Consumer needs and behaviors are constantly changing, and agencies must fight to keep up. In this Q&A, Lori H. Schwartz, managing partner of StoryTech, shares insights on the latest trends in wearables, branded content, and more.
Q: You're passionate about wearable technologies. Where do you see the tech leading us in terms of tracking and targeting in the next six to 12 months?
A: While the wearable marketplace is set to explode over the next year (the smart band segment alone will reach 8 million annual shipments, growing to more than 23 million units by 2015, and to over 45 million by 2017-- according to a new forecast by Canalys -- a global analysts firm), we are still in very early days. And at heart, wearable products are devices meant to bring context and content to a consumer's lifestyle, not a new marketing platform. However, it's with the providing of this "context" (brought about by sensors, location-based services, and the general "internet of things") that lays a marketer's opportunity. If we are to be smart, savvy brandsmiths who leverage the exponential growth in technology by providing contextual experiences through a relevant brand utility, then that is where we will find true value.
One of the challenges with wearables right now and in the next six to 12 months will be the OS and hardware wars. Who will create the most popular wearables and provide the right services layer that can then either be owned or partnered with a brand? With Google's Android Wear, which is intended to provide "information that moves with you," Google's mobile platform moves to another accessible, consumer-friendly device. But will people want ad words on their wearables? Apple, Samsung, and many wellness and fitness service providers are getting in the mix, and who's to say what other businesses will find wearables as the next place for their IPs to play out? It's hard to know who is the right partner.
We're also hitting the privacy wall again with the silent but deadly issue of who really owns all the data being created by your consumer's everyday life movements. The real-time impact of all of these insights has not even been comprehended yet. And while there are wearables that record fitness data, lifestyle content, and "moments" along a person's life in a variety of ways, will we all give that data to whoever makes the device? Hard to say.
In the end, it's our job to create opportunities with new solutions and to provide more consumer touchpoints for our clients, in ways that resonate with the audience.
Q: How is data influencing the evolving state of digital and linear branded content?
A: There is not a studio, network, streaming video provider, or brand that isn't pulling data from spots, shows, and programming in pre-production, real time, or post-show viewing. IP or broadband-distributed programming produces audience/consumer behavioral data in ways that traditional marketing research never could. This has led to the nascent but growing trend of data-driven programming. Netflix has discussed leveraging data to make programming choices based on the types of shows the company knows its audience is watching, famously paying big dollars for "House of Cards" because "the data" said that the Netflix audience trends toward choosing political dramas. And even the colors of branding for shows are based on this data. Amazon has combined its retail and video business and is using customer/viewer feedback to inform and allow the consumer to vote on the content development process. Amazon has years and years of product data broken out into segments that can be directly tied into its new video business. And with its new streaming box offering (Fire TV), Amazon will follow suit with advertiser solutions, as well.
YouTube and all the multi-channel networks are levering the subscriber base of YouTube talent to sell those demos to brands for access to those eyeballs. That "subscribe" or "like" data point is actually buying ad dollars. And finally, let's not forget the battle between Twitter and Facebook to own the "fan" experience of the TV viewer as they both buy and develop social media analytics platforms that will have the same impact as GRPs and attract more advertisers to their "TV metric reporting" solutions.
We can all surmise that this trend will shift to having data in the mix before a script or brief is written or developed by a studio or brand. Data will begin to help build and define an audience digitally, before pen is ever put to paper. In fact, insights provided by that same data will inform writers, brands, and content creators of what their audience wants and help connect the dots between fans, brand affinities, and scripted content.
Real-time programming will have a whole new meaning as branded content becomes intractably tied to what's trending from a variety of social streams.
Q: What does the agency of the future look like?
A: Here is a vision for where I'd like to see our world.
At its core, my future agency would be the true union of media, technology, and creative capabilities. We would see a mix of those capabilities coming together in a holistic manner. Our talent would evolve and change from today's more defined roles to a combination of skill sets with more executional mandates, such as account strategists and analytics experts who also have knowledge of production and distribution. (Think about fun titles, like chief technology catalyst!) We'd see media strategists and storytellers coming together in unique partnerships so that the brand brief, the story, is impacted by the context of the platform, placement, and demographic of the media buy. (Remember Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the message.")
We'd see a move away from a siloed approach to innovation and an embracement of technology as a creative enabler, with R&D and purposeful disruption being part of an AOR. The measurement of success for a client would include the exploration of that brand's IP, rather than having a "hackathon" as a temporary fix to demonstrate to a client that we're cool and innovative. Technology would then become something that agencies own and explore in a nimble manner, rather then leasing or purchasing to handle a business need. The "vendor" relationship would translate to partnerships, as branded solutions and category disruption would come from all sorts of places. (Witness the Aros smart air conditioner, which is a partnership between GE and Quirky, which crowdsource product ideas.) We'd move away from a channel-to-channel or platform-to-platform distribution and focus on context and moment-to-moment delivery of messaging. (Think Snapchat, but operationalized for marketers.) This is my fantasy, my hope for the agency of the future.
Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?
Franchesca Nguyen is communication coordinator at iMedia.
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