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Fast forward to the future: Key takeaways from Next Gen: Future Thinking

Results International’s Next Gen: Future Thinking event promised a rapid fire glimpse into the key players and forces that are disrupting the world of marketing services and technology, writes Results International partner Julie Langley.

Media and creative convergence, IT and marketing services converging, and new networks and business models emerging to challenge the existing order – these are all key themes for the world of marketing services and technology.

At the same time, great storytelling skills will be more important than ever to cut through the noise, and they won’t be replaced by technology. All of these themes, and more, were explored at the recent Next Gen: Future Thinking, organised by Results International.

Facebook’s director of agency partnerships, Claire Valoti, was on hand to remind the audience of the power of a platform that claims one in four of all minutes spent on mobile.

Tools like Facebook show that search is no longer enough to engage with consumers as often they don’t actually know what content they are looking for. The rise of imagery, which we can process 60 times as fast as text, was one outcome, she said. The amount of content available has gone up, but the brain’s capacity to process it has not, so brands have to find smarter ways to put people at the centre of their efforts.

Facebook data provides brands with a clearer picture of what consumers do and what they want, allowing personalisation at scale, and revealing the complete consumer journey, said Valoti.

Meanwhile, Craig Dempster, executive vice-president at performance marketing company Merkle, said that today is the ‘age of the consumer’, giving rise to the ‘platform marketer’, to handle the ability to address individuals at scale. These new marketers have to master the three Cs – context, connectivity and content. They also have to rationalise a bewilderingly complex tech stack by developing platform marketing competency.

One tech company that hopes to make things easier for brands is Scoota which is bringing programmatic advertising to rich media. Contradicting received wisdom that you are more likely to win the lottery than open an online ad, James Booth of Scoota said that the company was delivering an average of 3.7 per cent response for brands, and much higher for some.

The old marketing playbook is broken, said Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot. Inbound marketing based on the right content and context wins. Companies have to think of content as a longterm asset, but too many bail out at an early stage because they don’t see immediate returns. Patience pays dividends in the long-term.

Chris Hodges of growth capital investor BGF spoke of a buoyant market for marketing services and technology at the minute, with lots of interest from private equity and venture capital. However, agencies needed to use their own storytelling skills to put forward a narrative that recognises the money men’s language for risk and return. “Investors see risk, where entrepreneurs see return. You need to get the story right,” he said.

Nick Johnson of lawyers Osborne Clarke provided a sobering reminder that technology also involved risks as well as return. Future legal flashpoints could include issues such as adblockers which are costing $22bn in lost revenue and has prompted one publisher, Axel Springer, to challenge the technology in German courts.

Conversely, consumers are also turning to the legal system, Judith Vidal-Hall’s legal action against Google for invasion of privacy could open the door to individuals claiming damages against it and other businesses.

“Data has gone from a compliance annoyance to a serious litigation risk,” he said.

Content oversupply means marketers have to stop thinking like marketers and think like their audience, said Chris Talago of communications agency WE (formerly Waggener Edstrom). Find out what they get excited about and why. Technology provides people with a filter on the stuff they don’t value. “Do not complain about people skipping your content – produce better content,” he urged.

Brands have to earn the right to communicate with us in a truly permission-based environment. “It’s like being a great dinner party guest. You have to bring something to the table. Brands have to give first but often get it the wrong way round.”

Rachel Barton from Accenture painted a picture of the future where everything brands thought they knew was wrong. Likening digital disruption to the industrial revolution, she said that massive innovation was creating new norms for the way we live. This would provide opportunity for some, but lead to the demise of others. Would millennials, for example, want to buy cars or will they just rent through a subscription model? Tastes and needs are constantly changing.

The internet of things, wearables and robots were all features of this change and product development is happening at a rate like never before. The next wave of the digital revolution is humanising digital, learning and adapting to our needs as living services, she said.

iCrossing’s Nick Brien reiterated a common theme of the event when he said tha t brands had moved from a B2C environment to a C2B one. Brands are now publishers, for example, Unilever sees a brand like Dove as a platform to communicate a wider message.

Although not all brands could be like Red Bull with its content strategy, each has some expertise that it can bring to the content space, he said. Websites are no longer static but need to be customised to recognise the customer journey and to serve them better.

And not all content has to be e xciting or prize winning. Sometimes it just has to be informa tive and correct to drive conversation, said Ed Bussey of Quill. Bussey pointed to the importance and challenge of creating primary content at scale in areas such as listings, product descriptions and guides.

“It’s essential and it drives search rankings. It is arguably the most measurable content.” According to Bussey, Quill will deliver 10m words of content this year for its clients.

Finally, Cheil’s Aaron Lau gave the room a whistle stop ride through the world’s fastest growing advertising region – Asia.

Nearly half of the global middle-class will be in this market within 20 years, he said, and there is massive headroom for growth. The Chinese consumer has a great appetite for western goods, but is no pushover, he says. They also value local brands, and with so much competition for their custom, notions of loyalty do not conform to those of the west. The Chinese consumer will move to other brands – 49 per cent of customers leave every year.

Like the rest of the event, it was an intriguing insight into the changes that are reshaping marketing now. While some things change, others remain the same. Content is still king and creativity is arguably more important than ever. What is becoming particularly significant is how that content is created, personalised, targeted and distributed. People have more control over their relationships with brands than ever, and marketing needs to change to respect this new dynamic.

It is the ‘how’ of reconciling these observations that will challenge marketers over the next few years, and determine the next generation’s winners and losers.

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