The future of communications: Marrying data with connectivity

It’s no secret: Giant systems dominate the communications world. Social behemoths such as Facebook, Twitter and Line. Messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kakao Talk and WeChat. Operating systems like Android and iOS. Discovery systems like Google, Pinterest, Baidu and the rest.

These systems create interlocking constellations of activity and individuals. They touch adjoining constellations like Amazon, Alibaba, Netflix and others that form, together with the physical world, the communications galaxy in which we now inhabit.

To communicate effectively within this galaxy, brands face the complex challenge of accommodating each different system’s functionality while also creating and maintaining personal connections with the consumers they seek to reach.

It’s a delicate balance of numbers and narrative: Hard data analytics drive distribution, but what’s being distributed must be softer—a story that encourages an emotional connection to the brand.

So how do brands figure out how to craft their narrative and share it across systems? That depends on a necessary collision, transformed into a partnership, between data and digital technology, and creativity. It’s this partnership that governs the galaxy. It helps to dive a bit deeper into how that partnership works.

The case for digital + creative: Messages that resonate

In many regards, the distribution side of the communications galaxy is complete; the standard of "Everything On Demand" is now accepted as normal—consumers can obtain the content and/or information they need whenever they need it, thanks to technology. This digital technology is no longer simply a channel or a medium: it’s the enabler of the internet operating system so many of us now depend on to live our lives. There is (almost) no analogue activity that can’t be replicated or enhanced digitally.

Marketers are well aware of this – digital ad investment in Asia-Pacific has been witnessing double-digit growth year-on-year since 2013, from US$ 31,328 million to the current US$ 62,792 million within a short span of three years, according to Interaction 2016, our annual report offering insights into digital advertising globally.

While this digital world itself is well-established, it creates an environment that’s still somewhat unstable or unsettled for brands. Brands have diminishing control over how consumers engage with them because there are so many systems converging in the digital world. They can’t manage every interaction because interactions happen on the individual level.

The digital platforms that facilitate these individual interactions are massive, and while they provide lots of data about the individuals they serve, the knowledge gleaned from that data is always incomplete.

Because of this tension between the need for personalised content and the impossibility of controlling each personal interaction with consumers, the manufacturing, or content creation side of the galaxy is still a work in progress, each system that emerges demands a new format for content, whether it’s a Tweet or a Snap or an image. No matter the format, the content piece has got to connect to the story being told in all the other systems.

This is where the creativity comes in – developing a narrative-that-performs-1,000-functions style of storytelling, so that the content will work like jigsaw puzzle pieces, each an important component of a consistent overall image and message, one that carries over from one distribution system to another.  I predict that’s what brand communications 2020 will look like.

Remembering that the pieces of content published across multiple channels work together to form a big picture, very much like a puzzle, is crucial to brand success. There is no one-communication system whose single point of contact can reflect a complete relationship with a consumer.

Those who own the technology systems tend to think that theirs is at the centre of the universe. The truth, however, is that the individual is at the centre of his or her own universe and our world revolves around individuals, even if brands can never really know them.

Know them or not, however, consumer centricity is imperative, and brand owners and their partners can achieve it by creating narratives that resound across multiple systems by tailoring them to those specific systems. Individual consumers will decide how and when they want to engage with the message: brands just need to be there with meaningful, consistent, and relevant content to meet them.

Marketers, I encourage you to take a step back and consider how you are currently marrying your messages with the medium. Devote time, energy and resources to develop deeper and more linear attribution models and data to better understand the media and message combinations that will allow you to drive optimal outcomes for your brands. As importantly, create a new way of working that allows you and your team (both internal and agency partners) to continually adapt, learn and test in real-time, by capitalising on the always-on fluid consumer environment.

The writer is  Mark Patterson, CEO, GroupM APAC and chairman, GroupM China.