The Rise of 'Advertility'


The notion of brands taking on more purposeful, useful roles in the lives of their consumers is nothing new. Nor is the belief that the Web, and technology in general, have turbo-charged the ability for brands to provide more meaningful value for their customers. So lately I've been thinking about why our industry has yet to fully embrace this phenomenon.

Deeper customer engagement, technology innovation, real-time marketing, social amplification. These are wonderful things to evangelize. I'm just wondering if we're asking all the right questions about how we apply these many virtues of the digital space. Instead of starting with the typical question of "What's our message and how does it tie back to our product and business goals?" perhaps there's an equally important question we often choose not to ask: "What can we be doing to help consumers, and improve some aspect of their lives?"

Today's consumer has been trained to expect more utility and value out of their digital experiences and, in turn, out of their exchanges with brands. This may be due to the burgeoning number of digital business models that are "service" oriented, replete with tools to improve their customers' lives (think Trip Advisor and Kayak in travel, Mint and Wasabi in financial services, Yelp and Urban Spoon in dining, etc.). It's also thanks to the huge adoption of the iPhone and the "app fever" it has spawned, where consumers have become accustomed to having really useful tools at their fingertips (in addition to plenty of not-so-useful, but nonetheless addictive games and gadgets. And if anyone wants to throw down on FS5 Air Hockey, game on!).

Brands that understand this phenomenon will increasingly adopt new interaction models where consumers are provided with tools, services and other meaningful content that add tangible value to their everyday lives -- and which position the brand as part of that experience, without necessarily "asking for the sale" or demanding an immediate ROI.

Nike+ has been one of the most heralded Web sites of the past several years, and with good reason: It underscored a philosophical shift from how many companies still approach digital marketing. Nike's global digital director of media said he viewed the Web "as a chance to build Nike's brand by providing valuable services." Two really important words in there: "valuable" and "services." Nike+ built something additive to the customer experience. It filled an unmet need that was far bigger than any product they sold. And it sold lots of products because of it.

One digital experience we created for Charles Schwab is a tool for younger investors, who are intimidated by investing and worry they are "late to the game" compared to their peers. By having consumers answer some simple questions, we were able to show them how they "stacked up" relative to their peers on many measures.  It's the most heavily used area of that Web site, arguably because it sought to scratch a real consumer itch as its primary objective.

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