Prudential's chief customer officer on 'invisible marketing'

Consumers are hit by an avalanche of information every day. For some, it is a case of information overload while others welcome the information onslaught with open arms. Imagine, in 2017 alone, there were 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day according to Domo’s Data Never Sleeps 5.0 report. And there is no doubt the numbers have grown exponentially. With new technologies, consumers can gain access to more information, deeper insights and wider choices in the twinkling of an eye just by googling. These major trends of development are not expected to stop any time soon, and will only accelerate.

This spells good news for consumers who will be armed with more information, and will become more savvy when it comes to picking their brand of choice. In-your-face marketing campaigns using conventional advertising and media placements may be losing their relevance and impact.

Traditional advertising has gradually lost its lustre and is declining in popularity. Based on a McCarthy Group study in 2015, 84% of Millennials said they do not trust traditional advertising. To top it off, ad blocker usage has seen a surge in recent years, and last year alone, 615 million devices were installed with ad blockers, according to a study by Anatomy Media.

To counter this consumer apathy, invisible marketing has started making its mark. Companies have begun putting money into content marketing where brands and products appear in beautifully told editorial stories. Brands and products are immersed into the culture of their target consumers, where a subtle influence is more effective than the traditional means of shoving logos and products into the face of consumers.

This has led to the proliferation of native ads and social media influencers which are very much part of “invisible marketing” as brands strive to assimilate into the digital environment of the consumers.

One example would be the “unboxing” video phenomenon. Companies are putting huge efforts into producing magical “unboxing” videos by celebrity influencers that are hosted on various social media channels. In the same vein, marketers are rushing to get their brands heard when it comes to voice search marketing in view of the rise in global popularity of voice-powered digital assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. This is invisible marketing in the making, and it looks set to grow.

Build authentic brands

As consumers become more savvy, it is more challenging for brands to hide behind beautifully produced commercials while delivering not so great products. Brands need to be more authentic to withstand the increased scrutiny of consumers. The need to create a bond with consumers, build brand affinity in line with the brand’s values and strengthen trust has become all important.

Brands need to be more purposeful and marketers need to communicate the purpose of their brands. Consumers are increasingly fussy about the brand of their choice and they see a need to identify with the purpose and values of the brand. This is an important factor brands need to consider when they engage in building their brand.

Agile marketers will thrive

Invisible marketing is built on the foundation of a relevant consumer platform, data and analytics. It will be driven by new technologies which we may not know of now, but could emerge in the future. For marketers to thrive in the future world of invisible marketing, the focus should not be about acquiring specific skills as technology is always evolving.

For marketers to rise above the competition, they will need to adopt an agile mindset. Get ready to try. Get ready to fail. Learn fast. Adapt. Execute. Marketers need to learn to deal with ambiguity and yet know how best to make sense of the available data.

The writer is Goh Theng Kiat, chief customer officer, Prudential Assurance Company Singapore. The article first appeared in Marketing’s The Futurist print edition.