The future of advertising is not advertising at all.

Controversial headlines yes. New, it is not. It has been discussed at great lengths in many books, forums, LinkedIn groups and at countless dinner tables. But have we found an answer yet?

With the proliferation of internet of things we often wonder about this very question. What is the future of advertising when products has a mind of its own? Does advertising have a role in consumer’s decision making process?

And this may be the clue and where I introduce the up and coming buzzword: Customer Experience. There is no catch to what the two words actually mean. It is as straight forward as it gets. There is no trick.  Customer Experience simply and literally means customer experience. In another word the new way to form a connection and have any form of influence in a decision making process, in the near future, is through ensuring that you are providing the best customer experience.

Let’s go back to how advertising, the way we know it today, 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. As part of the Committee onP Public Relations, 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 democracy to Europe’. This was the key that was needed to get the public to support the government in sending troops to WWI.

The administration were so impressed with the little resistance that came from the American public with this new positioning. Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, Bernays wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peacetime. It was around after World War I that he became a prolific writer and speaker on the key to control the masses’ ‘herd instinct’ is through their emotional chord. He would call this ‘engineering their consent’.

Bernays talked and taught at great lengths about crowd psychology and was hired as consultants to corporations such as Procter and Gamble, United Fruit Company, CBS, General Electric and even the flouridationists of the Public Health Service looking for new ways to convince the masses that their idea and their products to the public in an increasingly noisy and crowded marketplace. And it was at this time advertising started to change from selling based on functional and tangible proposition to selling by making people feel that they deserve this product by showing images of happy couples or families of actors being excited

One of Bernays’s favourite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead his clients’ causes and this was the time when celebrities and public figures were used to endorse new products. One of the most famous campaign at the time was for the tobacco industry who needed to drive sales by removing the taboo that cigarettes are not for them. Bernays cleverly staged an Easter parade in New York City and using fashion models to hold a lit Lucky Strike and calling them Torches of Freedom. It was at this time he worked with the cable news to inundate the public with images of the models with lit cigarettes on TV and in the newspapers which helped to change public opinion. And that at the time this was pioneering stuff.

Sharing such a story and 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 been seeing this for about eight decades now. However clever we think the big idea or big ideal is it is actually the same old, same old. We may win awards and industry recognition but that is all there is to it. And not surprisingly that is what we mostly work towards.

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. Of course direct marketing came about to change that and it was great in the 70s and 80s but it was merely a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem that is unfolding today: blinded-sidedness.

So back to our question. What is the future of advertising? The future of advertising is less about advertising but 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, advocacy and purchase and use of a service. To put it simply brands must soon define itself by how good their customer experience is and not about what they say about it.

Recent studies clearly has shown the move from an attention economy, the one where we all compete for the same amount of space, to what I would call experience economy. More than 80% millennials ranked experience as the key factor to making a decision. Trust in brand advertising is at an all-time low and another great band-aid solution is flooding the market with positive social and peer reviews. But soon consumers will see right through them and it can be damaging.

The experience economy is all about ‘Don’t tell me you love me, show me’ and that is what they are looking for. And that is why in the last few years there have been a movement in the industry to try to understand that. It sounds simple but to make it happen is rather complex and every part of the company has to adhere and believe in 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 marketing and campaign planning. It is everything that a customers feel, think and do with your product or services and every channel that leads to them. 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 interactions surrounding the end product. There will be an increasing need to really understand that each customer journey is unique and often affected by perceptions, emotions, events and decisive moments that shape the experiences.

And there are four pillars to achieving that by making them feel unique which can only be achieved by knowing the customer and focus on each individual journey. Seize the moment by acting in real time to impact customer interactions. Regardless of whether you are an online business or you have retail outlets, your staff pretty much plays one if not the biggest role in that decision making process. So empower them through training and building company culture towards a customer-centric interactions. Finally keep improving. Have in place sensible KPIs or other forms of measure of success to know if you are reaching your goals.

And this is exactly where emerging technology will play a huge part to help us realise these goals. Our lives will soon be surrounded with all sorts of technology devices from virtual assistant devices listening to our every command like Amazon Echo, to wearables monitoring us and helping us achieve just a little bit more out of life, such as smart glasses, to the internet of things such as home appliances. These are the new frontiers in which organisations should focus on to play in the new experience economy.

Of course we need to start somewhere with what consumers have today. With smartphones penetration sitting at 70% with anywhere between two to three hours a day on their mobile, we are still seeing more than 35% of NZ’s companies do not having a mobile optimised website. That is suicidal in today’s landscape. Most of the mobile experience are still rudimentary with no regard to user-experience at all and it hurts the experience even more. We still do not understand the importance and how reliant consumers are of their smartphones in every step of the purchase pathway. We have a long way to go to to being a customer centric organisation.

Finally always remember that the part of the brain that controls decision-making also controls feelings and that a customer may not remember what he was told, but will always remember how you made him feel. And that’s what customer experience is about. How we make them feel when they interact with our organisation, how they feel when they interact with our products and services and how they feel when they interact with our people. And this is where I think marketing agencies, both creative and media, must start to diversify survive in the near future because to future of advertising is not advertising at all.

‘Sources include Wikipedia, Twenty and Nielsen CMI’
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