What Consumers Want: Transparency and Reality

Are You Getting the Message Yet?

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Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
"The next 5 years will hold more change for the advertising industry than the previous 50 did."

So starts the new report from IBM Institute of Business Value titled "The End of Advertising as We Know It," which was released online early last week.

The report examines the four key drivers of change (and consequently the implications) including: the future demand for individual-measurement; new open-source entrants to advertising inventory control; the growth of ad-skipping technology and online content suggesting that TV time is already being rivaled for consumer attention; and least we forget, the continued popularity of user-generated and peer-driven content. Further, it looks at how established players such as broadcasters, publishers and content producers are partnering directly with advertisers to develop strategic-marketing campaigns and sponsorships, taking on more and more traditional agency functions and roles. It suggests that, as an industry, we need to think about innovating and changing our primary business models or risk losing out in the current shift of power.

As you know from several of my previous entries, these last areas are particular points of interest to me. I'm fascinated by the way the web has been changing our industry's focus and needs -- online and off. In many ways, the web, first praised for its global reach and inclusive vision, has led to a very narrow focus of interests and expertise by its users. Our target audiences can now select the content and media that interests them and walk away from that which does not. Your clients' brands are now one mouse click away from oblivion.

So now, as marketers, we are finding ways to "hyper-target" our consumers at the places they live such as blogs, social networks and virtual worlds to name a few. Congrats. We've found a way to commercialize personal space on the internet.

If there's anything social sites like YouTube have done (besides bring the world untold entertainment of cute animals, beauty queens, and feel good stories) it is to make our lives and world that we live in transparent. And that, in turn, has created new consumer demands.

Keeping it real
I was recently ask to speak to a group of college students and during the course of conversation one of the students said to me how he felt that companies, particularly those advertising on TV are far removed from how the rest of the world was really living. "Why can't they just be real?"

So here we are. Real is what we're being asked for today. That goes far beyond just being transparent and has broader implications for brands. It's not about being aspirational, it's about being who you really are at every point of communication.

No more clipart ads of happy executives sitting around a board room table looking at a flow chart. No more TV ads showing hotel rooms high enough for Cirque Du Soleil to practice their acts. Or A-list celebrities worrying about affording healthcare coverage. That's not how the world works today.

"Real" companies, brands and social foundations will need to perform and communicate at higher standards than ever before. Period.

More information about products and services will need to be provided to better manage consumer expectations. Customer reviews are also important. Ask for feedback. And respond in real time. Consumers today need to know that they've been listened to.

If there is a performance issue or failure on the brand/company's part you will need to beat consumers to the punch. Or risk the consequences.

Go out of your way to solve issues if they do appear on review sites and if you do it well, you may actually tell fellow posters about their experience. Turn a negative situation into a positive experience.

If Web 2.0 was all about harnessing the collective intelligence of crowds to give information a value -- then Web 3.0 is about making the the internet smarter, together. We will begin to see more open platforms and sharing of content and applications. More social and virtual worlds will lead to immersive and multi-dimensional environments for which to explore.

One more interesting thought embedded in the speaking notes of Trendwatching.com's new 2008 Global Trend Report. Younger consumers will expect even more transparency in the future; after all, the digital generation is already leading their lives for all to see. They are already disclosing their lives on blogs, pics and videos on various blogs and sites. Expect them to eventually demand the same from corporations, brand and institutions.

Will you be ready?
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