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Don't Give Customers What They Want

Jean-Guillaume Paumier
0 min read
In a world of immediate, endless, curated choices and interruptions where digital marketing promises to deliver ultra-personalisation, what can the growing importance of surprise mean to build brand value?

The answer isn’t to give consumers what they want. Instead, be bold, surprise them and reward their curiosity. Advertising is the humble trade of interruptions, so create a positive, different experience to stand out.

But how do you create the unexpected that will make heads turn in an age of AI algorithms and short attention spans?

Read on to find out.

Understanding Generation Feed: hooked on AI curation & instant gratification


The unstoppable rise of the Googles of this world have time and time again demonstrated the importance of AI to create value from data for businesses to succeed. This digital revolution is well documented and at the heart of the most significant disruption in advertising since the Mad Men of Don Draper. Indeed, AI augmentation is set to create $2.29 trillion of business value by 2021. Yet two recent updates demonstrate how we often forget to qualify the impact AI-fuelled digital is having on consumer choice and behaviour.


Firstly, Amazon continues to roll out its 4-Star concept stores in the US, selling only items that receive 4-star reviews or more. Display prominence is only given to lines currently trending in the store’s home city. This is in effect a real-world version of your e-commerce feed seeping into brick and mortars.


The second example relates to the blurring lines of virtual and real experiences. Norwegian fashion retailer Carlings recently made headlines in the fashion world for its blurring of virtual and physical. This included real-world T-shirts that unlock infinite slogans via AR filters on your social feeds and virtual drop collections you can purchase to overlay over your social photos. These examples illustrate the growing distance between our social media profile versus our real-world selves. This schism between our social and real-life identities creates both positive, sustainable innovation and concerning mental health pressures.


As the social native next generation grows in purchasing power and influence (Millennials and Gen Z already account for 60% of spend growth in luxury goods in China, according to McKinsey & Company), so do behaviours and expectations shift at pace:


1. Always-on AI curation: Who hasn’t spent a somewhat embarrassing amount of time watching your social feed’s recommended very very niche topic. Aren’t you always five YouTube videos away from dogs on skateboards? Forget the clunky days of being retargeted to death by these blue sneakers because you clicked on them once. Now, we barely mention products, and somehow we get highly relevant ads. Thanks, Alexa.


The improved algorithm of our favourite digital platforms knows us so well that they really only show us what we like. Expectations are high for brands to deliver personal experiences. Yet public awareness is growing on the potential limits and danger that these echo chambers create. On the lighter side, we lose the ability to stumble upon our next favourite band but rely on algorithms to keep us entertained. Curiosity is now programmed. This creates less shared cultural experiences but ultra-personal curation. Privacy concerns and data laws are shaping what is an acceptable tradeoff to gain that personalisation. Additionally, our lack of exposure to conflicting views is also raising some fundamental questions about the potency of influence and the impact on a democratic society.


2. Instant gratification: It’s 1998, Netflix is shipping rental DVDs, and Amazon is starting to move beyond selling books online. Oh, and Google was just created. Today, 22 years later, you can get all your groceries delivered to your door in less than 60 minutes with Ocado Zoom. You can start an episode of Black Mirror on your phone while commuting and pick up exactly where you left off in the evening on your TV, thanks to streaming. You can get all forms of subscription boxes you can imagine, and order on your Alexa-enabled microwave your missing ingredient for delivery. And try explaining to a 7-year-old what out of stock means for a laugh. So imagine the impact of this on our expectations: why should I wait when your competitors will deliver it yesterday?


3. Content overload: 2020 is shaping out to be the year of streaming wars. With platforms investing more than16 billion dollars on new content, we have never had so much long-form content available. And this coincides with an explosion of user-generated content: 500 hours worth of content is uploaded every minute on YouTube and 3 billion new photos, and videos content are uploaded every day on Snapchat. Add in the expansion of 5G globally, and expect faster and richer content on all platforms.


4. Digital Paradox: On the one hand, we are more connected than ever, allowing smart objects to infiltrate our homes and spending more time on screens and feeds every day of our life. We’re consuming more data, broadcasting our every move to our audience on social and relying on apps to help out in more areas of our lives. Yet on the other hand, we crave original analogue experiences, and our social conversations are going dark as we turn to group chats. We demand brands to step-change to genuine sustainability, and we value mental health linked to screen detox. Expect the next generations to navigate both sides of the paradox even further.


