Coronavirus is reshaping our approach to media, brands must innovate to stay ahead

The most digitally-advanced brands have performed well this year, despite the challenges facing all of us, writes Karol Smith, Global Head of Advertiser Experience from Cavai. But most brands will need to leverage innovative advertising formats in order to stay ahead

We all know by now that there have been silver linings for some lucky brands this year. Amazon’s net sales leapt by 40 per cent year-on-year to $88.9bn in the second quarter of 2020, while Apple also experienced a positive uplift, with CEO Tim Cook putting the company’s performance down to the brand’s ‘relentless innovation’.

Maybe your enterprise has been equally well positioned and has found booming growth in a time of widespread hardship. But for most, marketing budgets have taken a hit, and for a while at least, advertising will have to work harder than ever if it is to drive revenue.

In the quest to improve the impact and engagement of online display, over many years the industry has pushed ever larger formats to grab user attention. Consumers, however, have long been losing patience with interruptive formats, so pushier, more aggressive advertising clearly isn’t the perfect solution. But in the process of facing new challenges and changing circumstances, many people have welcomed new digital habits into their lives, whether in the form of an increased use of smart speakers and web conferencing, or a new openness to message businesses in apps and ‘chat’ technology to avoid long waiting times on the phone. The consumer environment has changed, that much is clear, and advertisers need to change too.

We believe conversational advertising is one format that is set to grow, because it allows for a true multi-variant ad experience, focusing on user control, relevance and deep engagement over one dimensional measurements such as click rate.

Uniquely, conversational advertising does not broadcast a brand message ‘at’ a user. Instead, it enables interactions that are closer to human dialogue – the advertiser controls the content of the conversations, but the user controls the direction, making the information they access about advertisers’ products or services relevant to their needs.

The design, tone of voice and overall feel of traditional banners are set in advance and delivered to the selected audience in the hope that they strike a chord. In a conversational banner, the needs and preferences of the consumer can be weighed as the interaction develops and the creative execution changes in real time, allowing for genuinely personalised ad experiences.

The applications are diverse, enabling conversations across numerous digital ecosystems. Conversational advertising is already transforming and releasing the true potential of online display, but the customer journey is a multi-faceted one. The global conversational advertising ’cloud’ is finding its place in messaging apps and voice services – both areas in which advertising has struggled to find an easy fit. It also makes a natural home in the world of social, where conversation is expected, but the challenge for brands is being there at the right time.

Use-cases for conversational technology have been easy to spot in recent months, and it is telling that they come from a range of areas, not simply commercially-minded advertising. During the pandemic, healthcare providers, government agencies and brands have all experimented with conversational mechanics to offer help to users – answering questions, responding to concerns and imparting useful information at an unprecedented time for everybody.

Before the pandemic, this year was earmarked in the marketing world for finding targeted alternatives to non-effective or intrusive cookie-driven advertising. We need digital advertising that doesn’t depend on invading privacy to communicate accurately. Advertising that doesn’t need to know who you are in advance, because it can learn about you in real time, surely has a role to play in this existential transformation of the digital advertising business.

These are testing times in many respects, and they require innovative responses. Not all of us have Apple-style reserves of relentless innovation to power our businesses. But conversational advertising that focuses on the frontend user experience and listens and responds to their interactions is proof that sometimes innovation can instead afford to be gently ingenious.