The Digital Future
Simon Andrews, the man behind digital ventures including influential consultancy Addictive, whose weekly newsletter Mobile Fix is read across marketing, tech and media, is shortly launching the European arm of award-winning US agency Media Kitchen. We talked to him about what the digital future holds.
How do you see technology continuing to drive digital?
The newer the technology, the cheaper it is to do good work. Content delivery no longer has to come with an old fashioned price tag.
With mobiles potentially offering almost world-class filming, editing and effects, businesses can find someone to create content on a small handheld or an iPhone and arrive at captivating and engaging content for less money in a shorter time.
So in terms of advertising content, are traditional ‘Mad Men’ models dead?
Is advertising finished in the old way of thinking about it? No. Don Draper would love to be running around now with all this fantastic technology!
Is advertising finished in terms of how it’s been thought about for the last 15 years? Possibly. The media agency model where people are paid to spend client money quickly, that’s changing. Brands are paying agencies to be more strategic.
Brands need someone to ask, “What can you do with all these options?” There have never been more options. Who can help brands to do niche, interesting work for the right audience, rather than put content out on television for everybody?
Similarly, how do you see branded content evolving?
It’s early days in understanding its potential for business models. If you convey a message effectively through branded content, it also becomes what advertising used to be, and with millions of views at no media cost, just paying for the content cost.
Measurement is also key: not just counting views but asking, “Has this been effective?” There are now studies looking at the business effect of YouTube content that highlight success stories.
Brands can also open up a separate model through developing content channels and experimenting. Over time we could see social channels starting to reward that; making it easier for businesses to prosper.
How do you see social platforms interacting with businesses and consumers in future?
Brands are giving design briefs to ‘make it instagram-able’ as consumers continue showcasing their lifestyles. Facebook have introduced guidance on tagging not only people but brands in posts, partly to align with regulation, but also allowing it to see who’s featuring brands and encourage brands to pay influencers. Of course there’s a tax for brands to pay.
I’m working with a start up called Soreto, a tool to feature any product. If a consumer buys something, or shares it, or someone else shares it, they get a commission. So people are looking for models democratising the influencer, based on real-life actions, rather than celebrity posts that don’t always prompt action.
So should businesses be embracing such technology?
Businesses need to use technology wisely and put customers’ needs first. I often see businesses getting on board the ‘new, new thing’. But the ‘old, old thing’ is still mobile phones. Around 40 million people in the UK have got them, so they’re worth concentrating on.
People are looking at virtual reality and augmented reality, or apps for products that haven’t even launched. It might be more useful to ask, “Does the mobile website load quickly?” “Can people find what they want easily?” “Does the content look good on there?” “Can I buy with one click?” These things might seem a bit dull, but they are what can actually make money.
What might or needs to change around how consumers are using mobiles?
Three key behaviours sum up the current situation: everyone has a phone on them, people turn away from others to take selfies, and they have to share them instantly. They’re addicted to the dopamine buzz of likes and comments.
We may see a swing back from that as people recognise that we’ve gone too far. No one wants to be looking at their phone at dinner or sneaking off to check it.
With the constant drip feed from work too, through emails on phones, in future we may see people using different phones at weekends. Or phones may be offered where you can turn off everything except maps and music – perhaps all you need in your free time.
In your 2002 ‘Futurology’ video, you correctly predicted innovations like location-based marketing and voice-activated response. What are your predictions for the next 15 years?
Author William Gibson reportedly said: “The future’s already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Similarly, all that stuff was already out there. It’s just about spotting patterns.
Today, voice-based technology is becoming interesting. Newspapers will read articles to you, books come in audio form, and we have Alexa. With mobile, that idea of talking becomes very big, very quick. It’s clearly easier to speak into a mobile than to type into it. Voice works better than text, especially considering problems with predictive text, so in the short-term it could become more embedded.
Similarly, there’s evolution in visual search. Soon, you might be able to use a photo of a product on your phone to search for a similar item to buy. These elements are moving fast and they’re tied to location. In future we might talk to phones, or to watches, via Alexa spectacles or through our headphones. Rather than stopping to type we might just say, “Google, where’s that place/product?”
Looking back, what’s your favourite piece of branded content?
‘The Hire’ film series released by BMW, 2001-2002. They were each about eight or nine minutes long. Clive Owen featured, and Guy Richie and Ridley Scott directed among others. Madonna was in one, James Brown was in one, but the hero was always the car.
BMW got millions of views. Looking at the fluidity across digital channels now, a brand could do something like that and potentially get great numbers.
And your favourite niche media content?
The FT Saturday edition, Vanity Fair, Straight No Chaser, and Gilles Peterson on the radio!
Finally, a favourite quote?
“People who know what will happen in the future are called futurologists. People who know when it’s going to happen are called billionaires.”