Faris Yakob agrees with Google that a world of instant gratification powered by always-on mobility has changed consumer behaviour, but warns not to confuse the value of ‘decisive moments’ with that of long-term brand activity that impacts purchase decisions down the line.
At WFA's Global Marketer Week event, Ivan Pollard, CMO of General Mills, spoke about the promise and reality of digital targeting. He acknowledged Google's belief that moments are a crucial new way to understand marketing but suggested that not all moments were created equal and that many of them were too expensive.
For a couple of years now, Google has been pushing micro-moments as a way of understanding consumer decisions. The most recent research speaks to our obsession with 'now'. Google argues that a world of instant gratification empowered by always-on mobility has changed consumer behaviour. Searches for 'open now' have tripled in the past two years, while searches for 'store hours' have dropped. Travel is just as unplanned: travel-related searches for 'tonight' and 'today' have grown over 150% on mobile during the same period.
All of which seems entirely obvious. More people use more mobiles with more data, which drives up searches that leverage their unique quality of being with you when you are out and need something. Obviously, people are searching more for 'open now' and 'near me' when on mobiles rather than planning next year's vacation. Google goes on to suggest that this means marketers need to invest in 'incredible mobile experiences' – which is where they lose me. If I'm searching for a store open right now, all I want is to go to that store and buy some aspirin for my hangover. I definitely do not want a mobile experience to exacerbate my headache. Lest you think I'm joking, US analgesic Excedrin released a 'migraine simulator' last year, which I doubt had customers clamouring for a go.
Google is the world's biggest advertising company because it captured an entire part of the marketing funnel. Product searches are a very strong indicator of being in-market and so Google understands marketing through the lens of invited demand fulfilment. A Google engineer I interviewed when they were a client years ago said they considered all other kinds of advertising 'spam'.
Mobiles mean our desires are never out of arm's reach, but this does not explain what's creating demand.
In Google's model, needs drive demand, which can be fulfilled by any brand that pays Google to get in front of the person with a sore head at that moment. However, as Ivan pointed out, the cost of those highly targeted contacts with highly personalised offers do not make economic sense for mass-market CPG brands like Coca-Cola (where he used to work).
He explains there are true 'decisive moments' (borrowing from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson) such as when a mum is about to create a persistent grocery list on an app or with an online retailer. That moment would lead to many repeat purchases but most immediate sales would not generate the return necessary to justify the cost of targeting. Marketing works in various ways. Some activity fulfils demand; brand activity works over the long term by building memory structures that impact decisions down the line. The confusion of the two is one of the great disappointments of digital.
The maxim of right message, person, moment, and cost holds true if we understand this. The right moment is not always going to be when someone is about to buy something. It usually won't be. Advertising responses can be 'direct or indirect' (Stephen King), which is to say advertising either sells or makes something sellable.
When I first moved to New York, I found myself wandering into a drugstore, sweating and unsteady, looking for relief from my previous evening's excesses. I found my way to the store and shelf without any assistance from a mobile experience. When I got there, I was confronted by an astounding array of brands and variants, none of which I recognised. I had no way to choose. Finally, a long-forgotten memory, implanted by American movies, stirred and I grabbed and bought Tylenol, as quickly as possible. It worked well, partially because, as has been shown in studies, consumers report that branded painkillers work more effectively than generics. The combination of decision heuristic and placebo is the power of brand, which comes into play in the moment, but cannot be created in a single moment.