Sally Williams – Communications In An Age Of Connectivity

Sally Williams, Global President, Business Development & Client Relations, DAS, Omnicom Group

How Did We Get Here?

Understanding the past doesn’t make predicting the future any easier – but it helps remind us what’s changed. Advertising was born in a different time – and in a different media world. It was about mass communication to mass markets for mass manufactured products. Advertising worked because it was one of the only ways consumers could get information. In a world where information is limited, ‘content’ has a special authority. Advertising wasn’t just a form of communication – it was a substitute for essential inputs about culture, society and the way the world works.

Fast-forward to 2012 and things are very different. An explosion in tools, devices and applications means consumers are now never not connected: in the digital world everything is always ‘on’ and people have almost universal, instantaneous access to information. As a result, an entirely different media ecosystem has emerged: consumers are on a digitally-connected journey where they encounter many different types of interaction and influence. They dip in and out of this continuous clickstream of mobile, social, and real-time information. So how can ‘advertising’ work within that?

Direct Digital Relationships

It’s easy to default to a ‘channel’ mindset – to assume the change is one of media type. Transferring brains and budgets from ‘traditional’ to ‘new’ media may seem smart – but misses the point. It’s not about adding ‘digital’ to the advertising strategy – it’s about making the brand itself an integral part of the consumer’s life.

The opportunity is for brands to wrap their products in, and augment them with, valuable digital services – opening a constant means of communication and engagement with consumers. When a brand personalizes itself to your interests and passions – bringing you information, services and community – then the advertising model is turned on its head. Instead of the product purchase being the end of a process called ‘advertising’, it’s the beginning of a different process of direct customer relationships and personalized, ongoing communications.

And don’t think this only applies to hi-tech products – every product or service can (in fact, must) be part of this direct digital conversation with its consumers. Which means that every company must become, in large part, a technology company. From sports wear brands tracking your fitness, to breakfast foods guiding your nutrition and diet, to automotive apps improving your daily driving routines … Brands that are not in the business of selling digital technology are nevertheless using it to create valuable, ongoing services which earn a place in their consumers’ world – a world where increasingly ‘advertising’ is no longer relevant. The optimist may hang onto the word – ‘It’s advertising, Jim, but not as we know it’ – but we all realise by now that the writing’s on the wall (or at least on the digital billboard). So we must boldly go. But where?

Modern Marketing

Modern Marketing is different – that’s clear. But what do we need to do differently as we approach 2020? First is to accept that it’s not business as usual. The speed of change means we need a completely different mindset. The digitally-connected world is a dynamic and social space where media are constantly ebbing and flowing, seething or simmering – and where consumers regularly acquire new beliefs and behaviors which don’t come to them though advertising or other traditional information sources. Whatever else Modern Marketing is, it has to be actively sought out by consumers – and then shared by them with others because the brand adds real value to their lives.

Content is still king in this world – nothing gets talked about as much as great content. (Although we need to re-define ‘content’ as the co-ordination of editorial assets and technological functionality: content can be an app that helps us do things as much as a story that tells us things.) This is at the heart of creating long-term brand relationships. If my sportswear brand offers me a stream of engaging, useful, relevant, informative, entertaining, fashionable and fun interactions, why would I go anywhere else for my trainers? All of which means the future is about much more than replacing ‘traditional’ with ‘digital’. It’s about brands behaving like softwareandmedia– getting taken up and carried in the flow of their consumers’ lives by making things easier, useful, interesting, more rewarding … pick your own adjective.

If ‘advertising’ has traditionally been about telling people how buying a product will improve their lives, Modern Marketing is about manifesting ‘improved living’ on a continuous basis. For years we’ve said that advertising has to stop interrupting people’s lives and start adding to them. We now have to move from there to a future where ‘advertising’ is actually about what people do in their lives, or at least an essential part of helping them do it.

A Connected Future

So how? We’ve said that consumers are on a connected journey. If the marketing communications business is to thrive in the digitally-transformed world of 2020, then it also has to be on a connected journey. Agencies need to connect with each other – because one big truth that emerges from all this is that no single company can do it on its own. As the definition of collective intelligence has it, ‘No-one knows everything, but everyone knows something’.

Designing integrated physical-digital services, which deliver valuable and memorable brand experiences across a proliferation of connected interfaces, cannot be achieved within single units, no matter how compelling their specialist expertise. Neither can it be managed through the continuous acquisition of in-house capabilities. The idea of a genuine one-stop shop gets more expensive and less credible by the day, as the world gets more complex and inter-connected.

All of which leads to the conclusion that – whatever else the future may hold – it has to include connected partnerships to supply the skills, innovations, insights and necessary speed to market to compete. Connectivity has to be the watchword in more ways than one – which is one reason why, at Omnicom, we’re busy translating the concept of omnipresent communication into a vision for a truly connected journey.