The buzzword for digital marketing gurus for the last decade or so has been omni channel marketing where messages are optimized in terms of delivery, size, content and target persona. Once upon a time digital marketing companies used to have their own platform for content distribution, a database carefully culled over the years and a solid bank of experts. The real estate for pushing content out was entirely owned by them. But the task of reaching out to people grew onerous as social media platforms mushroomed attracting billions of users to Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, FaceBook, SnapChat, etc.
So what did digital marketers do? They started buying real estate! They bought space on all these forums and networks so that they could be effective marketers. This revolution was no doubt brought about by the content marketing companies who would do this work on behalf of their customers. Instead of the customer investing in complex solutions, the digital marketers would do it for them. Imagine the drug for the customer with his favorite digital marketer:
- Access to a large network of individuals and companies that are already part of the database
- Existence of a framework to publish, analyze and build a sustainable content intelligence practice
- Deployment of a readymade content marketing team replete with skill sets, niche expertise and experience
It seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? But appearances can be deceptive.
The logic is simple and understandable. We have got to reach people and so we shall go where people are to be found. How is this different from what we do in cities with traditional marketing using print ads, billboards, flex banners, digital signboards, etc? The ideas have not changed in over a century! The automatic response would be; so, if It isn't broken, why fix it?
In order to understand the other side of the coin, we need to dig a little deeper:
- Average time spent by a user upon landing on page in 2011 was close to 50 seconds, in 2017 it is 15 secondsChartBeat
- 86% of users have banner blindness; native ads on social media sites have increased by 500% but yet are just workarounds. How long before they lose their sheen and CTRs (click through rates)
- Search still has the highest CTR of almost 5% across all display devices compared to less than 2.5% on social media and digital displays combined SmartInsights
- Email is still highly relevant as 2018 saw an uptick of almost 20% on messages sent 2017 vs. 2018
- 90% of consumers feel that customer experience trumps content as well as channel Gartner
- Almost 70% of consumers prefer independent blogs to content sponsored by a brand Future is AR/VR/Video
There is one other non quantifiable disadvantage; it is the fact that you have outsourced the market to the digital marketer. It is not inordinately bad, but over time it becomes the Achilles heel of the customer. You are essentially powerless with little or no understanding of the segment you are trying to reach.
Instead of trying to figure out what the digital marketer is trying to do, let us dwell on what the user wants and what he actually questions!
- A user takes 50 milliseconds to leave your web site - firstimpressions. Is he going to find what he wants?
- Non personalized content reach out programs are taking over because of privacy issues. How relevant is the context?
- Behavioral targeting led to the rise in contextual marketing. Will it also be targeted by privacy protectors?
- More than 30% block ads now. Will anonymity be a fundamental right going forward?
- A globally accelerating trend is one of populations getting more diverse in 98% of cities worldwide - Diversity. Will this reduce the applicability of content to a specific user?
Of course B2B is quite different from the consumer marketing model. In most situations, business consumers of digital content know what they want, will pay to get it and desire content to add value to their operations.
The future of digital marketing is the ability to get consumers to subscribe to niche content because users are getting extremely picky.
Thus far the strategy has been to create a persona of the consumer and then apply it on a broad spectrum of people to find the ones that match. Let us consider the example of a company that makes razors which has only one model; the quadruple blade smooth shave Presto razor. A time tested strategy will be to define a consumer profile that matches across diversity in races, age, cultures, social position, financial worth and aspirational outlook.
The old blunt axe approach was to find a model who could embody most of the qualities that your target group would appreciate, create a brazen shaving video around him and then broadcast it across the widest possible set of channels.
The current surgical approach seems to be to skillfully sort through thousands of profiles across multiple channels and then let fly the exact same content created earlier. The only change is that we got a lot smarter at identifying the target audience.