Rethinking the formula to grow brands


So as our behaviours change at pace, and more screens, platforms and brands fight for our attention, there has never been a better time to rethink how we grow brands.


1. Curiosity is the new currency: With more than 4,000 advertising messages hitting consumers daily, clearly, the battleground is for attention. At Dentsu Aegis Network, our researchers have spent a lot of time understanding what constitutes valuable attention for brands and impact on purchase. The next question is, how do we engineer and plan for attention, especially in the age of fast scrolling? As consumers seek more experiences that provoke the senses, planning for curiosity is the utmost goal for brand building. Ever since the rise of cognitive development studies on human intelligence by Piaget, we know that learning through play is at the heart of what makes us connect. Not surprisingly, some of the best recent examples showcase the mastery of this playful nature.


A BBC creative team did a great job of promoting the recent Dracula series by erecting two billboards in both London and Birmingham that by day show a series of stakes planted in the billboard. But the canvas really comes to life at night when through clever play of shadows and stakes, we see him emerge as a haunting ghost.


Hendrick’s Gin continued its long tradition of delighting consumers with its recent award-winning “first of its kind” tunnel wrap in King’s Cross St Pancras Station. People stopped, stared and shared as it became a Lonely Planet must-see destination by combining the UK’s longest ever floor wrap (74 metres), 20 rose and cucumber-scented OOH posters and full-wall takeovers.]

2. Disruption helps brands grow: Beyond a mere advertising vanity ambition, it is critical to find new spaces and ways to engage with consumers as this has a direct impact on business growth. Kantar Millward Brown showed that brands consumers perceive as creative but not disruptive had grown their brand value by an average of 69% over the period. However, brands seen as disruptive, i.e.,shaking things up, have grown even more, boosting brand value by 123%. A good illustration is within the luxury sector, where brands will push the boundaries of communication.


3. Patience is key to grow brands: As key marketing effectiveness research showcases, it is vital to balance long- and short-term marketing levels. More and more brands are rebalancing budgets to protect a healthy brand investment that will result in driving demand that performance channels can help pick up and convert. But this requires patience and courage to stay away from short-term gains to build a more robust long-term brand. This is particularly relevant in a world where the digital walled gardens are growing ever more powerful, and the pace of change accelerates.


4. Scarcity matters: In a world of abundance of choices and instant gratification, it is interesting to see how brands have created value but pushing limited editions. This is particularly true of the fashion vertical where brand hype is critical to overall success. Streetwear brands were the first to understand that by mixing social and scarcity, you could effectively supercharge the supply-and-demand model. The most famous example is Supreme who elevated drop of limited collections into an artform and ruthless model. This cult clothing brand founded as a small skate shop in downtown New York City in 1994 and is now estimated to be worth a billion dollars. Armies of fashion-forward fans fuelled by social will actively seek out the next drop. The brand’s most iconic stunt to showcase the power of the tactic was selling red clay bricks for up to 1000 dollars.


Burberry has pushed the luxury fashion boundaries with the introduction of B-series, the first social-only product drop for a luxury brand. The first product drop launched in 2018 and sold out in less than 24 hours. Since then, the luxury house has been dropping a selection of products on the 17th of every month for 24 hours only on Instagram, WeChat, Kakao and Line. This has been instrumental in attracting both new younger customers and generating brand heat across social channels. It has also paved the way to leading in social commerce innovation.


5. Know what makes ’em tick: Leverage data and digital to allow for playful messaging to relevant segments that matter. You know what makes them tick. With more data points than ever before, paint the clearest picture of your audience’s motivation and behaviours, and take these key insights and apply them efficiently. Relevance matters, yet don’t fall into the over personalisation trap. Very few brands and moments require complex dynamic personalisationIn the same way you would cluster audiences into significant sizes, leverage digital to deploy relevant clusters of messaging that can achieve significant reach and business impact.



Jean-Guillaume Paumier

Global Digital Partner

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