Miles Nadal – My View of the Future

Miles Nadal, CEO, MDC Partners

Predicting what advertising will look like in 2020 runs counter to the entrepreneurial approach we take to creative disruption and innovation. We are learning more about consumers—that is to say, ourselves, every day. The constant learning keeps our creative engines running and is the only reasonable response to the new reality of marketing:  the rules of engagement with consumers are ever in flux – and will be well beyond 2020.

As advertisers, we constantly ask ourselves this question, in its simplest form: What do consumers want? The answer to that question is growing increasingly complex as advertisers become more accountable, marketing becomes more predictive, and relationships between brands and consumers become more humanized, participatory and interdependent.

As Doc Searls recently articulated in his article “The Customer as God: The Future of Shopping” (WSJ), customers are ever more in charge. As advancing technology tears down silos between people, platforms and data, marketers are progressively more reliant on the individual exchange of information. Naturally, the power is shifting to the consumer, and it’s no longer the advertiser’s inherent right to establish this exchange in the first place.

Data undoubtedly plays a crucial role in determining the climate of this economy. More specifically, the oft too vague and increasingly intimidating Big Data, and brands’ desire to capture and leverage the power therein, wields extraordinary influence over what we as marketers seek to accomplish. Brands are beginning to understand and utilize more sophisticated methods of collecting, interpreting and leveraging this data. We know we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg.

Consumers are well aware, and increasingly sensitive to the existence of this data. As technology routinely redefines social and behavioral conventions, we live with the pervading sense that those with access to our collective technological personas know more about us than we can know about ourselves.

In short, I believe we are in an “economy of intimacy”. There is currency in the trust, value, content, and personalization that brands can, and will offer. The development of this economy will be one of the key factors to shape advertising in the years to come.

We have a heightened awareness to this data, and what it may mean for personal lives, public personas, and privacy. One might argue that consumers and advertisers are simultaneously learning what to do with this game-changing factor in their relationship with one another. We all want to engage brands on our own terms. Neither advertiser nor consumer wants to be subject to the downsides of an inappropriate conversation.

In theory, both sides of the marketing equation are striving for the same delicate balance. Data can lead the way in that it generates new and more efficient forms of addressable media, higher levels of personalization, and the magical point of convergence where we know we’ve reached the right person, in the right context, with exactly the content he or she desires.

As consumers, we are now beginning to understand exactly what we are gaining, and sometimes giving up, in exchange for this balance. As advertisers, we’re always hungry to know more, and always in danger of upsetting that balance. We’re navigating a meritocracy. Consumers will ultimately control the exchange, if not at the outset, then in the long run. Brands that abuse the privilege of this close conversation will surely pay the price at the register.

Amidst the clutter of these conversations the customer journey is evolving. The journey has become decentralized, as it is becoming increasingly dictated by the individual’s circumstance and preference. Magazines drive us to our phones. Phones drive us to stores. Stores remember who we are and where we’ve been, what we like and what we don’t, offering us a chance to learn about ourselves and share that knowledge with our peers. Social media steals share from TV and gives it right back. And the Internet might just have saved the radio star.

Brands that don’t offer real meaning, and deliver it in an elegant, intuitive way will lose access to consumers who are increasingly adept at identifying value and establishing the parameters of their relationship with a brand.  Right now, establishing the interaction is as much art as it is science. I think it will certainly always be a bit of both.

I have long referenced the now antiquated sentiment expressed by John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” The stark contrast this quote provides to our current state of affairs is incredible. We not only know exactly which half isn’t working, we know the details and nuances of our successes and failures, with near scientific certainty. And we’re honing our skills in the art of interpretation. I predict that by 2020, the cost of the ineffective half will inflate, and those that abuse the privileges of this understanding will pay dearly. Our industry is, and will be, an economy of intimacy.