Ralph Oliva – What could/should advertising look like in 2020?

Ralph Oliva, Executive Director of IBSM & Marketing, Penn State Smeal College of Business

Setting the stage…

“Predictions are difficult, especially the future” – one of my favorite quotes from Yogi Berra.

But some are not so difficult – and in my view the critical stage set for what advertising should look like in 2020 comes down to two key realizations:

Technologies will continue to change and evolve – driven by the speed of imagination and new enablement.

We can certainly expect that there will be more automatic collection of data, there will be more data in quantity, and that there might even be an innovation or two on how to drag insight from that data.

But another thing that we can pretty well count on is that human beings won’t change much over the next 20 years.

We’re moving sort of at the speed of “evolution” – depending on your beliefs, and it’s unlikely that a new breed of human will emerge that can rapidly simulate multiple channels of information, only need to eat one meal a day, survive on two hours of sleep – probably not the case.

Current views of the “millennial” have held that they are “polychromic” and can handle multiple streams of information at once, but from the research I’ve seen the jury is really out on this. They like a lot of stimulation, but at the end of the day I think they only do – as most of us do – get a chance to focus on one thing at a time.

Impact on “what could/should advertising look like in 2020?”

In my view, a clear bifurcation is emerging:

There’s the whole business of when the “customers in control” and they take the initiative to reach out and connect with a company.

In short there’s a huge opportunity here for companies to do better. And a good way to do that – is to mobilize technologies to enable more direct, human, voice to voice, person to person interaction. Think of the incredible differentiating power of what happens if a customer can call a company – even a large company, and actually connect to a live human being directly who knows something about the problem the customer is facing, and can actually provide a solution.

Yes, I’m talking about reverting back to the days when you could actually talk to a knowledgeable company representative in the home office, rather than in some “low cost country”. And marketers – rather than lawyers – would enable the communication to happen without “this recording may be recorded for quality control and training purposes”, and a VRU at the front end. That technology has set things back.

What advertising should look like in 2020 on the “customer pull” side is that customers should be able to pull much more directly to the employees inside the firm who can answer their questions.

And… those employees will need to empowered with a key understanding of:

  • What the firm wants their brand to mean
  • And what an ideal customer connection experience is like

This will enable a great quantity of true differentiation not only in the experience of the customer with the company, but of all of the company’s offerings.

In addition, companies will need to constantly be innovating on the response to what happens when a customer decided to search. The emergence of an “editorial” function which will enable a much more knowledgeable search, in my view, will be an important characterization of the “customer poll” part of advertising as we move to 2020.

…or at least I hope so.

Intrusion – yes intrusion…

Intrusive advertising will not die, in my view it will be more important than ever, but here, with  of offerings, noise, number of channels, etc., in my view, advertising in 2020 will need to be:

  • More targeted
  • More focused on simple brand messages, and the kinds of “hero offerings” that demonstrate what a brand is. When confronted with a plethora of choices, I believe a great deal of customers – B-to-B and B-to-C will be “retreating” to friendly harbors – the brands that have “filled in the blanks” of their understanding, and dealt with the fear and uncertainty and doubt – particularly of big purchases better than others.
  • So intrusive advertising –in all media will remain –but be simpler and brand impression focused.

Targeted brand communications, across traditional and new media, in my view will continue to be more important than ever,  but they will need to be more focused around “big, easy to understand ideas” that are clearly communicated – and tied again to a question that firms need to be able to answer well:

“If we were in an ideal world, what would we want our brand to mean”?

In my view, firms who start with an answer to that question, and find a way to clearly articulate that to stakeholders involved – inside and outside of the firm – we’ll be big winners as we move toward the evermore noisy world of 2020, where there are new – perhaps yet undiscovered technologies communicating information to customers and buyers

….but… it will still just be us people on the receiving end. I don’t see a lot of innovation from Genomics or other technologies changing us to be better receptors on multiple channels of ever more confusing information. We’ll be using our ongoing mechanisms for a simulating this information and firms which understand how to get through the clutter by powerful, simple, bigger messages, in my view will continue to win the intrusion battle. They’ll probably have more time, place, demographic, and psychographic targeting tools available, but they’ll still be knocking on the door of customers who are overloaded with information, and are looking to simplify.

The “squeeze in the middle”

One (my own) visualization of what advertising might be like in 2020,  and its big difference from today, can be visualized on the below charts. slide 1

Traditionally we viewed the ability to connect with the consumer and t
he amount of time they would connect with us following a “bell curve.”  On the one end customers spent relatively little time in absolutely “pure” transactions, and relatively little time in “deep time-consuming engagements”  and connection with messages”. They were sort of clustered in the middle, where they were able to adjust the time on task, to the amount of information they needed.

With the ability for customers to pull the information as needed, in  ever more tailored and personal ways as we move forward to 2020, and the constant demand for their attention on the other end in day to day transactions, as we move toward 2020, I see the squeeze of this middle.

slide 2

On the left and will be pure intrusive messages – perhaps just logos and logotypes,
reminding people of brands, conjuring up brand experiences, and trying to trigger the entire brand at appropriate moments in people’s lives, tied to the right sort of images, purchase situations, right at the time of the transaction.

On the right-hand side will be deep customer engagements, driven by the customer, and better enabled by the firm. Smart firms will be able to differentiate themselves as we move toward 2020 by actually allowing something that’s rare today: genuine human contact between their employees and their customers in meaningful conversations.

And everyone will assume “this call is being recorded for training and quality control purposes,”  so we won’t have to hear that infernal phrase repeated again and again.