Ian Hartley

As we reach the end of the decade, cast your mind back to what was going on in the world in  2010:

  • The Rudd/Gillard leadership spill
  • The escape of the Chilean miners
  • The release of Inception with Leo Di Caprio
  • Prince William and Kate M announced their engagement
  • Space X became the first privately held company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but when you look at where we were in terms of customer experience, marketing and advertising it might as well be 50 years ago.

We’ve experienced Moore’s Law in real time and the next decade’s progress is looking likely to be even more extreme. Many things that we now take for granted in our day to day marketing lives didn’t seem so obvious ten years ago.

Customer-first, rather than business first

While we may think of the last decade as being dominated by digital, the biggest change has actually been the fundamental shift in how successful businesses think, enabled by the connectivity that the web delivers.

The move to a customer-first economy has been a gradual one, as the web has increasingly given everyone access to all the information they need to make an informed purchase decision.

No longer can businesses rely on information disparity to bamboozle customers with unfounded claims or impenetrable jargon. Consumers can now have the power to research, assess and compare their options before making a decision.

To survive, businesses now need to ensure they are creating products and services that their audience wants and not simply producing and promoting what they want to create.

Show, don’t tell

“Don’t tell me you’re funny, tell me a joke” is the classic way of highlighting that it’s no longer enough to tell people about a brand attribute and expect them to believe you.

You have to be who you say you are in an authentic way. And prove it.

Again, it seems obvious now that brands should act in accordance with their stated values, but brands had been getting away with just telling customers who they were for years, without necessarily being true to it.

Consumers now expect total transparency which means it’s more important than ever for a brand to behave authentically while positioning themselves with enough differentiation for consumers to meaningfully engage with. This is one trend we definitely don’t see going away.

The move to mobile

All of this is a result of the glowing rectangle we all carry around in our pocket.

In 2010, many were starting to tell CEOs that they needed to take mobile more seriously and how social media was “Definitely on the rise”…

The reality was that at the time, four out of five Australian websites were not optimised for mobile – indicative of how quickly business needed to catch up with where consumers were going.

The situation soon changed and Australia would shortly have the world’s highest penetration of smartphones after Singapore, but many marketers had been caught by surprise.

In an effort to catch up, many businesses invested heavily in developing their own smartphone app – for the first couple of years of the decade, it seems that almost every business felt they needed their own app.

They didn’t. The app boom was short-lived and a huge number of them apps received limited engagement – another clear example of organisations leading with what they wanted to produce, rather than what their customers actually needed.

Digital leads the way

As well as giving customers more power, digital has also allowed brands to connect more directly with their customers.

The most highly-lauded creative campaign of the period had us all onboard a horse with Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice man, telling us he was “The man your man could smell like”.

This was a significant turning point: the reinvigoration of a tired old brand with a great insight that women bought the shower gel more than men and a hilarious series of brave executions launched online first.

What it also showed marketers is how a direct and engaging digital execution was a credible alternative to traditional channels and, as one of the first commercial-examples of virality, it also showcased how digital could deliver reach far outside the purchased media.

Interactive content, where the star of the ads responded directly to Youtube comments, contributed to the Old Spice channel becoming most popular branded YouTube channel in the world and became the aspirational benchmark for all marketers.

Tech reduces barriers

Youtube is a great example of how tech can be a great leveller – while the Old Spice ads had significant budget behind them, today anyone can theoretically achieve the same reach from their phone.

We’ve seen technology and SAAS delivering the same lowering of the barrier to entry in countless industries, with taxis, hotels and the media being completely disrupted by tech-enabled upstarts.

With finance, the disruption has been less dramatic. Technology has enabled Fintechs to get off the ground without the need for expensive infrastructure, often allowing experienced industry insiders to present their vision of how things can be done better. But the impact, at least within Australia, has been limited to date.

Perhaps the biggest upcoming change as a result of technological developments may come from widespread adoption of open banking, if it happens. This has the potential to allow customers to choose to choose the interface they interact with financial products through, rather than being limited to experience provided by their bank.

This could reduce financial product providers to non-customer facing service providers, hugely reducing the connection that consumers feel with their brands and eroding brand equity built up over decades.

Search all the things

At the beginning of the decade, Google answered around 365 billion search queries per year. Now, it’s over 2 trillion.

Again, this increase is due to the rise of mobile, and it has meant that marketers need to deliver the right info, to the right customer, at the right time to help them make their decision. Content marketing, inbound marketing and personalisation have all been created as a result.

As we move into a new era of search – the era of ‘voice’ – the number of search queries is only going to increase. But what effect will it have on brands?

Similar to the potential outcome of open banking and customers not interacting directly with financial brands, it could result in a reduction in brand salience. If shoppers are asking Alexa to add ‘cheese’ their shopping list and the brand is chosen by the algorithm not the shopper, customers may make the move to generic brands without even realising it.

To counter this, marketers will need to return to an era in which we actually create intent for categories and brands vs. using programmatic to capture existing behaviour. Building brands that are strong enough for consumers to actively choose your brand will be the only way to survive. This is just as relevant if you are selling bagels or banking.

The next 10 years?

What’s in store for us all in the next decade?

If we’re honest, we’re not sure, but what seems likely is that marketing is going to become more reliant on data and information, and advances in technology will mean that it will be able to be used to communicate with consumers in ways we can’t imagine right now.

Will this be personalised hologram ads like in Minority Report? Very possibly.


What will continue to be the most important factor in success is the ability to build true connections with customers.

And the way this will continue to be done is by truly understanding customers as people, not just as numbers, then using this understanding to build deeper, more creative and more emotional connections.

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