Logging In: Ads are on the Run

Consumers to brands: "Where are you when I need you?"

It's in my face. On every screen. In every taxi. And last year's scuttlebutt was that we may even be forced to see it regularly on eggs, and perhaps even worse, as turbulence and motion sickness get the best of us, on those convenient little bags on airplanes.

Advertising. Sometimes it's random. Sometimes it's targeted - like those Google Ads that invariably reference one's most embarrassing searches. Whoever asked to be "served" a marketing message, anyway? And yet, while it is more intrusive than ever, advertising is becoming increasingly invisible, especially to homo mobilis, today's consumer on the move.

Here's the new reality: Consumers deal with the media onslaught in one of two ways. One, they're simply tuning out the message - because it's not the right message, sent at the right time, in the right way. Or two, they're taking the message and posting it to the social network du jour because it was sent at the right time, in the right way and in a manner that was appropriate to them.

Therefore, in the current context, it makes sense for brands to take stock and analyze those situations in which consumers would be willing - even eager - to interact with them. If I'm downtown shopping for jeans, that's when I'm receptive to information about Earnest Sewn denim: styles, colors, names of retailers, etc. If I'm in the market for a new TV, this is when I need to learn the difference between plasma and LCD screens. If I'm in the supermarket aisle, torn between detergents, that's when I would be interested in learning about each manufacturer's ecological footprint.

You get the picture.

In cases like these, brands have an opportunity (and now, a responsibility) to reach out to consumers at a critical juncture - the point of need - and market to them not with messages, but with valuable information and real services. While 30 years ago, it may have been about the catchy phrase or jingle you couldn't get out of your head (think: "You Asked for It, You Got It," or "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz"), today it's about information that reaches the consumer when and where they need it and persuades.

To develop a point-of-need marketing strategy, start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes. Anticipate consumer needs. Ask yourself, "What does he want from my product or service at a given point in time? Advice? A coupon? A tool? A consultation?" One thing's for sure: He certainly doesn't need an ad.

The big question for digital marketers then becomes: How do I create a specific service mix for my mobile customers? If you believe that advice is what they need, make sure that the content you offer is worth seeking out, that people know it is available and that the access is ... well ... easy.

But they will face a conundrum. How can a brand inform the mobile consumer - that sometimes jaded, often fickle and always moving target - of the valuable digital services it offers? The most effective ways (oh, the irony!) are probably out-of-home and point-of-sale ads that appear close to, if not precisely at, that crucial point of need.

Providing truly helpful services is bound to be a bit of a head-scratcher for marketers who reminisce about the days when all it took was a catchy slogan. But just as search marketing grew exponentially in response to new consumer behaviors and demands, we suspect that new forms of digital marketing, directed to the point of need, will soon emerge. The most innovative marketers - those who put themselves in consumers' shoes - will undoubtedly lead the way.

Jean Pascal Mathieu is vice president of strategy for Nurun.

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