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Accelerating the Evolution: Insights from ad:tech India

By Melanie Joe, Consultant – Research and Insights, MSLGROUP

ad:tech, the international conference for digital and interactive marketing and communications, saw its India chapter unfold in the capital city of New Delhi on the 9th and 10th of March. While this was the 7th edition of the New Delhi chapter, 2017 is a milestone for ad:tech, as it completes 20 years internationally. The theme for ad:tech New Delhi 2017, ‘Accelerating the Evolution’, called for a look at the fast-changing digital landscape, and the technologies enabling transformation in the digital space. Attended by delegates from over 100 participating countries, discussions over the two days ranged from the IoT and machine learning to the evolution of content in the digital world.

Summarizing the two days of ad:tech, here are my key takeaways, some new, and the belief in others reaffirmed:

Experience is the next wave of digital transformation

Today, consumers want a brand narrative they can identify with, and more importantly, one they can be a part of. This is especially true for young, digital natives – the thrill for them lies in engaging with the moment, in real time. Interaction is key – and this interaction needs to transcend the traditional digital boundaries of computer and mobile screens (yes, desktops and mobiles have become ‘traditional’ now!). Brands are doing themselves a disservice if they restrict their creativity to on-the-go digital screens. This is where technologies like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will play a monumental role in reinventing digital engagement; they can help brands in bringing creativity to multiple screens, platforms, and locations in the physical world, and make the interaction more immersive and real. Not only does such intimate interaction create a unique bond between the brand and consumer, but it also helps in developing a long-lasting positive impression. The more immersive the experience, the more engaged – and impressed – is the consumer.

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Emotion is good

The brands with the most memorable messages have always been ones that stirred the audience through raw and real emotions. This kind of emotive storytelling is perhaps the most effective way to ingrain the brand message in the minds of the audience. Factors like brand culture and brand purpose are becoming more and more important to the increasingly aware and conscientious consumers of today, and speaking to them with real, human emotions is as personal and genuine as a brand could get. People don’t buy for logical reasons; people buy for emotional reasons – and emotion-led brand messages can help in reinforcing existing memory structures. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion; everything from happiness, surprise, puzzlement, fear, sadness can be used to connect with the consumer – and it’s important for brands to identify when, where and how to employ these emotions. Emotive storytelling, by being relatable to the consumers, also helps in driving social media relevance.

It’s the era of the ‘Live’ moment

The rise and popularity of the ‘live video’ feature in social networks like Facebook and Instagram are testament to people’s appetite for real-time content. While text makes you think, video makes you feel. Companies can leverage live videos to build a strong brand narrative. Venturing away from highly planned scripts every once in a while to create spontaneous content is a great way to build affinity with consumers. Live videos give brands the opportunity to do something new, to create controversial moments, and to engage with their audience on a human-to-human level; it brings together the art of storytelling with the science of engagement. The two-way engagement offered by live videos ensures that the contours of the conversation can be controlled by the consumers, thereby enriching their experience.

FOMO is a brand’s best friend

Thanks to the pervasiveness of social media and the trend of oversharing, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has become a phenomenon most people can identify with. While an individual’s peers are living it up out in the world (or on social media), it becomes natural for them to want to join in. This eagerness to participate in the best life has to offer is an excellent tool brands can leverage. It’s easy for brands to, with the right buzz, create FOMO and aspirational qualities around themselves. FOMO is accelerated by social media and experiences, two very valuable assets for young individuals today; a FOMO Strategy, so to speak, will only help brands in drawing the audience in.

Data is a brand’s most prime asset – and it needs to be treated like one

As the world becomes more connected and digital, brands will need to heavily rely on data in the future, more so than now. While more data does not always translate to more and better insights, brands will need to be competitive about acquiring the right data from the right sources. Access to the right data – exclusive, even – will allow for the creation of effective, insight-backed strategies which will have both reach and relevance. In order to convert data into business action, the first step will be to acknowledge the role it plays in keeping the wheels turning.

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It’s time to marry Data and Intuition

While data is crucial to accessing the right numbers and relevant information, it can only go so far without the human brain. Data will not tell you something that your gut will. Human intuition touches a nerve that data, with all its complexities, is not built to reach. Like a speaker at ad:tech so aptly put it, “Data opens your mind. Intuition unlocks your soul.” It will take courage for brands to not completely lean on data, but to maximize the effectiveness of their efforts, it will become necessary to strike the right balance between data and plain ol’ human intuition. Where data stops, intuition must begin.

