Brands have the power to make better content, so why don’t they?
As the proliferation of new devices and content explodes around us, Marshall McLuhan’s most famous words – "the medium is the message" – were never more accurate.
The websites and mobile apps we use on a daily basis, evolve (as if by magic) in front of our eyes. So why is it that most of the content we’re served doesn’t have the same cleverness built-in? It feels like the people that matter most in the content relationship - the actual users - aren’t shown the love.
The good news is that the necessary data sources, technologies and creative formats already exist to make useful, relevant and entertaining digital content. Advertisers and marketers have a responsibility to use these tools to ensure the quality of their output (and the resulting user experience) is the best it can be.
What’s needed to make this happen is an understanding of how to sense the user’s true context, interpret the data gathered and optimise the content served so that it’s as interesting and engaging as possible.
Sensing the user’s true context
Existing technologies can be used to identify the type of device we’re using, screen size and what other on-screen content is being viewed. Adding geographic location and time of day starts to create a profile of real-time context.
Multi-touch gestures are now common-place and smartphone cameras are already able to identify our faces. In addition to recognising the (natural) languages we speak, today’s voice recognition tools remember and understand what we say - Google's "conversational search" being a great example.
Our physical and virtual experiences are merging as man and machine come close together. Life seems to be imitating art more regularly – this year has seen successful crowd-funded projects to build a medical ‘tricorder’ (a la Star Trek) and a brain-sensing headband. As this trend in transhumanism continues, increasingly relevant data will become available about how we’re acting and feeling as humans.
Beyond knowing what users are doing, the ability to gauge more accurate location is developing fast. WiFiSlam (acquired by Apple earlier this year) is one of a number of indoor GPS companies that can pinpoint smartphone location inside stores in real-time with an accuracy of 2.5 meters.
Interpreting the data captured
Understanding how to capture and manipulate data is essential for creating more meaningful advertising. Interpreting this information requires robust data science and dedicated insights/analytics teams with strong programming skills.
The real-time sensory data outlined above can be folded into an existing profile containing the more established historical behavioural and social contexts. In time, emotional understanding will also form part of the mix.
Brands now have access to behavioural data beyond web analytics and CRM reporting. The Quantified Self movement is driving the aggregation of personal data and companies like Tic Trac have emerged to help us manage and cross-reference the growing amount of information we now generate about ourselves. No doubt through fair value exchanges, brands will start to get their hands on this new, and potentially rich, seam of behavioural data.
Our social and local worlds are also now merging. Recent updates to Google+ and Facebook mean that local results liked by friends are prioritised. Who we’re with and how we influence each other are becoming increasingly important factors in the content we’re served.
Arguably the most divisive data that can now be collected is that which quantifies our emotions. Realeyes uses computer vision (needing only a webcam) to read people's faces and to measure how they feel. When data of this kind can be captured more easily, customisation based on emotion will become a reality.
Optimising what’s delivered to the user
Once the data has been analysed and the business logic has run, a content mix can be created that has the highest likelihood of engaging the user.
Form should be influenced by context. The way interfaces look and feel can be altered by subtle changes in copy (linguistic science) and imagery (design psychology). New responsive formats ensure that content looks great and reads perfectly, irrespective of viewport size or orientation. These new formats can carry multiple languages and customise calls-to-action based on other on-screen content.
Function can also be customised. In the same way that e-commerce sites alter the navigation during checkout, so user experiences can be tailored to encourage a different kind of action depending on where a user is in their journey.
As we tweak and enhance content to make it more meaningful, we must all commit to the highest content standards. We should aspire to combine progressive enhancement with accessibility to ensure we cater to all. The myriad devices we use to communicate have varying network connection speeds, screen sizes and processing power. Users themselves differ in their abilities to consume and contribute content. It is imperative that all encounters with brands are accessible and consistent.
Brands, advertisers and marketers already have access to many of the tools and techniques outlined above. Creating better content will improve the lives of users and increase effectiveness for everyone. What’s not to love?
By Alastair Cole, partner and head of creative services, EMEA at Essence