What Will Advertising Look Like In 2020?

Crystal Ball“What will advertising look like in 2020?”

That was the question posed to me by Jerry Wind, professor of marketing at The Wharton School, and head of Wharton’s Future of Advertising, an academic and industry group formed to understand and improve the future of that industry. I’m on the Program’s advisory board, and this Advertising 2020 question is the focus of a compilation of essays from more than 100 industry thought leaders.

Here is my response…

11 Big Trends That Will Reshape Advertising In 2020 And Beyond

To be sure, 2020 is only eight years away from this writing. Therefore, we’ll likely perceive most change as minor and iterative.

However, when I think about the future of advertising in 2020 and beyond, 11 big trends will most certainly shape its evolution.

1. Digital Breadcrumbs Will Become The New Research. Let’s start with media measurement and marketing research, where I’ve spent a great deal of my own career. Traditional market research — particularly representative sampling and self-reported survey techniques — will never go away. However, those methods will eventually become subservient to the gathering and interpretation of large universal data sets that don’t represent populations, but are actual populations. Some call this trend “big data” — as intelligence derived from digital breadcrumbs usually means working with very large data sets. That may be true, but it’s important to remember that data become valuable not because of their size, but because of their precision and insights. If the wonk word “big data” goes away by 2020, all the better.

2. Social, CRM and Advertising Will Collide. Facebook has become the world’s largest social CRM database, with over one billion users. In fact, Facebook has become a richer, more elegant CRM database than those maintained by many of the largest marketers (who often have multiple CRM databases based on organizational silos, geographies and political fiefdoms). Facebook also is showing that it is possible to integrate techniques of one-to-one CRM marketing with mass media planning techniques like reach and frequency. And when you add social-endorsement to the mix, you begin to achieve something unprecedented. Smart marketers in the future will adopt a social-CRM-advertising model that embraces multiple social networks to create a master customer communications grid. In many cases, the social CRM database will become primary, while legacy internal databases become secondary.

3. Digital Marketing Will Cease To Exist. Face it. We’re all doing less “digital marketing”. Instead, we’re simply doing more marketing in a digital world. It’s a nuance, but an important one. It will dictate your organization’s culture and marketing roadmap for the future.

4. Social Media Marketing Will Cease To Exist. Like digital marketing, we’ll soon all be doing less “social media marketing”. Marketing and media are inherently social — to one degree or another. Social is simply an aspect of all the marketing we do. We’re social beings.

5. Consolidation In Ad-Tech Will Grow The Ad-Tech Pie. The diminishing cost of computing and starting a company means that we’ll continue to see a steady flow of innovative media and advertising upstarts. Still, we’re due for a large wave of consolidation among venture-backed ad-tech companies. That will be a good thing because that sector is experiencing a tragedy of the commons: lots of noise, too many companies, not enough traction. Fewer companies will mean fewer choices, which will mean simpler decision making for marketers, which will mean lower friction to spend more money in innovative ways on new platforms. Second, ad-tech consolidation will concentrate talent and resources into fewer companies, which will mean a higher likelihood for the most promising companies to achieve critical mass in adoption and revenues. Ad-tech consolidation will have the ironic outcome of creating a larger sector, altogether.

6. That Which Can Be Commoditized Will. I’ve been on the early teams of several innovative startups in media measurement, marketing intelligence and advertising technology. One of the key lessons I’ve learned is that anything that could possibly become commoditized, will be commoditized. When a new technology or a new platform arrives, it’s easy to get carried away with its unique value and promise. Increasingly, fast followers will match you at alarming speed and one-up you. Success is determined not by who is first, but by those who arrive on time to execute and out-commoditize the rest. Those become the advertising technologies and platforms that win.

7. Successful Advertising Will Be About Service. The idea of “advertising as service” is nothing new. Some of the wisest, gray-haired advertising luminaries I know have told me this as far back as I can remember. However, if you look around, it seems that few advertisers live up to this ideal. It seems most are interested in only serving themselves. With daily messaging exposures continuing to rise to stratospheric heights, avoidance and intolerance will only increase as a matter of survival. As a result, there will be a growing premium and receptiveness to marketers and messages that actually serve and deliver value. Of course, this would mean that customer service be aligned with advertising.

8. Trusted Intermediaries Will Rise To Prominence. Until our intensive consumerism retreats, we can bet that a dizzying array of choice and noise will continue to rise. It’s a tax on our attention. Of course, this is why marketers argue for investing in their brands’ equity in the first place. However, to fight attention deficit and fatigue, consumers will increasingly look to trusted intermediaries to make better and faster choices. Consider a successful wine shop, where the merchant serves customers by getting to know them intimately. He then helps them quickly navigate thousands of confusing choices — and then provides relevant products for a fair price. This wine merchant will not only help customers find what they’re looking for, but help explore and discover value which customers were not looking for in the first place. Consumers will increasingly look for similar, trusted intermediaries in all areas of their lives.

9. Legal & Privacy Issues, As We Debate Them Today, Will Go Away. The speed and adoption of technological and media advancements we’re experiencing is incredible. This prompts an interesting sequence of societal events: First, a life-changing technology arrives. Then, mass adoption comes over the next few years. Social norms gradually mutate. Laws trail new social norms by another few years, if not several. This creates a messy transition. Consider today’s workplace, where social networks often surface personal behaviors that conflict with HR laws and workplace customs. (Apparently, an entire generation of high school students is making itself unemployable by uploading photos and other evidence of behaviors that the rest of us have never ever engaged in.) We can be sure of one thing: social norms and our notions of privacy are changing, and laws will eventually evolve to reflect them. It will be painful at times, but they’ll eventually converge and we’ll stop talking about them so much in this “digital age”. Oh, we’ll eventually stop talking about the digital age as well.

10. Trust Will Be Everything. Advertising is — and always was — about trust. It is likely the behaviors of marketers and advertisers that has driven low admiration of those professions. Regardless, the stakes are rising. Social media and our real-time connections have prompted a new age of transparency and consciousness around values, motivations, behaviors and outcomes of institutions. Doing good marketing and advertising means embracing responsibility and accountability throughout your organization’s entire value chain, and respecting their communities.

11. We Will Contemplate More Purpose & Less Strategy. Whenever I think about the future, I can’t help but think about the world we’re leaving for our children. Everyone on our planet could think a little more about leaving a world for our children that is not only hospitable, but sustainable and a better place. Right now, we’re not doing that. That’s why if there’s one human characteristic we could use a little less of, it’s strategy. Conversely, the characteristic we could use a lot more of is purpose. If advertisers approached their business in this way, our advertising industry — and our world — would become a far better place.

These big trends will most certainly reshape advertising.

However, one thing won’t change: our competitive spirit and mandate to win.

Check out this and other Advertising 2020 entries. 

(Photo: bb_matt)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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