Agency Chief Zetabytes Dog, Outlines Breathless Pace Of Change

Technology has transformed media and its consumption over the past few years in ways that few people expected. But according to Laura Desmond, Global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group, the pace of recent change will seem slow compared to the media transformation that will take place by 2020.

By then, she told a crowd attending the Advertising Age ME Conference on Tuesday, the number of people using the Internet will more than double to 5 billion and they will connect at speeds 500 times faster than today.

Data will be counted in zetabytes, not the exabytes of today, and there will be 50 times more data than we currently have.  Contributing to that expanding ocean of data will be mobile phone subscribers, whose numbers will double to 10 billion.

Cell phones, said Desmond, are becoming “central command centers” for consumers. They are key to changing consumer expectations. And with nearly everyone on the planet owning one, it makes sense that SMG’s strategy is to create “one-on-one brand relationships” with customers. The media business, said Desmond, “is not for the faint of heart. It is a sector of the economy defined by acceleration.”

Data and its “hyper acceleration,” as Desmond put it, “changes everything." It will continue to revolutionize marketing by providing insights into the wants, needs and desires of consumers.

The pace of change and making sense of the growing pile of data are formidable challenges, said Desmond.  But technology advancements will help marketers and agencies develop the tools needed to forge closer and “more meaningful connections” between brands and consumers. And that really is what the future of media and marketing are all about. “It is daunting but it is also a huge opportunity to redefine our industry,” she said.

The daunting part for agencies is keeping up. And to do that requires being in a state of constant reinvention, Desmond said in comments after her presentation. “it’s never done” -- indicating that SMG is undergoing a restructuring that began several years ago when she “flattened” the agency network’s global structure by eliminating regional heads and creating “centers of excellence around disciplines such as research, data, consumer experience, content and human resources. SMG also established a series of research panels around the world known as the Youth and Moms Experience Center that provide real-time feedback to the agency and its clients.

By 2015, Desmond said she expects that half of SMG’s business will come from digital, data analytics and content. All agency efforts, she said, are intended to reinforce and support the network’s mission of “transforming human experience.”

For agencies, the stakes are higher than ever as marketers feel pressure to grow their businesses more rapidly while depending on agencies to help them do it, said Desmond. “We have to inform, entertain, create participation and create transactions” -- and do it faster than ever before. And doing that effectively takes more than ads that merely say “buy me.” 

Desmond cited several examples, including a campaign that SMG did for Secret Deodorant that addressed the topic of bullying, which resonated with teens and moms. Results: a conversation that has grown to 32,000 exchanges; increased favorability metrics and a “near double-digit percent bump in sales,” Desmond said.

The next major area of focus for the agency, said Desmond, is “building the social stack and embedding it in everything we do.” The way she sees it, paid, owned and earned media share a platform. The work-in-progress includes developing techniques to measure the “impact and pressure” of owned and earned media in ways that enable more effective and efficient spending on the paid side, Desmond said.

Another key focus for SMG is addressability -- using sophisticated software to transmit different and more relevant commercial messages to different households simultaneously -- something the TV industry has struggled with for years. SMG is partnering with satellite TV provider DirecTV in a major addressable trial that begins in January 2012 that will include 10 million DirecTV households. A number of larger and smaller SMG clients are expected to participate. With that many homes involved, Desmond declared, addressability has finally become scalable.

“We had a lot of hope for the MSOs,” said Desmond, who now believes that the satellite industry will take the lead in bringing addressable TV advertising to its full nationwide potential. Canoe Ventures, the MSO-backed addressable firm, was established a few years back with that goal as well, but has refocused its efforts on smaller-scale interactive efforts for the near term.

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