Throughout history, the relationship between marketers and their audiences has been a hotly contested issue. The evolution of topics such as tone, voice, and even do-dads like “creative briefs” – all unheard-of in the ad world before the 1960s – demonstrate that marketers have not only become conscious of their audience, but also that they recognize that we (the customer) won’t be swayed by “Buy now!” messages anymore. Instead, it does and will continue to take more and more effort on the part of the advertiser to ensure that their message is getting heard. So, how exactly did this relationship evolve into what it is today? Let’s examine.
The Beginning: Advertising Before Strategy
Before the evolution of advertising strategy, marketers had it very simple: tell the customers what you want them to buy, along with a benefit or two, and they will come. This approach was effective for some time, due to the fact that the concept of a “campaign” didn’t exist. Until the development of television, marketers had two ways to communicate with their audience – print and radio – which were not conducive to integrated campaigns for a variety of reasons. Advertising was mass communication, there was no concept of audience segmentation. The customer bought, the marketer sold. Simple as that.
The Leap: Account Planning as a Discipline
In the 1960s, the technological and political climate throughout the world led to a marketer revelation: not only would we have to figure out how to get ourselves across on a new medium – television – but we’d also have to deal with increasing marketplace competition as it became easier to communicate around the world. Suddenly, it wasn’t good enough to just “sell.” The audience had evolved from a customer, into a consumer. It became necessary to run integrated campaigns, and analyze them afterwards for effectiveness. In 1968, JWT’s British agency developed a “T-Plan” for account planning, which included the creation of a new department called “account planning.” The goals of this department were many, according to JWT’s Stephen King:
1. To help integrate campaign and media objectives
2. To develop specialized skills in advertising research and planning
3. To link technical planning and its information sources
The job of account planners was to “conduct experiments related to the effectiveness of advertising campaigns” – that is – to see how well these campaigns related to the consumer. The question suddenly wasn’t “how do I sell?” Instead, the question became, “how do I differentiate myself in the mind of the consumer?”
This was the age of iconic campaigns such as DDB’s “Think Small” advertisement for Volkswagen, when marketers began developing “big ideas” in hopes that they’d be noticed. With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, this became even more challenging.
The Present: Strategy and The User
Nothing demonstrates the evolution of the consumer more than social media. In today’s time of integrated platforms like Facebook and Twitter, along with mobile phones that have the capabilities of computers and completely new online marketplaces created by “apps,” marketers are scrambling to figure out exactly how to tackle this huge shift. One way is to realize that the question has evolved as well, from “how do I differentiate myself in the mind of the consumer?” to simply, “how do I make them like me?” The consumer has become the user, and so far the audiences relationship to marketers has gone as follows:
• The Customer – marketers control options and choice, customers are uninformed and looking to buy necessities.
• The Consumer – consumers become more informed and realize they have choices; marketers try to differentiate themselves by crafting relatable campaigns.
• The User – consumers are educated and cynical; marketers attempt to create “cult” brands through likability and creating convenient user experiences.
Now, marketers actively demonstrate the benefits their products will have for the audience. The consumer doesn’t just swallow; he/she actively uses – hence, the audience has now become the “user.” Through incorporating techniques such as gamification into social platforms and campaigns, along with total social transparency, marketers are gaining a handle on how to encourage the user to “like” them, both tangibly (on Facebook) and intangibly (emotionally). The advent of cult brands such as Apple, and their subsequent hold on market share, have made this an incredibly important goal for the future of any business.
So where is all this headed?
The Future: Users as Players
I’ve mentioned the concept of gamification as a way to engage users in campaigns and increase likeability. With the increasing control that users now have over marketers, their brands, and their campaigns, it makes sense that the logical extension into the future would be an evolution of questions – from “how do I make them like me?” to “how can I engage them?”
Incorporating behavioral psychology into campaigns – such as in VW’s Fun Theory campaign – has been a lightly-explored option for marketers up to this point. However, we can expect that it will only continue to grow, as gamification, when done right, is proven to be an incredibly effective way to engage consumers in brands. In short, the user will soon become the player. With absolute control over how marketers speak to them, with limitless choices on who to buy from, and with a social community that encourages sharing, players will be able to navigate and direct the “game world” of marketing.
This is especially apparent in new forms of technology, such as Google Glasses – which literally turn the real world into an interactive experience – along with virtual reality in the form of gesture-interactive consoles like the Kinect.
So how will your brand tackle this new evolution? How will you engage your players? With almost unlimited opportunity for technological innovation within advertising, all marketers may need is to go back to the basics and ask the simple question – “how can I make them like me?”
Once the big idea hits, you (and your audience) will know.