Why Digital Advertising Needs To Embrace Human Experience

By Aaron Goldman, CMO, Mediaocean

Of all the common themes in science fiction – spaceship battles, alien invasions, colonized planets – the most tenacious might be the question of what happens when machines become more like people. From Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, through Star Trek’s android officer Data, to recent explorations like Ex Machina, figuring out how we’ll be affected by technology with human qualities has preoccupied us for decades.

Recently, we’ve started to see the real-world versions of these imaginative works. While we might not be at risk of failing to distinguish between a person and a robot just yet, technology is starting to treat us as individuals, and that makes the technology feel more human. AI is one example – you could have a conversation of sorts with the phone in your pocket right now, after all. And everything online will follow this path. It’s something that the advertising industry needs to get in front of.

Omnichannel, omnifunnel organisms

For years, our industry has been learning how best to leverage the flood of data that’s now available to us, from tracking and retargeting display ads to pinpointing audiences with greater precision. Digitalization has had a forceful impact, but the disruption of 2020 has left many in a precarious position and some organizations may no longer be able to go big on media buys in order to achieve results. The pressure is on to find ways of engaging the right audience more efficiently and more effectively.

To do that, I think we’ll see the smartest marketers shift to focus more towards creativity, capturing audiences with content that they love, rather than content they can’t avoid. There’s nothing novel about this, of course, but this time we will have access to data and tools that would have astonished previous generations of advertising professionals.

The trick will be to manage and understand that data in the right way. Too often, the wealth of information we have about our audiences is not joined up in a way that gives us a real insight into how creative can connect with them. When say, TV spots, video, social media, and display are planned and executed on parallel tracks, we miss out on a holistic view of the people we need to reach. Our audiences, after all, no longer interact with these channels in isolation: TV is consumed online as well as traditionally, generating social conversation along the way, and a core part of the social media experience is following links out to the wider internet and back. At the same time, the funnel from awareness to conversion is compressing, as social commerce makes the buy button omnipresent.

When people are moving organically from channel to channel, a robotic marketing approach that takes a standardized approach to each channel will fail to resonate. This is especially the case right now, as consumer expectations have been just as disrupted by the pandemic as marketing budgets. A year in which many have been starkly reminded of what is truly valuable has only accelerated a trend towards authenticity, a desire for purposeful branding, and, in short, an expectation of greater humanity.

Humanize to advertise

This is a very different kind of innovation to robots which act like people, but I think that putting humanity into our everyday experiences of technology is, in its way, just as significant. Having acclimatized to digital advertising’s methods for landing on the right screens, marketers will now need to refocus on connecting with the people behind the screens. And to do that, we need to person-alise brand marketing.

Holistic intelligence about the audience is the first step in this. Putting tools that understand the customer journey across channels at the core of your strategy will provide the ability to see your target more clearly and plan more effectively. This is becoming more important as the media market further embraces closed ecosystems that offer granular data but impede unifying audience definitions and measurement standards.

With an omnichannel platform in place, brands can pursue more authentic, personable content strategies. Entertainmerce is the ultimate expression of this, with companies like Amazon and John Lewis hosting live-streamed events, but there is a wide scope for turning audience insight into advertising with authentic entertainment appeal. This also represents a powering up of social commerce strategies, moving shoppable ads from being micro-ecommerce sites inserted into content to be opportunities to buy which resonate with the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Once audiences are engaged on that level, measuring and optimizing how they react across channels then becomes the start of a learning process. Like the smart machines of science fiction, what gives this approach to humanity is its ability to learn. In short, marketers need to market the way consumers consume – and as needs, wants and behaviors change, your creativity needs to change with them. We, humans, are lucky that we can do this instinctively, by interacting with people. If you want to provide that human experience to whole audiences, you need digital advertising that really knows what to do with data.