Marketing and advertising today is no longer about awareness, influence, or even entertainment. The most valuable approach has become Utility Marketing.
People are sick of B.S. in advertising. They are too advanced and too experienced to fall prey to the onslaught of messaging to which they are subjected. Some estimates put this number at 4,000 each day, and with the continued expanse of screen time across multiple devices, our attentiveness to ad messaging becomes further dissected. So dissected, in fact, that consumers are tuning out. This is why younger generations reportedly trust advertisers less than bankers, and are more likely to ignore advertising or use ad blockers than their predecessors. Unfortunately for us marketers, these younger crowds are only going to mature into out-and-out consumers soon, so if marketers fail to adapt, they risk becoming irrelevant.
New ad formats have tried to address the shrinking attention span and increasing aptitude of consumers. With more measurement available, advertisers have become adept at programmatically [automatically] shifting ads to consumers, placements, formats and messaging that are more likely to perform. But often these are just a form of bait and switch - we are basically using algorithms to find the ads that are most likely to trick users into clicking through, and hopefully the experience is good enough to get them to buy. Other ad formats, like YouTube's TrueView format, provide real-time feedback mechanisms or ways to skip the ad, so users who aren't interested have the option of declining and the advertiser only gets charged for engagement. The flipside here is that many of the actual target users either aren't even watching to begin with (music videos or kid's nursery rhymes, for example), or they just don't care enough to skip through, therefore you are still getting wasted spend.
The most powerful and emergent form of advertising will not only make a significant impact on target audiences, but will actually be embraced by users as something they want. Imagine a world where consumers are asking to be marketed to! While this has always been available (in some form), technology has made the targeting, value and scale much more feasible and powerful in today's marketing landscape.
Utility Marketing should be first on the list of any marketer.
Instead of focusing on impressions, website visits, or even direct sales, utility marketing focuses on providing a valuable service (branded, of course) for the user. Google understood this more than 20 years ago when they introduced Adwords. While they had the opportunity to place the equivalent of billboards on the Google search results pages, they instead opted to provide users with assistance - a solution to their inquiry. By developing a hybrid bidding auction model, they created a win-win-win whereby users get helpful sponsored results in the form of ads, advertisers provide targeted experiences to solve explicit consumer problems, and Google gets paid each time someone clicks. The only problem with this scenario is that search inherently doesn't create demand, it only responds to existing demand. Moreover, search is a relatively linear engagement; user searches, user clicks on ad, user visit website, user buys. It's a one-time proposition, and once the visit happens, regardless of sale, the transaction is over. Display banner ads have flirted with the idea of utility as well. For example, rich media ads often try to get you to engage by offering some fun, interesting or helpful content or experience. At the end of the day though, the user is almost always aware of the fact that they are responding to an ad, and may even feel guilty about this fact. It becomes a negative experience.
Utility marketing, on the other hand, focuses on the ongoing relationship that the service or tool provides. Instead of being isolated to one environment (Google's homepage, for example), or resulting in negative feelings of engaging with advertising, the marketing tactic provides value - real, tangible value - to the end-user.
A great example of this is Ikea's Augmented Reality App. Users can use this app on their mobile devices to "place" products and furniture in their homes. Then, pending fit and look, they can purchase directly from the app.
Another version of utility marketing, though often misused, is messaging. Sephora used messaging apps like Kik to communicate and market directly to consumers. The danger here is obviously interrupting or inserting the brand in unwanted scenarios. However, when the brand is truly helpful, messaging apps can be a powerful way to provide value.
Again, when we look at Google, we see a momentous shift in the way users are interacting with search engines, and how Google is evolving to provide even more utility. Search is increasingly a verbal and mobile experience, or in the case of home assistants like Alexa or Google Home, search is a demand in a physical environment. Ads can no longer respond with text copy to click to a website - rather they must provide real-time value to the user in the form of a service. The future of these "ads" is even more service-oriented with the advent of artificial intelligence, which can automatically respond to requests and provide support when needed. With this in mind, marketers must engineer helpful experiences, instead of writing and delivering ad creative.
Awareness, engagement, and conversion are still important pillars of any marketing program. As we look ahead and adapt to new user expectations, we should think of Utility as another, perhaps more important, component. By being helpful to users and providing real value in the form of helpful experiences or tools, we aren't just interrupting people or dumping impressions, we are creating positive experiences which lead to customer satisfaction and long-term value.