Jun 29 2012
By Brice Le Blévennec
Ever since Marshall McLuhan coined his famous phrase, we know that “the medium is the message”. Today, this paradigm is no longer valid. The Internet has provided tools and empowered citizens, who are now in control of generating the public discourse. In this new paradigm, the impact and virality of the message depend on the value they create in the consumers’ lives. It is this value that has now become “the message”.
For advertisers, the new challenge is to support the new technology habits of their audiences, by providing communication objects – whether innovation or content – which, by their utility, or emotional richness, constitute an added value, meant to project on the brand.
In our new digital age where abundance rules, an unprecedented economic crisis has rendered the accumulation of assets as an engine of existence – totally obsolete. Brands can attempt to offer answers to the prevailing quest for sense and meaning … as long as they change their communication methods.
Take applications for tablets and mobile phones for examples: the only applications which manage to actually reach the consumer are those which offer a genuine service. Such is the case of the smartphone app, developed by Emakina for Electrabel, allowing customers to measure their energy consumption in real time and turn on/off electric sockets in their home via the Internet. The key added value: less wasted energy, pollution and lower bills.
Tomorrow’s agency is the consumer’s agency; that which intimately understands the needs and aspirations of consumers and which helps the advertiser to create the products and services that meet these expectations. ”But this is the leitmotiv of marketing since twenty years!” you might say with a smile. Of course, but things have dramatically changed with the advent of digital communication.
Up until recently, “old school” marketing was rather expensive. Conducting market research studies required considerable logistic and financial resources. Many advertisers refrained from using such tools, not because of their debatable return on investment (ROI), but rather due to the difficulty of their implementation. Today, the permanent flow of information from social networks allows us to understand the consumer and converse directly with her or him as never before. We can thus return to the essence of marketing, thanks to the power of the Net.
Moreover, in an era flooded by web and smartphones users, digital technologies prove to be an inexhaustible source of innovation. Not only do they create new consumer services, but they also provide potential new revenue sources for businesses. Have you noticed the number of food brands now offering web-based “slimming programs”? This is how they capitalise on your desire for thinness, after profiting from your cravings.
And here we encounter a fundamental difference between traditional advertising agencies, mistresses of the “claims”; and “digital native” agencies. The latter are naturally equipped to operate in this new world. Historically, web agencies have taken account of the user’s perspective, particularly given their ergonomic mission – sometimes at the expense of the client’s wishes. Who could imagine, for example, creating a website whose information architecture reflects the views of the business, rather than the needs of the user? User-bias, rather than client- bias, demonstrably increases ROI.
Classic communication approaches need to change: product, positioning, and agency briefing; campaigns designed to convey a message to a specific audience… that is all passé. Tomorrow’s agencies will have to go further upstream and examine the DNA of the product itself; see if it corresponds with the real concerns and desires of the consumer. When necessary, it’s the agency that will have to become the innovation engine.
Traditional advertising is dead? Probably not. But, next to “paid media” owned by editors and publishers, more and more often do we see brand platforms, online services, and innovative mobile applications gaining ground, seeping into the consumers’ daily lives and changing their behaviour. Is your agency ready for this new challenge? It is not (yet) too late to ask yourself this question.