Cross-channel identification of consumers is no longer optional

Consumers expect a seamless experience, and have no patience with brands who don’t keep up with their connected selves. The connected consumers of today are constantly switching from their desktops to mobiles to televisions to cars and more. The number of consumer touchpoints is clearly increasing, and it is crucial for brands to prioritize cross-screen and cross-channel consumer identification. Additionally, the global state of consumer attention is rapidly decreasing. Choices are infinite; attention is not – making it all the more important for brands to deliver relevant, personalized, real-time messages to their consumers, adapted for the platform/device of engagement.

img_20170309_175624Ethics are making a comeback, even for the Internet of Things (IoT)

As an interconnected environment that brings together devices, systems, data and people, the IoT is growing more powerful with the passage of time. This powerful and pervasive nature of the IoT makes the framing and enforcing of laws concerning privacy, security and appropriate online behavior extremely important. Questions about compliance, decisions taken by autonomous systems, etc. will become centrestage, and there will be the need for a system in place to address this. With an affective model of IoT governance, promoting ethical use of IoT technologies will become realistic.

 

Nao, the Watson in-store personal assistant at the IBM Cognitive Lounge.

Nao, the Watson in-store personal assistant at the IBM Cognitive Lounge.

The rise of the machines is a good thing, at least in our lifetimes

While the machines-vs-man scenario of science fiction literature won’t be a reality any time soon, progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence is shaping our society. Mastering Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) may not be within our machines’ capability now, but the technology we have right now is most certainly bringing about positive effects on how people work, play and live. When machines master our most rudimentary of tasks – both at work and home – we will be left with more time to engage our creative minds. It will be interesting to watch how we utilize this liberation of time – will be innovate or hibernate?

Chatbots are the good guys

Perhaps the most widely-used form of AI at the moment, chatbots are evolving at a rapid pace. The potential for chatbots is enormous, too; the number of people using messaging services is highest now than it has ever been, and the numbers are only expected to increase. Chatbots help in making the consumer experience more seamless, and there are a number of ways brand can leverage them to meaningfully engage with their consumers. For instance, when it comes to customer service, if chatbots eventually replace the human executive, some pressing questions will need answers: will AI be enough to pacify an irate or dissatisfied customer? Will making chatbots a lot more human help, and how human can we make chatbots before a real human will need to step in? These challenges notwithstanding, chatbots are promising; at present, we are at information age of chatbots; next step is transaction; and what comes after will, in all probability, change the face of messaging.

Content is not King anymore. Relevance is

The best content can fail if it is delivered at the wrong time, place, and – to the wrong person. The ongoing challenge of maintaining relevance in a fast-changing world and with the ever-evolving consumer is something brands must overcome. If the content doesn’t strike a chord with the audience, the opportunity to have a conversation with them is lost. With time, it will become more and more important for brands to master the science of relevance; know the right consumer, provide the right message, and have the structures in place to build off of that. Irrespective of what kind of content it is, its end goal will be to reach the audience, and reach them with meaning.

Ideas are no longer enough, and quality is no longer the undisputed winner

Big, ‘out-of-the-box’, ground-breaking ideas don’t work anymore, unless backed by data, analysis, technology – the list is quite a long one. It has become necessary to rely on science now to differentiate and make a mark. Similarly, product quality is essentially irrelevant if the brand doesn’t study the market and its trends. It will require brands to look at various avenues to get hold of the insights they will need.

The digital landscape is evolving at a rate which many brands find difficult to cope with, but at the end of the day, it’s about building meaningful connections with consumers, creating purpose, and carving a niche – and that’s the real essence of the digital transformation. With its power to accelerate everything, technology will be the guiding light in the next stage of digital evolution.

Melanie Joe_B&W
With a specialization in Advertising, Melanie has worked in the digital space with brands from the banking, healthcare, oil & energy, political and consumer sectors. She has also worked on media buying campaigns across print, radio, television and OOH. At MSLGROUP, she tracks inspiring digital initiatives for People’s Insights.
@melanie_joe | melanie.joe@mslgroup.com

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