For all that marketing has changed, it's still all about consumer intent

Twenty years ago this spring I started in this business. We called it Online Advertising, eventually it would become Search Engine Marketing, but we might as well have called it Brand Oxygen.

I spent more than a decade helping brands build a digital presence via search. What was easy to value about search was the clear, down-the-funnel return that brands could realize. What was really happening, and what seems even more relevant today, was the empowerment of consumers. Instead of passively accepting advertising based on what was on television or the segment of the population that they could be classified in, consumers were able to raise their hands, seeking out information that was personally relevant to them.

And that's when the magic would happen. The magic of a brand providing relevant content against that consumer intent. When done right, a brand could capture a disproportionate share of the audience. And yet, little has come after Google that could be considered a worthy evolution of the model. It’s possible that the industry dismissed search because of its text-based, last click, low funnel model. Or that in an effort to validate the pre-existing display solutions and maintain control and credit, no one dared to ask what could be learned and developed to make all advertising as effective as search.

Today, the programmatic industry is facing questions about ad blocking, viewability and transparency, which has perpetuated the ongoing struggle to increase brand dollars invested to catch up with consumer time spent in digital media.

And me? After many years in the holding company agency world, I'm returning into the middle of an entrepreneurial environment focused squarely on technology. I believe this is a moment in time where the future definition of advertising is being written. Consumers are rejecting the antiquated definition, which has proven, at least in display environments, not to be relevant enough to fulfill the intent of those would be customers. In making this decision to get back into the day-to-day advertising marketplace I am again reminded of three important truths on the way consumers adopt technology and the impact that has on future brand opportunities.

1. Consumer intent will always be the strongest signal: Data is the new black, the new oil or the new brand oxygen. Everyone knows the importance of data and they have no shortage of sources. Brands have first party data to match with third party data to create powerful segments of their existing and would-be future audiences. This has spawned no shortage of targeting options. And yet, the individual raising their hand remains the best source. Two of the most important terms in the display environment remain reach and frequency. I would suggest latency (or the lack thereof) is becoming more and more important in a world where consumer expectations of what brands are doing with that data is increasing.

2. Brands that place a premium on relevant content, both in where they buy and what they serve to consumers, will be rewarded with premium performance. We say it all the time. “Brands want to be in the right place at right time with the right message.” This is possibly the most challenging promise for brands to live up to as we further enter the age of automation. To do this well, brands have to deliver with the right message, not the horseshoes and hand grenades version of close that has existed before. Machine learning will aid greatly in helping brands see where premium interactions are coming from and what creative is driving it. Now brands, and their agencies, must be open to blending pre-existing creative with custom iterations that truly deliver on the right message promise.

3. The mobile era pushes us towards a future with either less cookies or truly being cookieless. At the same time brands are staring at a world where the funnel from awareness to consideration and purchase can happen within a single session. Every business is in the real-time business but not everyone is ready or truly real about the time in which they operate. This world of moments offers brands and their agents the golden opportunity to partner with companies and use technologies that can truly help them own the now.

If all members of our sprawling ecosystem can be mindful and dedicated to these concepts, we can accelerate the growth of our industry in a manner that will be satisfying to all parties. It's good to be home.

Chris Copeland is president of Yieldbot

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