For all of the recent digital advances most advertising still adheres to an ancient model: spread enticing messages across a given audience and hope they stick to individuals who find them relevant.
In what other human endeavor would failing 99 times out of a hundred be considered success? And yet marketers regularly accept outcomes of 1% or less on their campaigns as perfectly according to plan.
The result is a world papered from head to toe in largely irrelevant messages. A world, in which the average person is snowed under by a blizzard of useless information, howling for her attention. No wonder she's increasingly unlikely to like advertising.
Ironically, the average person also has many real needs she is attempting to satisfy and regularly devotes hours, days or even weeks to searching for goods and services that will fulfill them.
She lives in a world of imperfect information so she usually only manages to achieve an incomplete overview of the many options available to fit each need, or for that matter where to buy them.
Advertisers still stuck in the old model fight for scraps of her attention with their misdirected messages. At the same time, she is willing to pay handsomely with her attention – and for that matter money – if only she can find the right information to fit her needs.
We have the tools needed to bridge this disconnect at our disposal right now. Digital networks have finally made it possible to evolve beyond one-way broadcasting and establish permanent, ongoing, multi-way conversations with broad numbers of individuals who are actually interested in our products and services.
The time has come for us to put these tools to real use. The keys are:
1) Relevance. By moving beyond campaign-think to growing continuous, ongoing relationships where we listen to and learn about individuals we can ensure our offers are relevant to their needs.
2) Value. Imagine a friend who only talks about himself and never does a kind, thoughtful or useful thing for you. He won't be a friend for very long, will he? Brands must provide real value to their stakeholders in order to earn value in return. Value could come in the form of useful information, entertainment, social connections, the opportunity to contribute to the product development process, or more.
The possibilities are many. But when you consider how much is currently spent on media in order to put unwanted messages in front of the widest possible audience, it's hard to see how it wouldn't make more sense to attract genuinely interested individuals by offering real value instead.
3) Honesty. This is probably the toughest one. Real conversations never exist for long without honesty.
If a brand offers a product that's clearly sub-standard, it can no longer hide that fact behind a full frontal advertising assault. Like it or not but people will tweet their displeasure near-instantly. Instead, to be successful, brands should openly engage interested individuals in the challenge of making their products better.
Honesty takes courage, which means it's a promise that will be hard for many brands to deliver on fully. But the upsides are vast, including strong customer loyalty and the opportunity to gain valuable help for free.
Imagine a world in which most of the brand information that reaches us is immediately relevant to our individual needs and interests, has some form of direct value and is honest in its approach. Advertising like that might even be likeable.
This new world is not only better for us as individuals it is also better for us as marketers, since it reformats our jobs from hunting harried targets to maintaining valuable conversations with engaged individuals.
Our generation has, through our unique position in advertising history, the opportunity to bring this richer, more satisfying world into existence. Let's make it happen.
Patrick Gardner is President of Perfect Fools.