By Marta Martinez, Senior Vice President of AOL Advertising.
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have exchanged chronological feeds in favor of algorithmically curated feeds. Change is afoot, and while shocking to many users, this shift isn’t too surprising to those of us in the industry. Consumers are immersed in media and now more than ever, they expect that media to be seamlessly relevant to their lives and activities. The “firehose” approach of social media is no longer viable nor useful. Curation is the natural next step to provide users with the intimate media experiences they want, when they want them.
Consumers, despite initial complaints, won’t be challenged by this shift, but I predict advertisers will. The move from the chronological feed signals a larger shift to a world where brands must have a more intimate understanding of their audiences than “F18-45.” Even as consumer behavior and technology shift towards curation-based models, many advertisers continue to privilege wide-reaching campaigns over the specific, highly-targeted kind of creative that meshes seamlessly with today’s digital media landscape. To succeed in the new age of digital advertising, advertisers need to pivot from their reliance on reach alone and start finding ways to tailor strategies that fit immediacy and intimacy of today’s media landscape. But how?
Actually listen to the consumer
My mother used to remind us: you have two ears and one mouth, to listen twice as much as you speak. It’s a lesson I share with my children and coworkers, and one that I believe advertisers should heed as well. The first step in building a closer relationship with consumers will be for brands to actually start listening and get to know them.
This strategy will require advertisers to drop their fixation on reach. Mass personalization is an oxymoron; in the same way it is not possible to earnestly listen and respond to several people speaking to you simultaneously, brands who attempt to scale personalization end up with final products that feel disingenuous. That said, most advertisers need creative to reach a wider swath of people than can fit in a living room. Using data, advertisers can not only better identify target consumers, but also serve ads that weave into their unique behaviors, beliefs and preferences.
Once they have insights into behavior, advertisers should model their campaigns around providing advice consumers look for in their social networks. When I’m looking to buy a new car, I don’t wait to be served a car ad while watching cartoons with my kids – I ask my car-aficionado husband. Using data, personalized creative, and programmatic, brands can successfully take over the role of the knowledgeable advisor on every consumer's’ social media feed.
Be vulnerable to change
As brands take an intimacy-focused approach, the industry as a whole will move towards a standard in which the barriers between advertiser and content creator are blurred, if they exist at all. Experimentation will be key, something many advertisers may not feel comfortable with. Instead of fearing change, brands should lean into trial and error, allowing themselves to be truly vulnerable. While trying curation-focused tactics will require advertisers to shift from their bread-and-butter reach-focused ads, that risk offers an opportunity to do better and more important work.
Take Always’s #LikeAGirl, a campaign that didn’t even feature the company’s products. After identifying young women as their best demographic, they tapped into the female empowerment movement, reappropriating the discriminatory phrase “you run like a girl” into a mantra of confidence. This campaign was a major risk for Always, but was a massive success because it created a sense of vulnerability and intimacy between the brand and the consumer.
Lean into media’s future
Americans used to read the same newspapers, listen to the same radio stations, and watch the same TV channels to get all the information and entertainment they needed. This is far from today’s reality. Post-digital-media-revolution, consumers have the ability to choose from thousands of channels and publications, necessitating a closer connection between content, consumer, and advertising.
Some brands may think they’re keeping up, but the near future of digital advertising is much bigger than simply placing targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram. The media world is trending towards even more intimate and immediate experiences like virtual reality, and advertising has to shift too. Are brands prepared to create a live-streaming Facebook video that could compete with the Buzzfeed watermelon? Could an advertiser create an engaging, immersive experience for Oculus? These are the questions companies need to start asking themselves now.
I believe there will be a day when consumers love advertising. Unfortunately, that day isn’t today. Everything that can be automated and curated will be, and it will be incumbent on advertisers to not only keep up, but thrive. Advertising—in whatever form it takes—is meant to inform, entertain or inspire. When advertisers start to open themselves up to change, use the power of technology, and truly listen to their consumers, they will finally be able to do their jobs effectively.