Nigel Roberts

I’ve got some bad news for you.

You know that ‘Always on’ marketing approach that you’ve finally fully implemented? It’s already out of date.

If you think that now you’ve got search ticking over and your digital campaigns being delivered through a programmatic platform, you’ve sorted getting your message in front of your audience, I’m sorry, you haven’t.

Your audience has already moved on.

They’re looking at a cat video. Or listening to a podcast. Or watching streamed video. They’re sharing a picture of their perfect avo on toast, or tweeting the latest gossip on The Bachelorette.

They could even be reading the paper, looking at the AFR online, or watching Sky Business and perfectly aligning with your advertising media plan.

Or not. The fact is they could be doing any, or none of the above. What they’re not doing, is what you want them to, when you want them to, en masse. They don’t conform to exactly what you want them to do, because the dynamic has changed.

They are now in charge.

People power is changing marketing

Advertisers used to have the power. Your audiences were expected to remain patiently in place while you broadcasted your ads at them. If you were smart, you’d think about their needs, deliver memorable creative, or both. Or just go for the cheapest, most cost effective method of getting your prices in front of them, which invariably involves lots of shouting – step forward Lowes and Harvey Norman.

As consumers, we now have the freedom of choice in what, when and how we consume and when consumers have choices, traditional business models suffer. Just ask Fairfax, Network 10 and Bauer how they’re going.

With the advent of digital, advertisers initially shifted their thinking to deliver exactly the same one-way execution, millions of times more often, hoping that they would get eyeballs on a site that they think you may visit.

Digital’s definitely evolved beyond those early blunt force tactics, but it’s also become more generic, with increasing automation and ‘Always on’ type tactics that have even led to ad creative production becoming automated.

Will it be effective? Possibly, but only as the very lowest common denominator way of reaching your audiences, and it’s still relatively hit and hope.

This is why traditional and digital ‘one-way’ advertising has seen and will continue to see its effectiveness and relevance reduced, even as spends continue to rise and ‘Always on’ becomes the norm.

You gotta give to get back…

So is advertising a waste of money, or still the best way to reach your audiences?

The truth lies somewhere in between. Advertising has a role to play as part of a mix of activity and interactions. However, the idea of having just digital campaigns running in search and programmatic is now ineffective.

To be effective, your interactions (including advertising) need to provide value to your audiences across their entire experience with your brand. Therefore, to truly engage, your brand messaging needs to considered in the context of a broader customer experience.  For example, the top three actions financial services consumers take before purchasing are to search for your brand, search based on a need, and to visit your site (source Yell State of Financial Services Marketing Survey 2017).

That means that you need to provide connective tissue between your advertising messaging and the experience they have through search and your site. At each point you need to provide value, including a friction-free process to meet their needs.

But you can’t do that without understanding what your audiences value and to do that, you need to understand them.

Your audience is being segmented into personas of one

Your audience is now more informed, empowered and impatient than ever before. They have more choice, ‘less time’ and constant access to media. They’re a moving target, who are always consuming, sometimes on more than one device at the same time.

The problem for marketers is, this change has led to us having more individualised needs than ever before. The proliferation of digital channels has seen us self-serve much more, as well as being served content based on our distinctive behaviour.

This means that over the next 1-2 years we will be facing the need to communicate to our audiences as personas of one.

In practical terms that means your audiences will require personalised communications, content and tools to meet their individual needs. It also means that you will need to use every channel to reach them, understanding that while they may watch your home loan guide video content on their phone, they may then use a calculator on their desktop at work and ultimately want to talk to someone to complete their application.

Which is why I believe that we’re about to enter the era of ‘Always there’ marketing.

What’s ‘Always there’?

‘Always there’ is a persona-based model for engaging with your audiences. Essentially you’re looking to create a set of interactions that meet core needs for your diverse audiences at key points during their experience with your brand. The content, tools and communications you deliver are targeted to audience needs wherever they choose to access them.

In essence, you’re ‘Always there’ with your content, whichever channel is used. This will likely start with your promotional interactions, a mix of advertising and comms activities that will talk of customer need and benefits, rather than product features. You’ll need to be able to deliver those interactions through programmatic, social, search, print, on the phone, through chatbots – however your personas of one will want to consume it.

It sounds complicated, but the good news is that there are some relatively simple steps you can take now to start addressing the transition.

What you can do now
  1. Define your primary personas – while we’re heading toward a time where technology will allow us to individualise personas, right now, you need to start breaking down your audiences into primary and sub personas. Primary personas are 6-8 core persona types that can be used as a focus for your core interactions. Your sub-personas can then be defined over time, which will allow you to continue to drill down into more specific user types.
  2. Map your acquisition experience for your primary personas – once you’ve established your personas, focus on one interaction experience to better understand their needs at that point. I’d start with acquisition. Consideration is important, but is higher up the funnel and if you’re looking to provide evidence of the effectiveness of this approach, go for acquisition. By mapping their experiences you can understand their emotional and rational needs and current friction points, allowing you to create ads, content and communications and interactions that focus on individual audience needs.
  3. Establish persona-based marketing automation – I’m a little sceptical about how marketing automation is sold – it’s not the answer to all ills – however, if established using a persona-based approach, then it can be a hugely effective channel. By aligning your automation and nurture communications with your personas, it’s possible to start the process of personalising your interactions. It’s surprising how many marketers don’t use personas to plan their content, but if you do, you’ll be applying the principles of ‘Always there’.

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