You can’t buy my time — you have to earn it

Making a product and advertising it is dead, or at least on its last legs. Consumers are moving on. In fact, they are actively shunning a world where they are inundated with communications from brands flogging their products and services.

Consumers just want to go about their daily lives; and yet brands can’t stop themselves from disrupting that journey. In a climate where attention is squeezed and consumers want to choose how they use their time, brands continue to harp on about themselves.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that ad blocking is rife? A report by PageFair shows there were 615 million devices blocking ads worldwide at the end of last year. 62% of those were on mobile — equating to 308 million devices. Meanwhile, desktop ad blocker usage grew 17% year-on-year to 236 million.

Even Google is making moves towards ad-blocking. The Internet giant plans to install a default ad blocking feature in the mobile and desktop versions of Chrome, to filter out ads that it deems intrusive. Apple has followed suit with an autoplay blocker that stops videos playing automatically on its Safari browser. Samsung has also made it easy for users to download ad blocker plugins for its mobile web browser, and simultaneously made that browser available to all Android phones.

What’s more, consumers are developing their own barriers to help them automatically blank out advertising. For social media and display ads, 40% of Brits actively ignore this content, according to a study of 70,000 global consumers by Kantar TNS.

Brands that push their agenda blindly, without giving consumers anything back, will fail.

The agency noose

The problem stems from brands being held hostage by advertising agencies and media companies.

Brands are told by agencies that a one-way stream of advertising works — an approach that hasn’t changed since the 50’s. This may work now but that method of pushing messages to consumers and badgering them to buy is dying.

That said, advertising has evolved to focus on the customer. Brands and agencies have introduced customer relationship management (CRM) into campaigns, but that results in counting clicks and open rates. It’s still an extremely limited view and not conducive to building a valuable relationship between a brand and consumer.

The conventional thought process for brands starts with the product, its target audience and then buying that audience’s attention. Brands look to media agencies to advise them on how to reach those consumers.

All-too-often, the agency’s goal doesn’t align with a brand’s. If an agency can make more margin on TV, press, print or digital, they will sell that inventory, rather than what achieves the biggest return on investment for the client.

There is a gap between brands believing, or being told, they’re doing the right thing, and the intrusive and generic advertising consumers experience — where agencies won’t confess that consumers don’t want that kind of approach from brands. Perhaps even more damaging, agencies also won’t admit that even people in their own industry use ad blockers.

It’s for this reason that the current customer journey is drowning in flaws. Customer awareness, consideration, engagement and retention is intrusive, confusing, complicated and random.

Consumers expect more from brands

Consumers want more — and they are quickly realising that there is a better way to do things. It requires a shift from just offering a product, to providing consumer-centric and relationship-centric recommendations and services.

Moving a consumer towards a purchase shouldn’t be a interruptive, pushy, jarring experience. Brand communications should be contextually relevant, personalised and timely, promoting products and services, and arguably advertising can deliver on this. But future success lies in doing this in a useful way.

Technology offers a better option for brands — moving beyond just promoting products. It’s about the benefits for consumers, the service they will receive and the value exchange they enter. Look at the success of challenger bank Monzo, with its sharp customer focus and simplified banking service, or Spotify and Netflix offering recommendations and creating content based on what people are watching.

It has become an expectation. It’s hard for consumers, when they’ve had a service-led experience with businesses such as Monzo, Netflix and Spotify, to go back to the traditional, one-way communications from other traditional brands.

Think about the experience in human terms and you start to move towards a service-led, relationship based offering. You wouldn’t expect your friends to spend their time with you if all they do is shout about how great they are and how you should spend more time with them. What you do expect is a friend to listen and respond to you accordingly. Consumers now expect that from brands.

Brands need to show a tangible benefit to someone’s life. This means you earn long-term trust and the right to surface relevant goods and services at appropriate moments. For example, a swimwear brand could create a service that helps consumers with their daily regime, training and diet. That doesn’t mean explicitly selling their products at every given opportunity. Instead, it’s about creating a genuine service and utility that helps them achieve their goals. There will be moments where surfacing relevant products adds to the service.

The brand could even go one step further, recommending complementary brand’s product, for example, food partners or physiotherapists.

Brands are striving to be useful, instead of intrusive and annoying. Surely, rather than having a product-only relevance in the minds of consumers, it’s much more powerful to start to own a far wider, richer space in their lives? Technology facilitates this, but brands are yet to wake up to this fact.

Create value beyond the sell

Brands should be listening as much as they are speaking, where technology is an enabler of that one-to-one relationship and value exchange.

The earlier you start creating these experiences, the further ahead you will be when the competition comes knocking. Gather information about what consumers like and dislike, and foster relationships rather than bombarding people with advertising.

If brands don’t start to consider new approaches to relationships with consumers — and how to go beyond the existing model of relying on media agencies to advise them — they will be outperformed by new entrants. Outspending the competition in marketing is not going to work anymore.

There are major corporations in the world right now that have got to where they are because of the ability to control media well and to market effectively. But that world is changing. If brands don’t adapt and leverage technology to their advantage, the smaller entry-level players will disrupt them to the point of irrelevance.

Your company simply won’t exist.