Marketing and advertising are standing on the precipice of a great new era—the age of personalization. For many, this coming together of technology and creativity will open new doors, allowing them to have closer and more rewarding relationships with their customers, but for the unwary or the careless, this age will strip you of trust and equity at an alarming speed.
Personalization was everywhere at Cannes this year. From artificial intelligence to help designers work more intuitively to augmented reality powering customer service in China, more and more the connection between people and their devices is becoming wider and profoundly deeper.
You didn’t need to look much further than the festival’s concierge service. Built and powered by LivePerson in partnership with Apple, this simple yet highly effective tool could be easily downloaded by scanning the QR code with your iPhone’s camera. From there, users can ask the AI anything they want to know about Lions, from what room the next talks were taking place to where they could grab a soda.
“The most remarkable thing is that even though we are handling thousands of queries a day, the whole operation is run by three people sitting right below our feet,” LivePerson’s CMO and EVP of Enterprise, Manlio Carrelli, told us when we visited the company’s nerve centre on a yacht moored up next to the Pavilion. “It’s an incredibly powerful tool and will change the way brands can talk and interact with their customers.”
However, while new technology might be making these exchanges more commonplace, the age of personalization is as much about changes in customer behaviour as it is about ever more insightful bots and algorithms.
More and more, the line between digital and IRL is becoming blurred. As the great communication revolutions of the last ten years become more widely accessible, it’s getting harder and harder to tell where people’s online and offline lives meet. Our relationship with the media, our families and the way we live our lives is beginning to change at a fundamental level, and thanks mainly to smartphone technology, the distance between brands, celebrities and even governments and their followers, fans and citizens is becoming tighter.
Increasingly, rather than being the passive, rational actor described in most economic textbooks, the consumer is becoming a smart, well-informed agent, who, thanks to the wealth of information given to them via the online world, knows a lot more than marketers usually expect they do.
COPA90, a UK-based media network that creates content for soccer fans, is a great example of this. Growing from a YouTube channel to one of the main authorities on world football in the space of a few short years, the company has succeeded in closing the gap between the superstars and their fans by concentrating on a editorial policy of inclusion, diversity and understanding.
Speaking on the CNN beach, just before France was due to kick off against Peru in a vital World Cup Game, James Kirkham, the company’s head honcho told the small invite-only audience that the key to success was understanding your audience to a profound degree.
“The modern football fan is very switched on, and if you respect them, then they usually respect you,” he said. “I can remember when we ran one of our first partnerships with Hyundai. On the first video, there was a comment from a fan saying, ‘why the f— is COPA working with Hyundai’ and literally 30 seconds later another fan commented ‘because, that way they can get the money to give you all this other great content.’ We didn’t get any other bad comments after that.”
If there is one thing Cannes has shown us over the last five days, it’s that the modern audience is becoming an impressively savvy beast, and you disrespect it at your peril. We now have a generation of people who have grown up with social networks and have a instinctive grasp of how the internet and communication works. In some ways, the advertising industry’s education of the consumer has come full circle and people these days can spot algorithms, point out bots and if you don’t speak with a genuine and entertaining voice, they’ll find you out pretty quickly too. The days of just phoning it in are over.
Bizarrely, and slightly counter-intuitively, what all this innovation is leading to is the return of the “brand” to its prominent position at the top of the marketing tree. Big data might be able to let organizations know more about your audience than ever before, but the rise in personalization means that this is becoming a two-way street. As much as a company might know about their consumers, you can bet that the consumer knows as much as the company in return. Just having a logo and a cartoon character increasingly won’t cut it any more, and those brands that have rich identities, strong values and are unafraid to talk to their customers like peers rather than mere users are the ones that are going to win in the next ten years.
All this is why Cannes Lions has become more vital than ever, as it celebrates and takes stock of the roles that advertisers and creativity play in our society.
If there has been one takeaway from this year, it’s that, as the barriers between customer and brands fall away, the specializations and silo-mentality of the marketing industry must also start to come down. It’s not okay for organizations to talk down to their customers, and the closed-off mindset has to got to go. Companies need to become more aware of the image they are presenting both internally and externally, and this includes everything from producing socially-relevant ad campaigns to the diversity and inclusion of their own workforce and office culture.
Because, if the way things have been going recently are any indication of things to come, the idea of internal and external communications won’t exist for much longer. Thanks to technology, the places to hide dirty laundry are becoming fewer and fewer by the hour. What the advertising and marketing industry needs is its own version of Glasnost. The age of personalization needs to be followed by the age of openness.