. The marketing industry is rightly obsessed with it. Consumers are online almost all the time and if you are to reach them, then it makes sense to find them digitally.
How do we find these consumers? By tablet? On Facebook? Vimeo? Vine?
The how is a big question and the answer takes us in two different directions at once. On the one hand new and improving ways to measure consumer interactions make finding your audience a little easier. On the other, the audience itself is fragmenting along dozens of new channels, each with its own quirks, making it harder again. We're putting lots of effort into standing still right now.
The big culprit is mobile. On desktops the cookie is a well-worn system for advertising, tracking and so on. On mobile devices this is out the window. This makes things difficult because mobile is not the next big thing, but actually the next thing - mobile will eat everything.
The data trails we leave around us everywhere thanks to our mobiles are now dissected, analysed and choreographed to build up a picture of you the consumer. I'm told that we can find people with 100% certainty in "a couple of years" as these techniques improve, although I was also told this a couple of years ago. Depending on who you speak to, the accuracy of big data matching is somewhere in the 25%-80% region.
Good creative needs pragmatic solutions and they are not to be found taking punts on NFC campaigns"
Why go on about all this you ask? Well I'll tell you: the industry has not been very good at picking the right technologies to focus on and there is a palpable sense of catch-up around it.
Consider two buzzy mobile technologies - WhatsApp, bought last month by Facebook for $19 billion, and NFC - Near Field Communication technology, built-into pretty much all new Android and Windows devices.
While NFC has an industry of thinkers, lobbyists, evangelists and others determined to make it work, WhatsApp is different - it has users. More than a hundred million of them.
Perhaps you have thought before about what the next big thing is, and been desperate to get in there. Don't bother. Take a look at the winner of the marketing campaign category at the Global Mobile Awards this year (full disclosure: I was a judge), and the most impressive campaign didn't even require the user to have a smartphone let alone download an app. In fact it was by far the lowest-technology entry. But the best.
Run by Lowe and Partners for Unilever Hindustan in India, they noticed that people in rural areas (specifically Bihar - India's poorest state) tended to have mobile phones, but used them rarely.
If I want to chat to someone in the next village, I drop them a call - that's ring and then hang up. They see the missed call, and then start the journey to meet up.
The campaign used this principle to let people listen to music for free - drop a call to a number and the campaign calls back with the latest hits, with ads between the songs. The ads were for washing powder. The scope and success of the campaign will make your head spin. A subscriber base of four million delivered 20 million ad impressions in 60 days. And the consumers came to them.
Basically a tremendous creative idea, wonderfully executed.
All the clamour for the next big thing has undermined creative. Good creative needs pragmatic solutions and they are not to be found taking punts on NFC campaigns because "it's the next big thing" (it's not), but in finding elegant and witty solutions to knotty marketing problems.
Most probably the solution you want is already out there, and cheaper and more reliable than you might expect. The Indian example needed an automated call-centre and some careful planning. Yes, something new will come along next week that will blow your socks off. But it probably won't be for you and be certain of just one thing - uncertainty is certain.
Ed Owen is the editor of the Global Academy of Digital Marketing - a newly launched, collaborative online platform connecting digital marketing professionals around the world.