When you’re trying to understand disruption in any industry, the most important thing to remember is, ignore the conventional wisdom. That means, don’t follow the technology and don’t follow the hype—follow the consumer. The digital disruption we’re in the middle of today makes complete sense to people who keep a close eye on consumer behavior. Disruption is really nothing more than serving a consumer need that others haven’t served yet—the technology just allows it to happen.
For my entire 40-plus years in the media business, the buzz was all about “the connected home” as the way of the future. We were all going to stay at home and technology was going to make it possible for us to do everything we needed. Remember Walter Cronkite’s “Home of the Future,” where we wouldn’t have to go to work—it would come to us? Movies like Smart House, with a computerized home and a cyborg maid? Or even Bill Gates’ house in Medina, Wash., with 64 kilometers of fiber-optic cable? That’s the kind of Wall-E future we were told to expect.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the future: With the advent of wireless, it became about the mobile connected individual, not “the connected home.” As William Webb, former head of R&D and senior technologist of the U.K.’s Ofcom, put it, “Users actually want a dumb home and smart devices.”
Today, Americans spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside the home. And while they’re out of the home, they want the products and services they enjoy to be with them nonstop. Fifty-two percent of consumers’ time is now spent on mobile devices, up from 37 percent six months ago. I can’t remember anything happening as quickly as this shift. And of course, it redefines how advertising works.
Advertising isn’t a 30-second spot, a display ad or a search term—advertising is media companies renting their consumer relationships to unaffiliated third parties. This broad definition allows us to rethink how we want to use those relationships in ways that reflect both the technology and how consumers can continue their relationships with their favorite products, services and personalities.
As marketers, we need to lean into this trend by leveraging media platforms like social and audio that fit seamlessly into consumers’ mobile habits. Marketers need to better understand this mass-market consumer behavior if they want their campaigns to succeed in this new mobile world.
And understand the winning plan is always a mix of media—each taking care of a specific piece of the puzzle and the whole mix delivering greater results than any one single piece. As the consumer shifts his or her usage of devices, the mix will continue to shift. And given the pace of change, the winners will be the ones who watch the consumer the closest and respond the quickest.
This is one of the most interesting times I have ever witnessed in the media business. As technological advances come at an ever-quickening pace, it means new ideas and new services can spring to life. Far from being worried about “disruption,” I’m energized by it. The consumer wins, marketers win, and those of us in media who embrace the change win as well.