The Near and Distant Future of Paid Media

A slight vibration on your arm wrests you from a night of sleep. You wake up feeling groggy, a little less than well rested. As you make your way out of bed and into the kitchen, a notification catches your eye. You open up your personal display as you’re making your morning commute to the coffee maker, only to see an entire list of tips and advice for coping with sleep deprivation. Coffee at 7:30 a.m. isn’t one of them.

Instead, you opt for a breakfast of mixed fruits and whole grains. While you’re eating, that same display mentions a few ways to keep your energy up during the rest of your day: how long to sit, when to take breaks, how much water you should drink and what afternoon snack will make or break your workday.

This may sound like the beginning of a classic dystopian novel, but it’s not. It’s a world we’re quickly approaching, and paid media is helping to make it happen.

Paid Media and the Digital Age

The world has a habit of changing. Technologies advance, people move and circumstances shift. Yet all the while, marketers and advertisers have proven themselves adept at adapting to the changing landscape of life. From the early days of Sears and Roebuck to the birth of traditional ad placements, the changing of times has been as much of a challenge as it has an opportunity.

But today’s marketing world looks much different. Consumers are increasingly savvy. They’ve grown to expect marketing, and they aren’t exactly looking forward to it. We see nearly 5 million ads every year, and to be honest, we’re getting tired of it. Yet all is far from lost.

Today, paid media is the most effective way to reach consumers at all stages of their buyer journey. An artfully crafted message with the right data behind it makes all the difference. It provides your audience with something truly valuable to them and creates meaningful engagement. And best of all? It stands the test of staying relevant.

Advertisers have started switching from a mentality of “when and where” to “why and how”. The focus has shifted to understanding the consumer, to the buyer journey and a greater sense of the individual’s needs. Paid media’s role in the coming years is going to be one of timely and personalized strategies, and it all starts with a hefty dose of data.

Getting to Know the World of Big Data

The heart of the near future of paid media is big data. Gone are the days of broadcasting one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns with the hope of turning a profit. Today it’s all about understanding consumers and knowing how to target them. And without big data, we’d be flying blind.

The amount of data these firms have is astounding.  It’s not just your usual demographic and geographic data, but personalized data that help shape digital profiles. They know the types of music people enjoy. They know the types of humor we love. And they know the causes and beliefs that give us purpose in life.

All of that data fuels programmatic marketing. Essentially, this method offers an automated approach to highly personal, targeted marketing. It introduces humanity back into the way we target consumers while removing inefficiencies that are common in traditional ad placements.

Programmatic marketing is something that’s quickly becoming the norm in our world – so quickly, in fact, that its competitive edge will begin to fade in a few years. That’s when we have to get creative. As history tells us, tactics may change, but successful strategies stick around for the long haul.

This means a future where advertising and marketing are tailored to the individual. Not the target audience. Not the audience segment.  Will it be invasive at first? Maybe. But the end result means removing ad clutter and actually improving the daily lives of consumers.

It would be disingenuous to say that the world of big data is easy to navigate. Right now the challenge is knowing how to leverage each of the big players in the industry. Knowing what data you need is one thing, but knowing where to start is another battle all together.

We can all but guarantee that aggregators for big data will emerge over the next few years. As social companies start playing a greater role in the industry, the need to bring together every intriguing piece of data will continue to grow.

A Market of Wearable-Toting Consumers

Harnessing big data is only the beginning of personal marketing. What we’re seeing today is a newfound fascination with wearable tech. Smart watches and fitness bands track our every move, and they’re becoming quite good at it. Built-in applications allow us to keep an eye on our health and food intake throughout the week. When all is said and done, they even teach us how to improve our sleep habits.

And for marketers, that means an entirely new world of data to pore over.

It’s all a part of the growing reality of “cyborg marketing.” All sci-fi connotations aside, we’re becoming far more comfortable with cyborg lifestyles. We carry our mobile devices everywhere. Fitness gadgets track us everywhere. We bring our wearable tech with us – you guessed it – everywhere. Very little of our lives happens without technology.

This brings about a whole new realm of possibility, and we’re just starting to wrap our heads around it. We’re seeing a growing opportunity to understand the consumer life off-screen. Today it’s location tracking. Tomorrow? An entire look into the daily habits of individuals.

The chance we have to create meaningful, useful strategies that keep the consumer in mind is incredible. We’re looking at the buyer journey from an entirely different perspective.

A Greater Focus on the Buyer Journey

So, what do we make of the buyer journey today? We’ve already made our case against the traditional buyer funnel. The marketing theories of old are on the verge of irrelevance, and we’re facing a world that merges online and offline life in ways we’ve never seen before.

As marketers, this is our future. We’ll need to get creative with our data and our strategies. We’ve traded reactive strategies for predictive capacities, but that’s just the start. The next few years will necessitate a deep understanding of the subtle nuances of the buyer journey, from the first touch point to the ultimate point of purchase.

The future looks surreal, really. We’ll have the means to understand consumer behavior in the day to day of life. No screens? No problem. Everything you do will result in some form of data point. Even if it’s not tied to a specific individual, these metrics will build a comprehensive wireframe for the antics of human life. For the first time ever we’ll have living, breathing personas to engage with.

But, this isn’t a case of increasing opportunities to make an easy profit. With this type of deep understanding comes an inherent responsibility to take a human-centered approach to marketing. We have to take the care and effort to better understand the consumers we’re trying to reach. And, most importantly, we have to find ways to actually make their lives better.

We’ll see narrative start playing a much heavier role in paid media. Stories will take precedence as competitive advantages fade. Meaning will outperform strategy. It won’t be enough to place a coffee ad in the hands of a consumer at the right moment. Paid media will have to find needs and fitting ways to solve the problems of user experiences.

Walking the Line Between Building Meaning and Breaking Trust

Our industry is going the way of intimacy. It’s a long road, and there’s no saying things won’t get a little uncomfortable from time to time. But that’s the beauty of marketing in the digital age. It’s built on a two-way relationship between marketers and the consumers they try to reach. It’s about building trust rather than breaching it. We want to improve the lives of consumers, and it’s hard to do that without them.

But if we’ve learned anything over the past half-century it’s this: Trust is a hell of a thing. No amount of strategy or data can trump the consumer’s trust. And once that trust is gone, it’s unbearably difficult to get back.

Written by Jenn Vickery on January 22, 2015

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Written by
Jenn Vickery
Senior Vice President, Digital Strategy