It’s been years since I saw “Minority Report,” but one scene sticks with me as clearly as though I just walked out of the theater: As the protagonist walks by digital ads in public, they automatically scan his retinas and greet him by name. “John Anderton!” one ad screams. “You could use a Guinness right about now!”
Before it became a staple of our daily lives, digital advertising took on many shapes in sci-fi books and movies. It was an effective way to showcase how advanced the story’s society had become. Personalization was always the overarching theme — and the same is true of today’s digital ad leaders. But with just a few of those leaders dominating the market, is there any way to even it out?
With its ability to capture unprecedented amounts of search data, Google had the first-mover advantage in understanding search intent. It was also limited by that intent, though. Search queries that didn’t include advertising questions didn’t help generate ad revenue — it’s not hard to tell that “What is a baboon?” isn’t as ad-friendly as “Where can I buy a stuffed baboon?”
While Google has always had a huge audience to analyze, Facebook recognized its handicap and decided, with all the data it has on its millions of users, it could create a mechanism to hypertarget its pay-per-click and CPM platforms. Facebook was to ad targeting what Google was to audience size.
Now, companies willing to pay up can receive access to Google and Facebook’s considerable user databases, using the information they have gathered to increase the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. If the retailer behind a product learns that a specific Google user shows high interest in the product through search queries and interactions with Facebook ads, for instance, the retailer knows to target that user with more aggressive ads.
On their own, most brands wouldn’t have the reach or targeting capabilities to personalize ads outside of their own platforms. With Google and Facebook, they can connect with more users than ever before. As the industry continues to evolve (and data privacy becomes an increasingly sensitive topic), it’s worth asking the question: Is disruption possible?
As 2019 gets underway, digital ad spending exceeds $115 billion, according to a recent Statista report. That’s an attractive playground for any would-be change maker. One thing is for certain: A new leader’s first task would be to fill the significant trust gap that currently exists and, as Google once did, win in the court of public opinion.
Google, Facebook, and a handful of e-commerce platforms already dominate their respective areas, but (if you categorize DuckDuckGo as serving a niche market, as I do) there is currently no leader in consumer data trust and security. The lack of regulation, governance, and transparency in data turned digital advertising content means we don’t fully trust our tech — even though we’re dependent on it. This is the space a new leader would have to fill.
That need grows stronger as more marketing platforms capture more of the market. Last year, eMarketer predicted that Google and Facebook together would capture only about 57 percent of 2018’s digital ad investments. Competition is growing for the big two, and the companies that are catching up are doing so largely by leveraging transparency and greater data security.
Today’s digital marketing landscape is a response to a mature advertising industry, and it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to disrupt it. Even Jeff Bezos admits that there will likely be a new Amazon in 30 years. It’s impossible to maintain the status quo forever.
Whichever company eventually rises to Facebook and Google status will do so because it optimizes the following three principles:
A Label Insight study from 2016 reported that as many as 94 percent of consumers are more loyal to brands that are transparent.
That includes everything from clear ethical standards in manufacturing to equally ethical standards when collecting and sharing data. Consumers will always be wary of how much advertisers know about them, but transparency about how brands use data to consumers’ benefit will go a long way toward building trust.
Every new company needs a value proposition — that’s a no-brainer. But to disrupt the digital advertising market, that value has to be something the largest companies can’t offer: a better way to connect with people, a better way to consume information, or a better way to research products (Amazon, not Google, is the first place most people go for that last part). Or do they? Providing a digital service is the essence of the “customer as product” advertising model. Could a disruptor bypass the whole digital marketplace thing and get people to volunteer their data?
To realize that level of value, an industry disrupting company will also need to be versatile enough to keep up with existing major players. Google and Facebook aren’t sitting around idly waiting for their technological saviors. They’re constantly innovating their own ad services to compete with the others. However, they still have to focus on their core capabilities, leaving space for another player who can tie them all together first.
The truth is, disrupting the digital advertising industry won’t be easy. The big players will see it coming and will do their best to swallow up any promising competition. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A company with a big enough ax to grind that can offer an unprecedented level of transparency, value, and core data capabilities will have the strength of the true industry disruptors before them.
Mike Monroe is a Christian, husband, dad, marketer, and wannabe athlete. Mike started working at Vector Marketing in 2000 as a student at Boston College. He wanted to stick out from the crowd and develop himself professionally. Nearly two decades later, that goal hasn’t changed.
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