Of course, it was not worth it to create the same content with different models that would suit a wider range of consumer preferences because you don’t precisely know the most suitable model for each consumer type. The odds are not great that a businessman and a techie think alike as far as the models are concerned. The business man could see himself as a suave international tycoon while the techie wants to be shaving while climbing mount Everest. The point is that it is impossible to figure out individual preferences on a large enough scale and at a reasonable cost unless he tells you about it! This means that the cost of distributing personalized content is high unless you have a captive audience.
Chief Content Officers will be aware that digital marketing landscape is changing at a rate that seems improbable.
How personalized can you get?
Look at companies like Unbxd which are essentially creating personalized product experiences for different people. How are they doing it? They have loyal customers who visit the web site of the business entity telling them what they like (or need). The experience including key strokes on the web site (or mobile app) is custom fit to a persona of users. So they ended up increasing the number of product experiences five-fold. Incidentally Unbxd is not alone for there are many more entrants like Swiftype, ChannelAdvisor, etc.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg since it is still based on the classification of consumers into profile categories. What if each user is different? How would content systems evolve to solve this problem in a scalable manner?
AR/VR just introduced new ways to make experiences more immersive; in some way they solve the personalization problem. But the frontier for all digital marketers is to give the consumer the ability to assemble the content automatically based on profile preferences. In order for this to happen digital content must take the next step and the presentation layer must be owned by the consumer.
Just to un-box ourselves, it means that the content delivery across voice/AR/VR/apps must be AI driven. Think about what that means to your product!
Shared user experiences must be believable
It is incredible to know that most users don’t trust the feedback given by companies on their web sites. Whether rightful or not, it is a serious indictment of the operating model. This is where digital marketers can use blockchain to cut into the trust deficit. Users must be rewarded for giving feedback but at the same time the experience must be relevant.
Cryptocurrency is a perfect way to encourage consumers to share their experiences, acknowledge positive feedback, downgrade spurious information and prevent collusions. Smart contracts can control the amount of buoyancy in the feedback network.
Blockchain will enable a truly independent crowd sourced narrative to product experience which is trustworthy, reliable and accurate.
Consumers need to opt in for personalized content
If you truly want the bang for the buck, then it is clear that information needs to be delivered to the user based on an intelligent publish subscribe model. The age of searching for information is truly coming to an end. The attention deficit of today’s consumer indicates that it is critical to deliver the right information, to the right person, at the right time.
Digital marketers must think of creating simple universal address spaces for content. Imagine a tag space which is hierarchical like #auto#cars#bmw. A consumer subscribing to #cars will get everything while #bmw will only get information about BMWs. It is a very lightweight example but illustrates the approach that creates precision experiences for interested consumers.
Publishers and subscribers must be able to find each other instantly. In fact content delivery must start where Google Alerts ends today. It would not be surprising if email ascends to become the best closed loop marketing tool ever.
GDPR will bring user anonymity to the fore
It is not just the right to forget that will become prominent in the coming years but the even the right to remember. Privacy will start taking over all aspects of communication. This means that unless the user opts in, his/her identity will be sacred. This is yet another reason why anonymous subscriptions will rule the roost.
As a digital marketer, it is important to deep tag content so that the consumer obscurity does not in any way detract from the user experience.
Content Routing as a Service (CRaaS) will no doubt emerge from the ashes of existing content delivery networks. An external entity will manage all subscriptions to a universal tag web and a publisher will have to post content to an address without knowing subscriber identities.
If you kick this can far enough then it is evident that the consumer will have a physical address for purchase verification and digital anonymity for everything else. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One did after all show us the future of such consumerism.
Digital marketers must reinvent themselves
It is no longer enough to sit back and create personas. Display areas are getting smaller with mobile achieving prominence. It is vital to get consumers to come to you. Every succeeding generation is demanding more precision and quite naturally getting less. Contextual marketing will be crippled if privacy sanctions win the consumer wars. Deploying the right infrastructure which protects consumer privacy and increases precision content delivery is vital.