Does advertising have a future?

A question that has been discussed at great lengths in many books, forums, LinkedIn groups and countless bars and dinner tables. However as of today, it is said that there is roughly about 500,000 advertising-related agencies on planet earth. So, if it is dead or dying, why are there even more ad agencies today and there was ever before?

With the proliferation of the ‘internet of things’, we often wonder about this very question. What is the future of advertising when everything, even a flower pot, will have a mind of its own? Does advertising have a role in consumer’s decision-making process when it comes to which brand they choose?

Enter the up and coming buzzword: Customer Experience. Good thing is, for once there is no catch to what the two words actually mean. Customer Experience simply and literally means customer experience. In another word, the new way to form a connection ad influence their decision-making process is providing…you guessed it: the best customer experience than your competition.

Let’s go back way back to the time when modern advertising came about which will give us a better understanding of where it is heading towards. Back in the 20s when Edward Bernays, lauded as the father of public relations, realised that to sell a war to the American public the government must first connect with their emotional chord. Bernays was instrumental in changing the rhetoric of Woodrow Wilson, the American president at the time, from ‘We must stop evil powers in Europe’ to ‘We must bring our way of life to Europe’. He campaigned that Europe is full of dictators and people are oppressed and we must bring our way of live, i.e. democracy and freedom, to them.

The American public started to get behind the government effort in the war with this new positioning by making people feel the need to help. Stunned at how a simple choice of word had swayed the public, Bernays moved to become a prolific writer and speaker on how to control the masses’ ‘herd instinct’. He would call this ‘engineering their consent’.

Bernays preached at great lengths about crowd psychology and was hired as consultants to corporations such as P&G, CBS and General Electric who are looking for innovative ways to grow market share not because of superior products. One of Bernays’s favourite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the use of celebrities, Bernays cleverly staged an Easter parade in New York City and brought in fashion models to hold a lit Lucky Strike and having them call it Torches of Freedom. He inundated the public with images of the movie stars with lit cigarettes on TV and in newspapers which helped changed public opinion that cigarettes are cool. This shift ciggies from being seen as rough and dirty and for the poor to be the in-thing to do. This approach was pioneering stuff.

Long story short, this history is intended to give us a perspective of how long we have been doing more of the same and how much we think we are being different today is actually nothing new because consumers have seen it all for eight decades now.

Today brands and agencies are struggling to find a point of differentiation from product development to marketing. That is because what one company produces today can and will be copied in less than six months. Today on average, a consumer sees anywhere between 150-200 different advertising in a day and this makes it even harder for the lengthy and more elaborative brand advertising to work well as they need time to resonate and struck a chord.

So back to our question. What is the future of advertising? The future of advertising is less about advertising and more about customer experience. Customer experience a.k.a CX is the product of an interaction between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer’s attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, purchase and advocacy. To put it simply brands must soon define itself by how good their customer experience is and not about what they say about it.

Customer experience is the pinnacle of everything that a company must provide. It sits above customer loyalty programmes, customer relationship programmes and certainly above advertising campaigns. It is everything about influencing how each customer feel, think and do with your product or services and every channel that leads to purchase and advocacy. And this is where more and more companies will have to compete on. The road to persuasion is by getting closer to your customers through understanding what drives their decisions during each interaction.

At Havas, our approach has always been about holistically across three pillars: acquisition, conversion and retention and customer experience is how we bring it all together. What this means is that we focus our efforts on looking at each and every micro-moment across the consumer purchase pathway and this very often goes far deeper than taking a brief and working on an idea, it is a highly elaborative process that look at media placements, what we say in digital banners, social ads, eDMs and websites to obscure things such as doormats, coffee cups and even take-away bags. And it does not stop there. The human interaction is just as important which why we spend time auditing our clients staff interactions from customer service call centres to how they greet walk-ins. To us, every little thing counts and everything has to be designed in tandem to seize the moment by acting in real time to impact customer interactions. Regardless of whether you are an online business, retailer, service provider it is about how much effort you put into the tangible touchpoints.

A lot of what we do rely heavily on data and technology. Not only measuring everything is key but tweaking them is what it is all about. No one gets it right the first time. And being a certified partner of tech-giants such as Adobe and Google is central to what we do as the amount of data we collect and analyse is massive which is why globally Havas invested in Artemis Alliance, our own global data-centre because we understand how valuable and confidential client’s data is. A huge part this data is customer interactions across all digital and brick-and-mortar touchpoints. And we totally understand that you can get lost in todays’ tech and the thousands of vendors and the jargons that come with it.  And more often than not, we give up as it can be hard. But there are plenty of legit cloud-based solutions that can work for you and are easy to setup. Work with people who has the knack to simplify it all for you instead of bedazzling you to sleep. The outcome is more important that the whizz bang. You have to be brutally pragmatic because here we do not always have multi-million dollars annual budget to throw at a problem.

And coming to the end part now, we probably should tie it back to Edward Bernays again. The point is brand advertising has its place and most likely will continue to do so. However, the art of engineering consent today is all about proofing that you care and this is what customer experience is all about and is already the new frontier in many countries. The herd-mentality does not work with today’s consumer as it used to. At Havas, we often advice our clients to take baby steps into anything as it is a very involved but very fulfilling process. Start with a better media plan, one that is highly targeted to be relevant to your audience because it counts. Start with having a thoughtful website on multiple devices and one that put customer experience at the heart of it conversation rate optimisation plan because it counts. Start with retail store layout analytic plan, if you are a retailer, that is designed to keep customers in and coming back for more. These are things you can already do today.

Where next? Our lives will soon be surrounded with all sorts of technology devices from virtual assistant devices listening to our every word we say, Alexa, Siri or Google, and wearables devices monitoring us and helping us achieve just a little bit more out of life. And these connected devices are already collecting your heart rates and many other information and will soon be the real-time pulse to how your customers are reacting your efforts in customer experience. Use it to your advantage to influence them because when advertising no longer work, all that you can do is to give them the best experience money can buy.

 

 

By Rafis Kadir

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