Technology is driving some dramatic shifts that will change the face of business, and change the fundamentals of marketing and advertising in particular. I’m constantly thinking about better ways to explain this to people, and about a month ago, I thought of something that resonates with almost everyone I talk to about it. So I wanted to share it to see if it resonates with you:
To be a successful advertiser on the web in the future, you will need to build content based on many, lightweight interactions over time.
Following is the context explaining why I think this is the future of advertising.
We build relationships with brands the same way we build relationships with people.
We build relationships with others through many, lightweight interactions over time. We often meet people for the first time through friends of friends. Maybe we chat, maybe we don’t. Maybe we meet through friends of friends a few times, get talking and find out that we plenty of things in common and maybe similar interests. Maybe we both like skiing. So we go skiing together with our mutual friends. Maybe we go a few times. Then we go just the two of us. And slowly but surely a deep friendship develops. It takes months and years. We don’t suddenly become close friends overnight. We become close friends through many, lightweight interactions over time.
Our species has learned this pattern of relationship building over the past tens of thousands of years. It is how our brains are wired and so isn’t going to change anytime soon. Because marketing and branding is very new relative to the history of our species, only 150 years old at best, it makes sense that we would build relationships with brands the same way. Many, lightweight interactions over time is how we’re wired to build deep, emotional connections. Therefore, our marketing plans should be built around this insight. We have intuitively and sub-consciously made rough attempts at this by spreading our messages across multiple media – magazines, billboards, TV, radio, web banner ads. Add on the other lightweight interactions we have with brands – in the retail store, chatting with our friends, seeing other people use the brand – and we have an interesting framework: many, lightweight interactions over time.
We talk about brands in passing – lightweight, not heavyweight.
We like to think that people talk about our brands in-depth, mentioning specific attributes we have seeded, but that is not how people talk about brands. People talk about brands in passing. They tend to be talking about something else, and the brand rises and dissipates incredibly quickly. For example, I’m talking with my friend John, who tells me he met our mutual friend Matt last week. He is telling me what’s happening with Matt, then mentions that the weather was crazy hot, that they were in Starbucks, that he had a new Frappuccino that I would love, and then back to telling me more about Matt. These kinds of conversations happen over and over again. Brands being mentioned as part of a bigger conversation, and brand perception being built through many, lightweight mentions over time.
Disruption and attention as a framework for marketing and advertising is ending.
One of the dramatic shifts happening that is changing business is the rise of accessible information. Only twenty years ago, our access was bounded by the books we owned, the TV shows we watched, and the books in our library. Today, because of the web, we’re seeing an exponential increase in the amount of information that we have access to. We are sinking in information yet our capacity for processing all this information remains the same. It took our brain tens of thousands of years to evolve to its current state and because it evolves incredibly slowly, it’s not going to noticeably change within our lifetime.
Dramatically more information, and limited processing capacity, means that anyone in the game of grabbing attention, and disruption is in a race to the bottom. The web is destroying disruption as an effective and efficient advertising mechanism. Disruption is a terrible user experience and is damaging to both the publisher and advertiser. In a world of too much information, the only way to be successful will be to fit in seamlessly and naturally into people’s lives. You can introduce new content and new ideas to people, but it will need to feel natural or it will be ignored at best, infuriating at worst. The best way to do this will be through people’s friends, because in a world of overwhelming information and choice, people will turn to their friends to help them decide. They will turn to their friends because that is what we have learned to do through thousands of years of evolution.
Because the web is being rebuilt around people, in the very near future, maybe 18-24 months, almost every website you visit will be personalized to you. Every website will feature information about the people you care about. What they read, what they bought, where they went, what they think. In this environment, where all content is competing with people’s friends, advertising based on disruption will lose. No brand, and no advertising campaign, is more important and interesting to people than their friends. Display advertising as we know it today will die. Banner ads will die. Because TV is also going to dramatically change in the next couple of years, standalone 30 second TV spots will die.
The future will be built around always-on strategies with many, lightweight components.
Because we build relationships with things through many lightweight interactions over time, advertising will need to do the same to be heard. Although specific short-term campaigns around launching new products and new product variants will exist, they will be built on top of a solid ‘always-on’ foundation. The ‘always-on’ foundation will be far more important than short term campaigns because that is how people act in real life. Our real life relationships with friends are ‘always-on’. Our real life relationships with brands are ‘always-on’. Advertising will need to be the same.
This is very different to how we currently do things. Almost all advertising campaigns today are based on heavyweight experiences. Heavily branded content – product shots, taglines, icons, logos – everywhere. There is a huge movement towards building deep, immersive, heavyweight marketing experiences. Marketers are building web apps. Ads that you can interact with. Ads with animation, motion and multiple layers of interaction. Everyone building these “immersive” experiences are swimming upstream. Almost every app built for a brand on Facebook has practically no usage. Think about it – when is the last time you used an app built for a brand? Heavy, “immersive” experiences are not how people engage and interact with brands. Pitched against strategies built around many, lightweight interactions over time, heavyweight experiences will fail because they don’t map to real life.
Many, lightweight interactions is an incredible creative canvas.
Many creative practitioners don’t like the sound of this, but they are blinded by their current practices. Everyone is looking for the ‘big idea’ and the hero TV spot. Sight, sound and motion. Sexy visuals. Yet many, lightweight interactions over time is an incredibly flexible canvas. It allows you to have non-linear stories. No longer do you need to tell everything at once. It allows you to fit seamlessly into conversations between people who trust each other. It allows for adaptive storytelling.
This canvas is not worse than the canvas of large sight, sound and motion experiences. It’s just different. The best creative people will seize this opportunity, create amazing experiences, and every client trying to understand the evolution of the social web (which is almost every Fortune 500 company by the way) will come flocking to those creative people’s door.
In summary, change how you think before your competitors do.
I recently gave a talk at fMC on how to create successful content on Facebook. Afterwards, the most common question was for examples of brands doing a great job using many, lightweight interactions. The truth is that there aren’t many. But that is changing. Brands who embrace this early will see incredible success. Brands who don’t may go the way of the dinosaurs. The future of advertising is many, lightweight interactions over time. Don’t be the last to realize this.
If you want to learn more about the huge shifts in how the web is structured, and what that means for marketing, check out my book Grouped. It also contains references to dozens of research studies illustrating where things are headed.