Know Thy Consumer and Thyself, Before Thy Tech

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Todd Grantham, President and CEO, DDB California

New technology and trends that provide us with tools to shape our clients’ brands in order to tell the most impactful creative story possible are one of the hottest topics within the advertising industry. Virtual and augmented reality capability allows brands to immerse their customers like never before. Additionally, providers of location-based media and connected OOH continue to shine as they reach consumers in new ways. And intelligent new ad-tech software promises to serve smarter and measure more.

All of these innovations are enough to bring froth to the mouths of marketers everywhere. Because as marketers, new technology is the stuff that excites us. It is where we hope to find a new edge in how we connect with our customers. The pursuit of “what’s next” is what keeps our jobs interesting and the industry dynamic.

Though the headlines around these new technologies suggest potential seismic shifts, it’s important to remember that they are simply new means to a familiar end. They are tools to help us deliver on our real task:

• Understand and define your brand's truth — its reason for being

• Build empathy with customers to understand the value your brand creates in their lives

• Use creativity to convey that value in a way that resonates, and builds authentic connections

At DDB we use a shorthand for this: “Foundation, Fluency, Feeling then Fame.” By first knowing what will meaningfully connect our audience and our brand we can understand what tools will get us there. Only then does our work as marketers have real impact.

Augmented reality (AR) garners a lot of attention, and its story is a good one to illustrate this point. AR has had a painfully slow ascent (safe to say that 2016 wasn’t this technology’s first appearance at the conference). For years, the industry has tried to make this tech mainstream through gimmicky AR experiences: Dragons jumping out of posters; images of super models turning into behind-the-scenes videos; experiences where the emphasis was on the technology, not the story. Brands launched these cotton-candy executions in an attempt to break through and connect, but while they were sweet, they were also short-lived.

This year saw the rise of Pokèmon GO, arguably one of the first mainstream AR successes. It made an impact because it wasn’t about the AR. In fact, consumers don’t really think of it as such. It artfully used the relevant parts of the technology to create an experience that was authentic to the Pokémon story — wandering around to catch these little critters in the wild —an experience that was immediately understood and loved by its fans. AR wasn’t the point of Pokémon GO. It was merely the right vehicle to tell an awesome story. Even with its quick success, it remains to be seen if the game will have staying power.

In the coming years, the same intention and authenticity will separate successful virtual reality experiences from forgotten ones. Brands that use VR to create meaningful and relevant connections and benefit from fully interactive immersion (see Lockheed Martin’s “Field trip to Mars,” which won big at Cannes this summer) will succeed. Those whose priority is the technology itself, who ask, “How can we do something with VR?” will not.

Think about it like this: Just like an artist’s masterwork is created using the right colors in the right places on the canvas, great marketing comes from thoughtfully and artfully using the right tactics in the right places to create a picture that is true to a compelling vision.

Over the last 10 years, we have witnessed a significant change in how we connect with consumers, and the speed of that change continues to accelerate. The marketer’s world has been turned upside down by the amount of information we have about our customer, and the complexity of the conversation. In this time of explosive evolution, it’s both increasingly difficult and increasingly important to make sure we are seeing the forest through the trees.

Many of the new tools may prove to play an important role in our marketing, but they shouldn’t change our focus. We should flex our empathy muscles, leveraging tech with integrity and respect, and only when appropriate for a great story.

Because if and when we find ourselves thinking about the paint more than the painting, our time and our energy will only yield clutter, instead of connections.

About the Author

Todd Grantham serves as President and CEO of DDB California, where he is responsible for leading the San Francisco office, as well as new and organic business growth.

Prior to his role at DDB, Grantham was Associate Partner and Director of Business Development at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (GSP). In technology, Grantham helped lead GSP’s efforts for HP’s brand reinvention under HP Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina and its Global Enterprise business.  He also had stints leading the Yahoo!, Adobe, Loudcloud and Zynga accounts. Both Loudcloud and Zynga are iconic for their disruptive effect on their markets.