Last year, veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg denounced online ads for ruining the online experience. The model is bad for everyone, as advertisers and online sites scrabble over quality control and the fight for cheap digital real estate.
Of course, the consumer has had no say other than to suffer in silence or deploy decreasingly effective adblockers. In this war, they are little more than innocent bystanders forced to wade through disingenuous attempts at engagement and bombarded with disruptive advertising that serve little purpose other than getting in the way of the content they actually want to consume.
Up until this point we have consumed mass content—newspapers, radio ads, TV ads, display ads—knowing that we’re going to get some crap with it along the way. It’s a relationship we’ve accepted, assuming that these advertisements helped keep our content free. However, we’re becoming increasingly impatient with, and immune to, this form of disruptive display.
Mossberg’s lamentation was framed by the fact that a solution to the problem was not obvious. It would require re-framing the entire model of the advertising industry and abandoning core assumptions about how effective advertising works.
I’d argue that, in fact, the solution is at the tip of our tongue. Conversational intelligence and voice-enabled platforms are exploding open the assumptions we’ve had about advertising for the last century. As new forms of technology change the machine-human interaction, the advertising world has to adopt a new model of engagement and redefine its core beliefs along the way.
It just might save the industry.
Necessity by design
The introduction of voice assistance and direct SMS-marketing means that the new platform for advertising is living on devices that consumers have invited into their home. My Amazon Alexa is not like any other: I have trained it day-in and day-out with careful voice commands that teach it my favorite kind of music and linked it to my other smart home devices. And I’ve told it out loud what kind of paper towel I prefer. These are things that probably only my family really knows—and I’ve just willingly shared it with advertisers.
Connected customers expect to be heard, understood and respected, not fed best-guess mass advertising. In fact, according to SalesForce’s Connected Consumer Report, 51 percent of consumers expect that by 2020 companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before making contact.
In this reality where customers expect to be served what they need and not bombarded with an extrapolated display of what they may want, the advertising opportunity lies in the data these devices are gathering. What we say and when we say it is potentially the richest data advertisers have ever had about their consumers. And now the emergence of conversational intelligence finally gives us the tools to use it well.
The medium also demands a shared-value relationship, though. Now that ads are delivered through a medium marketed on the promise that it would be personalized to us, spray-and-pray mass ads don’t cut it anymore, no matter how educated their guesses may be.
In fact, GDPR’s recent rollout is the exact next step in this direction. Under these new regulations, consumers are able to decide what information they share with companies. They trust this information will be used responsibly, with intentionality and in their best interest.
Conversational intelligence and voice-activated content sit at the epicenter of what the consumer has been demanding since the beginning of time: control.
Know thy customer, and for heaven’s sake, listen to them
While “know thy customer” has been the mantra for marketers for ages, the next big shift in advertising will mean taking that old adage and leaning into an entirely new dimension: context.
Right now, we serve people ads based on where they’ve been. Advertising agencies gather a lot of data based on consumers’ history and profile and then guesstimate what they’ll want in the future. It rarely takes into account present needs. In a world when attention is both short and spread too thin, a mistimed ad is nothing more than a waste of space.
We’ve seen this before when ad circulars were dropped on every front lawn. Most ended up in the trash.
Slowly, stores realized that the best kind of coupon was one blatantly placed in front of the item it was advertising. The coupon for $2 off the product on the shelf next to it is a far more enticing sell than having to hunt the store twice over, or worse, remembering to bring it with you in the first place. Advertising in the digital era is in the midst of the same shift.
The key here is the value-setting context. If a consumer is fed an ad at the exact moment their hungry for what it’s offering, they are far more likely to buy.
The power of conversational intelligence is that it is able to gather contextual data and recommend actions based on that data. The likelihood you’ll be able to solve their problem in the moment is much higher, and the ad itself is more effective. And an effective ad makes for a better bottom line.
Pulling advertising from the grave
My guess is that you’ve been distracted by at least four ads as you’ve read through this article. My next guess is that you’ve ignored all of them.
Advertising done well is not a volume per unit price game, as the advertising industry has traditionally operated. It’s a targeted, intelligent offering that serves a need. It gives the customer the control they’ve been asking for and increases the effectiveness of ads in a way that traditional advertising has only dreamed of until now.
People will tell you how they want to be sold to and what they want to be sold. With the rise of voice and conversational intelligence, we can finally really listen to them.