From Content To Culture, The Future Is Seamless

By Alexander Jutkowitz, CEO, Truffle Pig

Remember the last time you clicked a pop-up ad other than to immediately close it? The digital equivalent of stepping in gum, these ads were an infuriating, if momentary, interruption to the user-experience. But mercifully, in the past few years, they've largely disappeared from the digital landscape. And we have built-in popup blocking software from browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox to thank.

It's safe to say that no one is mourning the loss of pop-up ads. They were ugly, distracting and had no benefit to the user (unless moving your cursor to the X in the corner counts as exercise).

The decline of the pop-up ad coincides with a subtle, yet critical, change in the way we consume content on the web. That change is the seamless user-experience.

A Smooth Ride

The web has changed drastically over the past two decades. What was once a cluttered space of digital detritus has now been compartmentalized and dominated by key information distributers like Google, Facebook and Twitter, and up-and-coming disruptors like Snapchat and Apple News.

Gone are the days of "surfing" the web. Now, we know exactly where to go to get the information we need and want. The guiding design principle behind today's web is seamlessness.

As users, we don't want to be interrupted in our consumption of information. Consider the endless-scroll feature on platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Its meditative quality is what modern users crave. It's what keeps them coming back, and keeps on the site for longer.

For another example, look no further than what is probably the default page on your browser: Google. Type in any straightforward question, such as, "What are the symptoms of a cold?" and you'll get a sidebar that contains all the information you were looking for, and you never needed to click on a webpage.

Seamlessness doesn't just exist on the web, it's also a dominant characteristic of culture today. A new wave of on-demand apps and services has streamlined our lives, from outsourcing pesky household tasks like laundry and food delivery to more serious ventures like relationships and investing. Seamlessness is what we've come to expect in our physical lives and our digital ones as well.

This move towards a seamless user experience, both online and offline, is why it should come as no surprise that the use of ad blockers is on the rise, with users of the software growing by 41% in just one year. Internationally, there are now 198 million monthly active users of AdBlock, and 16% of the U.S. population now uses some form of ad blocker.

The Interruptive Ad

This statistic, which came from a recently released annual report from Page Fair and Adobe, coincided with news from Apple that a software update for iPhone would make it easier for users to install Ad Blocking software. It was the perfect storm that caused advertisers to start questioning their approach to programmatic buying, and publishers to worry about how they will continue to create their ad-supported content.

There's a simple but hard truth in the data: users are blocking ads because they have no desire to engage with them. Ads interrupt their experience, and decreases their enjoyment of the website they're spending time on.

Both marketers and publishers were undoubtedly unnerved by the report. But advertising isn't going anywhere. And neither are the ad-supported publications we read, if they can adapt to the demand for seamlessness. It's time for new marketing mediums to rise from the ashes of interruptive digital ads.

The Seamless Solution

Branded content is the most direct solution to the ad blocking challenge that is facing publishers today, and it's a solution being embraced by even the most traditional of publications, like Forbes and The New York Times.

You don't have to look far to find great examples of native advertising. One example is Netflix's promotion of "Orange Is The New Black" on The New York Times. The long form piece featured in-depth reporting as well as original mini-documentaries exploring women's incarceration in the United States. It was a smart, engaging piece of content that both adhered to the Times' standard of reporting, and promoted the show in a unique and relevant way.

But outside of branded content, the possibilities for marketers to add value to their audience's lives are growing with the new technologies that the connected age offers to us.

Serving Up Relevant Content

The Internet, the rise of mobile, and new cutting edge technologies have opened up nearly endless opportunities to connect with audiences in ways that are engaging, meaningful, and relevant.

For example, as the Nieman Lab reported recently, the future of publishing may be to serve up content in relation to a user's mood. For instance, researchers have been able to detect when users are bored, and can use that window of time to engage them with content. A simple idea, but a powerful one, for both publishers and brands.

Another salient example is in-store technology like iBeacons that gives retailers the ability to communicate with shoppers while they make purchasing decisions.

Both of these examples demonstrate how technology is opening up new avenues to intimately connect with audiences in ways that weren't possible just a few short years ago. And both of these examples rely on a seamless experience between the consumer and the publisher.

The Future Of Communicating

As seamlessness takes the reigns, it's time for marketers to adapt. The future of communication will be an intricate balance between data, technology and, of course, relevant and engaging information.

Our opportunities to connect to users are only growing. Today, we're able to craft messages that are more personal, more timely, and that generate real value, for both the consumer and the brand. Future technologies will only enable this further.

It's up to us to get smarter about how we're engaging, and to adapt to the needs and preferences of our audiences.  As marketers, we have a choice. Continue fighting an uphill battle to attract eyeballs and click-throughs with traditional banner ads. Or, redefine our approach, creating more timely, relevant content that users actively want to engage with.

I don't know about you, but I think the latter sounds a lot easier, and, frankly, more fun.

Alexander Jutkowitz is the CEO of Truffle Pig, Colloquial and Group SJR.