Country Manager, WPP & CEO, GroupM
I can’t get no satisfaction.
The first U.S. Number One hit by the Rolling Stones is known by all. What hardly anybody realizes is that it is a protest song – specifically, a protest song against marketing communications:
When I'm watchin' my tv and a man comes on and tell me
How white my shirts can be
But, he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can't get no, oh, no, no, no, hey, hey, hey
That's what I say
You’d hope that Mick Jagger is an exception, because people should be in love with our marketing. Marketers are driven by customer needs, and by designing great products and great services based on these needs. People have to be satisfied with our work if we do it right. To get it right, we push production, we push the CFO, we push IT to deliver on those customer needs.
However, when it comes to marketing communications – which is a very large part of marketing – we have people like Mick Jagger protesting. Let’s try to unravel his train of thought. No one likes a movie on Friday night interrupted by commercials, again and again. No one likes an annoying display ad. In marketing communications, we forgot about customer needs, because we felt at the time was more efficient, or because it felt like there was no other way to build brands. Or whatever the reason was.
What’s changed? The Mick Jagger of today isn’t singing a protest song anymore. He just installed an ad blocker.
People will move away from unwelcomed interruptions when they can. They always have, they always will. What’s changed is that technology gives them more opportunity to do so. We can try to beat them in that game, but they are winning. So why not do things differently? To do so, we need a new view on how to build brands differently. And to do that, let’s start with where marketing should always start: with consumers.
With technological changes, we see massive changes in human behavior. This does not imply that humanity itself is fundamentally changing. Technology is only facilitating people to exhibit more of their preferred human behavior.
Over time, media has evolved, spurred on in large part by technological developments: from black and white stills in the first newspapers, to black and white movies in theaters, to small screens in our living rooms, to growing screens with color, to a screen in our hands, to Google Homes in our living rooms that can talk back to us. To summarize: we went from frozen to moving, from silence to audio, from black and white to color, from distance to close by, from passive to interactive. Which means that media is becoming more human.
Give a toddler an iPad and what you see is a happy and skillful user. How can that be? How did we get here? Our toddler is such a skillful user because the user interface is more intuitive, accessible, more human. Why are consumers moving away from linear viewing towards non-linear so quickly? Just think about summertime, lying on nice bed next to a pool with thriller: if the story is engaging enough, you’d rather keep reading the next chapter than take a dive into the water. Binge viewing is not a complete new behavior; it’s simply the digital equivalent of binge reading. Netflix has certainly made binge viewing easier. But the desire to immerse oneself in an exciting story is something more universally human.
It is not so strange that consumers are struggling with all the communication possibilities available to them. It is in many cases great for them, but at times it can be a burden as well: “I see “blue ticks” next to my texts, so I know you’ve read them, so why are you not responding?…”
Top marketers recognize that something has to change in marketing communication. Marc Mathieu said this when he was Unilever’s global senior vice president of marketing:
“Consumers no longer welcome untimely interruptions from brands, but now have the control to ‘pull’ [brands] into their lives as and when they wish. It’s about recognizing that people don’t want to be interrupted, yet choose to interrupt themselves." Brad Jakeman, when he was President of PepsiCo's global beverage group: “You only have to watch this crap for another 10 seconds and then you are going to get to the content that you really wanted to see. That is a model of polluting content that is not sustainable."
Why are we fighting with consumers? Why are we just disrupting? In marketing communication, we seem to be bullying consumers. When instead, as marketers it should be about satisfying customer needs. We need a new philosophy for marketing communication. It’s interesting to see how many brands have successfully adopted “customer-experience thinking” – that is, thinking about the customer journey and all the experiences the customer has with the brand. Instead of interrupting, why not put the customer experience at the heart of marketing communications as well? We should aim to design the experience of interacting with a brand message in a way that consumer welcome and value.
Trying to beat consumers with interruptions is an efficiency play. I am not saying we should never do that – however, it will not make brands win. To win, we should place consumer needs first in marketing communications. Mick Jagger is getting old. He shouldn’t have to sing his protest song anymore.