Personas of one and the rise of ‘always there’ marketing

Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is founding partner and strategy lead at financial services specialist Yell. He has over 20 years’ experience of financial services marketing and strategy in the UK and Australia.

I’ve got some bad news. The ‘always on’ marketing approach that many companies have only just fully implemented is already out of date.

Many companies may think that now they’ve got search ticking over, programmatic digital campaigns spreading the word and marketing automation nurturing leads to completion, they’ve achieved the task of getting their message in front of their audience, unfortunately that’s not quite true. Audiences have 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 Love Island gossip. They could even be reading the paper, looking at the AFR online, or watching Sky Business and perfectly aligning with a carefully-structured media plan. Or not.

The fact is they could be doing any, all or none of the above. What they’re not doing, is what marketers want them to, when marketers want them to, en masse. The dynamic has changed. Customers are now in charge.

People power is changing marketing

Advertisers used to have the power. Audiences were expected to remain patiently in place while ads were broadcast at them. If advertisers were smart, they would think about customer 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.

Consumers now have the freedom of choice in what, when and how they 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 to get eyeballs on a site that customers may visit. Digital definitely has 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 is it still the best way to reach 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, interactions (including advertising) need to provide value to audiences across the entire experience with a brand. Therefore, to truly engage, 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 a brand by name, search based on a need, and to visit a provider’s website. That means that connective tissue is needed between advertising messaging and the experience customers have through search and on a destination site.

At each point, the interaction needs to provide value, including a friction-free process to meet their needs. But businesses can’t do that without understanding what their audiences value, and to do that, they need to truly understand their customers.

The audience is being segmented into personas of one

Audiences are 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, that this change has led to consumers having more individualised needs than ever before. The proliferation of digital channels has seen consumers self-serve much more, as well as being served content based on each individual’s distinctive behaviour. This means that over the next 1-2 years, businesses will be facing the need to communicate to their audiences as personas of one.

In practical terms, it means that 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 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 audiences. Essentially it creates a set of interactions that meet core needs for diverse audiences at key points during their experience with a brand. The content, tools and communications that are delivered are targeted to audience needs wherever they choose to access them. In essence, content is ‘always there’, whichever channel is used.

This likely starts with promotional interactions, a mix of advertising and comms activities that will talk of customer need and benefits, rather than product features. Those interactions need to be delivered through programmatic, social, search, print, on the phone, through chatbots – however your personas of one want to consume it.

It sounds complicated, but the good news is that the shift from ‘always on’ to ‘always there’ can be achieved relatively simply. Marketers need to start addressing the transition now.   

Tags: marketing strategy, digital marketing technology, brand strategy

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