Evolution not revolution

Pardon the radio silence thus far in November. I’m engaged in NaNoWriMo (the challenge? write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days). Needless to say, my free time has been anything but, and all of the moments when I would have been engaged in other thinking have been taken up.

When I was updating my word count (43,081 words) on their website this morning, I was thinking about how, even twenty years ago, engaging with a wider network of people in this way wouldn’t have been possible. How awesome is that? Oh, some form of it would have been, but the scale and the scope would have been much more limited. For starters, there would be no streaming video (or at least not to more than a handful of people at a time).

But just because it wouldn’t have been possible in this way twenty years ago, does not mean that the work is completely different. It’s just evolved.

This is really crucial to understand: in the last five, ten, twenty, fifty years, many things have changed, thanks to technology. But it is not as if the human race has been completed obliterated and replaced by a new one, as sometime futurist Ben Hammersley has noted. In a snapshot, the world may look different now than it used to, but each day, week, month and year has added incrementally to that picture. It didn’t change all in one day.

This is critical to remember in the context of advertising. While it’s true that there is more competing for our attention these days, people have not fundamentally changed in their needs and motivations at the most basic levels: to connect, build communities, eat, drink, acquire stuff, be happy… to live. These things remain fairly static. But the mechanisms by which people act on these needs and motivations are necessarily different. And they will continue to evolve from now until doomsday.

As a person, this is interesting, but as someone who works with brands and their communications, leveraging this knowledge is fundamental. For example, humour remains an aid to cut through in brand communications, even if what people find funny and the mechanisms by which they share the jokes are different.

Knowing this allows us to expand our boundaries in brand communications and the boundaries of what we know about them. I see this every day even in market research. Take for example our Live|Test approach which uses online ad replacement to understand how online advertising works. This works off of the fundamentals that we know about how people consume media and advertising and springboards that knowledge into something new and different. That wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t pushed the boundaries of our own knowledge and capabilities.

The same can be said for advertisers. We should not fear that the world of communications has changed and is changing because this change happens built off of the world in which we already live. So, I’m not just pontificating from a writing-induced fog: I want you to do something. Explore your boundaries and push them out further, whether you’re still anxious about expanding beyond search and banner ads or you did that fifteen years ago and are now branching out into something really different.

Wherever you are on the continuum of ‘digital engagement’ with your customers and consumers, you can rest assured that, even if you can’t illuminate the entire path in front of you, what you already know can shed enough light to let you see at least the next step.

Tara Beard-Knowland (43,081 words) is a Director at Ipsos ASI. Follow her on Twitter @TaraatIpsosASI.

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