Over the last decade, technology has radically changed how we consume media. Today, we’re not just sitting back and passively watching television or gently flicking through the pages of the newspaper. Rather, people are proactively engaging with multiple forms of content – a TV show, a tweet, a gossip column – across multiple devices – TVs, consoles, smartphones, tablets – sometimes all at once.
Conversely, advertising hasn’t changed much at all. The old school of brand building has moved onto these newer screens. In the early days, media companies focused on grabbing online eyeballs, then used traditional advertising techniques –“banners and buttns”- to drive revenue. Several years and 600 million websites later – it hasn’t changed significantly. It’s hardly surprising that today a European consumer receives between 1,500 and 3,500 commercial messages daily.
In short, online advertising is at risk of bombarding consumers with adverts in ways that are completely out of sync with their media consumption habits. A potentially toxic combination.
The result is predictable. Consumers are zoning out.
According to recent eye-tracking studies undertaken by our Consumer Insights team, web users are unconsciously aware of the normal patterns of an ad format, and many are subliminally blocking these shapes: ad-blindness. This is a real threat to our industry. But more of a threat is the fact that as an industry, we are training consumers consciously to avoid ads too: ad avoidance.
In addition, consumers are becoming more ad-savvy and those ads they do see need to be ever more relevant as people understand that their attention is worth something. It’s a commodity that they won’t give away for free.
In Microsoft’s view, this is our new reality. The balance of power between customers and brands has shifted: consumers are in control. For our industry, this is a loud warning that we need to stop expecting attention, and start earning it. How? Well, by asking the people who matter. It’s time to stop talking about putting the consumer first and start doingit. With that in mind, I’m excited to share the results of a project jointly led by Microsoft Advertising’s Marketing Solutions and Customer Insights groups. Here’s a short
video by way of introduction:
As you can see, we brought a group of consumers together from across Europe and, with a focus on the personal care industry, spent a day listening to them and engaging with them. We heard them describe how their world is changing, the roles different devices play in their lives, how certain brands inspire their loyalty or annoy them and finally, how technology can enhance their personal product decision journey.
What did we learn?
Firstly, personal relevance emerged as a central theme in our European workshop – as it did in our US workshop, which we ran as part of the project. Consumers want to know whether products are right for them. A shampoo may say it’s “for frizzy hair”, but a consumer will ask themselves “will it work for my frizzy hair?”
Another interesting insight is that consumers in Europe were less interested in coupons and reward programmes. For people like Tina from Germany and Francesca from Italy, a more important commodity is advice, specifically relating to products they are considering purchasing and value is perceived as something that makes them feel good about themselves. A useful piece of information or guidance – can be more compelling than hard cash in coupon form. This demonstrates that a whole host of ‘commodities’ – a beautiful image, a handy map, a sizing chart – qualifies as a legitimate value exchange for many consumers.
The last thing we learned – and possibly the most important – was how refreshing and rewarding it is to listen. By listening, we can better understand that a consumer’s attention is more than a commodity. We understand the importance of tailoring our approach - with a sensitive and respectful use of data – to better meet the needs of customers. By listening, we understand how the industry can evolve to truly engage once more.
N.B. My colleague Natasha Hritzuk has an in-depth analysis of the whole project in a blog post here. Do check it out here: http://bit.ly/11YOAhw