Steven Van Belleghem, Advisor, Author, Professor, Vlerick Business School
What should advertising look like by 2020
Snagging consumers will become more and more difficult. Today (2013!), consumers go looking for interaction with no more than five brands. Technology is making it increasingly easy for consumers to shield themselves from commercial messages. That means there will be three ways to reach consumers with commercial information. Being one of those five brands is the first and most obvious. When your brand succeeds in building an emotional relationship with a consumer, this is still the fastest way of focusing that consumer’s attention on your content. The second approach is by making content available so people can find it when they need it. Being available for consumers and working through an inbound marketing philosophy will become more and more important. The third and final approach is through your brand ambassadors. The strength of word-of-mouth will be the third dimension to evaluate the efficiency of your advertising methods in 2020.
Today companies are trying to evolve in this direction by investing in content marketing. The problem with content marketing is that the link with business and commercial objectives is not strong enough. Many companies are posting beautiful content on Facebook, but there’s no way of assessing the direct impact on their brand performance. That’s why companies will evolve from content marketing to the art of selling without selling.
Selling without selling will be the most efficient advertising format in 2020. The philosophy of selling without selling consists of offering supremely relevant content in a very individual way to those consumers who have decided to consume your company’s content. Selling without selling is a cross-channel philosophy. The key aspect of the philosophy is managing the direct relationship with the consumers yourself, as a brand. In the future, brands will want to be less dependent on media companies in reaching out to consumers. For a company, managing the relationship with the (potential) consumer themselves will provide them with an invaluable advantage.
The philosophy of selling is based on four cornerstones:
- Your own media are at the core of your advertising strategy: content placed on our own media will be the core of our strategy. Content on owned media builds a strong position in SEO. Moreover, it guides consumers to a branded environment where your advertising efforts an create direct benefits. This direct impact can be accomplished through online commerce or by data capturing. The content of the owned platform will of course be shared through social networks, but also through offline media and eventually through earned media.
- Advertising skills include data management: advertising is not just about communication; it is also about data management. In the next few years, the battle for consumer information will give rise to fierce competition between brands. Consumers will become very cautious and selective about which commercial organizations to share their personal data with. Companies able to gain enough of the consumer’s trust to obtain his personal data have an incredible competitive advantage. In the future, brands will take a direct approach to customer relations management. Successful brands will own the customer, making them less dependent on paid media.
- Design becomes more important than copywriting: online communication is evolving towards visualization of information. It is not about writing a cool piece anymore; rather, it’s about designing a beautiful visual to share your message. Today brands spend 80% on copywriting and 20% on design. To boost the impact of their content, companies need to invert that balance. In 2020, advertising is 80% design and 20% copywriting.
- Relevance is the only way of grabbing the consumer’s attention: the last dimension deals with the targeting aspect. Due to the ever growing overload of information, the need for relevance will be even greater than it is today. Consumers have all the information they need at their fingertips. As a brand, you can add value by sharing extremely relevant stories. Of course, this is strongly linked with data management. The better the data, the higher the relevance.
What should we do now to succeed?
To succeed, we need to adapt the current marketing organization, which is currently faced with two problems:
- Lack of knowledge: most marketing departments are filled with communication experts. By 2020, communication will only be part of the story. There is also a need for IT, web and data experts. The skills present in today’s marketing teams are not in line with the required capabilities.
- Lack of flexibility: most companies try to add every expert to their payroll and this approach makes them slow. Convincing specific experts to join your company is very difficult and may take a very long time. Also, who’s to say you will still need their specific skill set in a few years’ time?
For any modern organization, the path to becoming more ‘agile’ starts today. Our internal organization must incorporate a degree of flexibility if we are to achieve our external goals. This implies a new structure for marketing organizations. Until recently, everything was organized in-house. While this creates stability, it also results in rigidity. Sooner or later, your people’s competencies will no longer be in line with the company’s needs.
The marketing organization of the future will make increasing use of flexible experts. The core strategy and a limited number of projects are managed from inside the company. Everything else involves specialized skills to be hired in accordance with the company’s immediate needs. Partners are selected based on concrete ambitions.
In addition, we must also start to question budget mechanisms. Most companies still use annual budgets but in reality a lot can change in 12 months’ time. Companies must strive to make their entire budget flexible. The fixed expenses are integrated in the annual expenses. All extras are allotted through a project-based approach. The required budget is only earmarked for projects that appear profitable or relevant. Apart from keeping you sharp, this approach also gives a company the flexibility required to tap into current trends.
We need a new philosophy: fire bullets before you fire grenades. Try new ideas on a small scale. If they catch on you can always increase your investment. If they don’t, you simply end your investment. Once a new approach has proven its potential you can go full steam ahead.
Finally, the marketing organization of the future is a very disciplined team. The successful 2020 company maintains a samurai’s discipline. When a samurai commits to a project, he puts his little finger on the line. If he breaks his promise, the top of his little finger is chopped off. That is the samurai’s promise. Modern marketing also requires this kind of iron discipline. To succeed in your mission, you must follow your plans to the letter and maintain the agreed pace.