What is innovation in marketing communications today?

Innovation in marketing requires new ways of working

Innovation in marketing requires new ways of working

In the area of marketing, and more specifically, marketing communications, what is the meaning of innovation nowadays? Innovation refers to a change in the technology that a company uses to transform labour, capital, materials, or information into products and services of greater value (Clayton & Christensen, 1997).  How the “technology” used in the process of producing marcomm has changed and what are the perspectives?

I´ve been in this business for quite some time, and I agree with some of the recent observations made by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group. He was very critical to agencies and to the clients as well.   He said he is tired by the fact that advertising is so intrusive (including digital advertising). He basically said – again – that advertising as we know is dead.

But, what is advertising, actually?  The American Marketing Association defines advertising as “the placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass media by business firms, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals who seek to inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas.”

In a nutshell, advertising is the art & science of buying space in mass media and creating persuasive messages for organisations in order to reach certain audiences.

In the end, the whole challenge of advertising boils down to one aspect that combined two tasks: how to get to a relevant audience and how to persuade this audience about the company’s point of view (buying a product, a service, or an idea).

Obviously, this isn´t an easy task. But it was easier in the past (20 years ago). What has changed?

Basically, everything. More media outlets. Different lifestyles. Different actitudes towards media. Customers increasingly sceptical about advertising and companies´ authority. New social pressures. New views about sex, politics and themes such as environment that impact the way the corporate discourse is assimilated. Finally, we have the development of a new, digital, context of interaction, expression and collaboration called the Web that creates more complexity to marcom mix and to the marcomm managers. A digital context, by the way, that has been driven by consumer´s content in the last years, therefore, a social medium.

Only people are still the same in this equation.  People still need to buy things, and they need information to make sense of the world. Another element that remains the same are the organisations that are still trying to reach people with persuasive messages.

Jackeman said that the ad model is intrusive, the agency model is outdated, and urged people to become innovators, or disruptors. The only problem is that he hasn´t offered solutions from a basic problem. Attention is something more scarce nowadays, and some companies are being considered illegitimate in order to get the attention they crave, so they are subject to negative-attention focus, not positive, when they try to say something. So, how to be innovative in a situation like this?

There are two broad approaches to capturing attention in advertising: you can pay for it or you can earn it, simply as that, says Thales Teixeira, a Harvard Business School professor in a very interesting working paper. You do everything you can to overcome the barrier of customer´s avoidance to persuasive messages, and the auto-immunization effect (Alvin & Festinger, 1961), but today advertisers need to understand, with great detail, the multitaksing and transmedia behaviour of their audiences, otherwise they will preach in the desert.

Fortunately, marketeers have some new powerful tools in their box:

  • Data: innovation comes from listening to customers and decoding trends. Social media is the largest, non-moderated focus group ever. And from a quantitative perspective, predictive models can unlock trends based on word-of-mouth and rumours networked dissemination.
  • Content: innovation comes from the combination of the content people consume today from different sources, in different formats, in different moments. This is basically a creativity challenge, but it´s much more interesting today I guess to work in a creative department than when the default format was a 30s spots or a full-page print ad. Companies and agencies can use an incredible range of choices in order to create responses, connections and express the brand proposition. And one of the ways to do this is to use the audience as advertisers, via digital word-of-mouth. Another is to integrated on and offline in a same environment for connection with the brand. More options, as you can see. Advertising creativity today is 3-D and off/online.
  • Metrics: finally, you can feedback all this process with actionable metrics from this variety of sources – and keep innovating. Never advertisers had so much data to feed their dashboards. The question now is how to make all these metrics meaningful.

Yes, it´s the end of the long-cycle marketing planning process,  and one-size fits all that was so common in the integrated communication approach, with its obsession for control. But it is not the end of the world. Ultimately, the real challenge here is an innovation in mindset (from brands and agencies) and  processes to cut through the more complex environment that we live – and make it work.  Perhaps, this is the most difficult part because it is easier to say “let´s change our minds” than “let´s DO something in a different way”.

Actually, for those, like me, that have worked in a direct sales company such as Dell,  many of the things being said today about econometrics, or marketing mix optimisation, are old news. Direct marketeers always work based on customer´s non-mediated input, not with long-term branding effects.

However, for all companies, innovation will come from companies being more responsive and reacting with the data as it´s getting captured in real time.  Innovation will come from their marketing communication organisations (client + agency) in a more flexible way to accept what the customers are asking to hear, and when (hence, decreasing the intrusiveness mentioned by the Pepsi executive), but the challenge is still the same: how to appear less intrusive (my next post will talk about this)? Finally, innovation will come from the use of the right metrics to feed econometric models to offer the best bang for the buck.

Everyone says that the new marketing is based on conversations, but are the marcomm teams ready to keep the flow of conversations going on in a profitable way? Surely, it will take some time to make these new ways of working the “new normal”. But the the disruption is already in place due to it´s inevitability. It´s simply not easy to change an industry created in a communication model (the  lineal, command and control model) and used to work with the strategy of “spray and pray” to another model (the interactive and circular model) when brands are “the members non-invited to the party” (Fournier & Avery, 2011) and marketing accountability it´s the norm.

Great times, indeed.

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