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Concerned about the attention economy? Demand more choice

30-second summary:

  • Business models monetizing attention created the most powerful companies in the world, along with a slew of unintended consequences we’re only just beginning to understand.
  • Industry-wide regulation is needed at the federal level, but regulation alone is not enough. Advertisers should find ways to diversify their media spend while creating more opportunities to learn about their customers.
  • Allowing people to confirm their own identities and preferences will generate benefits for the consumer, the advertiser, and the publisher while reducing reliance on tech giants for high-grade performance.
  • If we agree the future is data-driven and we still want to influence the rules of how data can and should be used, then forging paths that deliver consumers more choice and control is the only answer.

As if times weren’t challenging enough, our society now faces an existential threat entirely unrelated to the ongoing pandemic. We must decide whether device addiction becomes the next national crisis, or if incentives can be more closely aligned with our human values and beliefs. Marketers have a tough choice ahead of them.

Awareness of the forces driving the attention economy is growing. The story goes that business models monetizing attention are so successful that they created the richest and most powerful companies in the world—and a slew of unintended consequences that are only starting to be researched.

An honest view of the challenges  

There’s no question industry-wide regulation is needed at the federal level, and quickly. Congress should pass a federal data privacy law that fully funds a functioning enforcement agency with enough bite to be taken seriously.

However, we also have to account for legislation’s natural time delay. Just as physics dictates light will always travel at a faster speed than sound, technological innovation will always happen ahead of any legal protocol to restrict or codify new behavior. Therefore regulation alone, while extremely effective when properly enacted, is not enough to prevent all harms.

While we should continue to encourage people to educate themselves and promote media literacy more broadly so perhaps they can fight such distractions, who should make the investment required to build an effective and comprehensive nationwide curriculum? What potential damages do we risk if we don’t ensure everyone participates?

Unless each segment of our society is knowledgeable about the risks and has the skills to mitigate them, we could deepen the social inequality we are suffering from today.

Most importantly, we should call on advertisers to diversify their media spend. By doing so, however, we should also realize we are asking them to make trade-offs, sacrificing efficiency, performance, and potentially their company’s future by not focusing their advertising where they are confidently getting value back for their spend.

Frankly this is a non-choice. Just look at the retailers, department stores, and chain restaurants who have filed for bankruptcy over the last few months, and you’ll see a list of companies slow to embrace ecommerce and data-driven digital advertising strategies.

This is a matter of survival, and it’s unrealistic to expect brands to act against the interests of their employees, shareholders, and customers.

Only meaningful choice will drive change

Businesses need a real choice to replicate or even improve on results and efficiencies outside of a handful of individual tech platforms. Many marketers would willingly vary their spend and test credible options to prove success if they still could measure and optimize at scale—even better if this capability could be extended across multiple platforms and publishers.

Smart business leaders would be even more incentivized to diversify if, in addition, such alternatives simultaneously enhanced their ability to learn about their customers.

Most advertisers agree that the only real and meaningful remedy to the ad industry’s reputation is to enable better transparency and stronger signals of consumer consent.

If we allow people to actively confirm their own identities by logging in to their preferred sites and apps, we can generate benefits for the consumer, the advertiser, and the publisher all while reducing reliance on tech giants for high-grade performance.

Technically speaking, this means replicating premium platform capabilities through direct authentication can create a diversified, consent-based approach to data-driven advertising on the open internet.

This can be the first step in building a system that allows for spend diversification and gives consumers more direct interactions with the brands and publishers they value. In turn, this move will encourage greater experimentation with dynamic personalization and facilitate consumer control over whether, what, and how much data to exchange for content and services.

Markets are built on relationships, not advertising

Improving advertising performance by activating data across the open internet is a seismic shift just on its own. For example, by frequency capping audiences to optimize the amount of times ads are served to the same group, the largest B2C brands can save tens of millions each year, especially if spend is optimized across the trinity of TV, search, and programmatic digital.

However it’s not advertising, but brand experience that wins and strengthens customer relationships, and is the foundation for consistent revenue growth. Avoiding disenfranchisement by maintaining control over data and using every opportunity to apply that data meaningfully to improve experience is what drives brand loyalty and builds share.

Why is this important? Because whoever has the market share makes the rules—just ask Marc Pritchard and Tim Cook.

The only two questions we should be asking ourselves today is, who do we want making the rules about how to use data and what to collect, and, which path leads to a more balanced system that gives advertisers, consumers, and publishers more authority and a greater share of the revenue generated by the advertising ecosystem?

Capturing the moment

Today, the U.S. claims eight of the top ten largest companies in the world by market capitalization, five representing big tech.

We must consider our cultural similarities as a golden opportunity for rules development now. Operating in an increasingly global economy, there’s no guarantee that the next few trillion-dollar companies will have the same general values.

If we agree the future is data-driven and we still want to influence the rules of how data can and should be used, then forging paths that deliver more meaningful choice and control is the only answer.

Andrea Reichenbach is a marketing evangelist, sometimes content strategist and head of analyst relations at LiveRamp. With experience in the U.S. and Europe, she has held roles at global advertising networks such as Ogilvy, Digitas, J. Walter Thompson, Y&R and Wunderman and has provided brand, digital and CRM expertise to clients such as Microsoft, IBM, Accenture, American Express and BlackRock. Prior to joining LiveRamp, Andrea worked at Acxiom as senior director of marketing strategy. She lives in New York City.

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