Hamish Pringle, Partner, Pringle and Pringle LLP
By 2020 the life, media, and data flows will have intertwined.
Nowadays a person’s ‘life flow’ is intertwined with the ‘media flow’. To illustrate this idea, picture a dry landscape in the 19th century with infrequent watering holes. Then imagine it evolving during the 20th century to become a wetter world with many more lakes and reservoirs where it was possible to take a drink a bit more easily. And now in the 21st century people live alongside a media flow which they can step in and out of with remarkable ease. Media have become all pervasive.
Meanwhile a third ‘flow’ is developing fast and by 2020 will have become as apparent and significant to the advertising business as the life and media flows are today. This is the data flow comprised of the myriad bits of digital information which are generated automatically and usually unconsciously by people as they go about their business. To the familiar data that marketers and their agencies use currently, such as that gathered from quantitative market research, marketing databases, and EPOS, will be added copious amounts of valuable information derived from online searching, mobile phones, tablets, payment cards, CCTV cameras, and devices yet to be invented. The digital technologies that created the media flow are now adding the data flow.
This new environment will provide customers and citizens with even more benefits in terms of tailored and timely news, information, and entertainment. And of course commercial communications, which introduce new products and services, and help people make purchasing decisions. The media flow enables multiple touch points at which customers can make contact with brands, and vice versa. The growing data flow will enable these interactions to be monitored and maximised in real time. So while advertising will continue to be all about the right mix of creative content and channel delivery, it will become increasingly precise and cost-effective.
People are in a more or less continuous state of flux within their life flow, and they move from non-buying to purchasing mode, and back again, very frequently. Dunnhumby estimate that the average household makes about 150 purchases a week, with the main grocery shopper buying an average of 16 items daily. This life flow has become inextricably linked to the media flow, with Accenture calculating that the average person is exposed to 1,009 commercial communications daily. So it’s crucial for the brand to have the optimal media mix in order to be seen and the data flow will contribute significantly to the understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
By 2020 the data flow will render both life and media flows more visible to advertisers, agencies, media owners, and increasingly citizens too. As such, privacy issues will come even more to the fore and establishing the appropriate protocols and protections will be essential in order to maintain trust. The industry will have to build upon the hard-won agreements with the EU and be proactive in leading the way forward.
The new digital communications channels have already had a fundamental effect on the way consumers are using and producing media—over half the UK population is now on Facebook—and these behaviour changes are in turn challenging the accepted ways of using media investment to build brands. Historically media owners were large corporations with specialist skills, particularly in the production of content. Now brand owners and individuals (in their millions) are becoming media owners in their own right and self-publishing through websites, blogs, and e-newsletters. Additionally, social networking has created a whole new communication infrastructure, giving customers access to a vast range of information and views from other like-minded consumers, and adding e-power to word-of-mouth.
This presents marketers and their agencies with a bewildering array of new opportunities: media are now not only ‘bought’ and ‘owned’, they can be ‘earned’ too. This means that the new art and science of media planning is all about the interweaving of these three media strands within the inter-mingled life and media flows that customers swim in today. The media planner’s skill is all about using a number of media to try to intercept customers at various points along their journey from not buying anything particular to purchasing something specific.
In the old analog world the cost of media was relatively high and brands could not afford to be present all the time. However, the world of the digital media has changed all this. Brands are already able to be present in the flow for a far greater proportion of the year than they used to just a decade ago. By 2020 the increased range of ‘bought’, ‘owned’, and ‘earned’ media available will enable messaging appropriate to the customer journey to be deployed continuously. Individuals are already targeted with ‘addressable media’ and interest-based advertising content that relates closely to their needs or desires as indicated by their online behaviour. As the data flow develops and the analyses become more sophisticated, the predictive algorithms that already exist will become increasingly prescient and enable the brand to anticipate people’s needs.
Marketers, agencies, and media owners need to prepare now for this future and put data front and centre in their organisations. The people with the necessary skills should be core team members not siloed away in the back office or out-sourced. Using their talents to exploit the data flow companies will be increasingly precise in placing the brand in the right person’s life and media flows, at the right time, and with the right communications content.