IAB CEO David Cohen outlines the critical trends that are accelerating and converging to transform marketing. "The year ahead promises to fundamentally reshape" how brands thrive, he writes, and he calls on the industry to come together to reset thinking about what advertising is, how it works, how its measured and much more.
To say that 2020 was a shock to the system is an understatement.
Yet the year that is behind us is probably not nearly as consequential as the year ahead.
Multiple, critical trends that have been accelerating for years are converging like never before to transform marketing. The year ahead promises to fundamentally reshape how brands are born and how they thrive, what advertising is, how (and where) it works, how measurement and attribution happen and much more.
Change will happen at a dizzying pace, and it will be happening everywhere at once—from privacy and policy decisions in Washington to addressability and attribution across every imaginable device, to the convergence of video and commerce in consumers’ living rooms, to an unstoppable drive for diversity across the industry.
Keeping track of all this change, identifying the new opportunities it uncovers, and finding the right path forward is more than any single business leader can possibly tackle. This is not the year to go it alone. More so than in any year in recent memory, 2021 is a time when the entire ecosystem—publishers, ad tech, agencies, and brands—must come together to make sense of it all.
We face a reset in first-party data, personalization and privacy
At last, marketers have all the tools they need to do what Peter Drucker long ago urged: “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him (or her) and sells itself.”
The race to this future finds traditional brands lagging far behind disruptor direct-to-consumer brands that were born with a first-party mindset. But the race is far from over, and with major brands and retailers wide-awake to the new reality, who will make the most from this next phase of growth is up for grabs like never before.
The first leg of this race will be a wild, flat-out sprint—not a marathon. The industry has a ticking clock before third-party identifiers disappear and there is much work to be done. Cross-industry initiatives including the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM) are starting to make significant progress.
We face a reset in video
The last century of marketing was defined by brands built on the unparalleled power of sight, sound and motion. That power will at last be fully turbocharged by leveraging data and turning viewing opportunities into direct sales opportunities.
This will require entirely new kinds of creative, entirely new ways to envision media and a total reboot of the antique, needlessly clumsy and complex infrastructure that underpins video media buying.
Winning in the next phase of growth will require re-engineering creative and media and embracing commerce like never before. This year will be the beginning of unlearning and relearning what works, and which old rules apply—or don’t.
We face a reset in diversity and creativity
Are you ready for consumers who don’t look, think, shop or buy the way they once did? I’m not sure anyone really is. Winning in the next phase of growth will demand marketing and agency teams that don’t look, think, or execute the way they did in the past.
The brands that emerge as 21st century powerhouses will leverage data to know their customers better than anyone else and leverage the power of diversity to drive entirely new creative ideas about everything from what media to buy to what to sell and how and where to buy it.
Leaders who look narrowly at diversity as a question of fairness, morality, or legality are missing the big picture. It’s not just about doing what’s right but doing what is necessary to thrive in a future that won’t resemble the past.
The future needs everybody.
The industry needs a reset, too
Our ability to meet the very large changes ahead depends on how much we are willing to rise to the occasion. We can’t shrug and go back to business as usual.
As an industry, we must reset our mindset. We need to remind the world of all that the ad-supported internet has provided—and continues to provide. The endless drumbeat of negativity about tracking, privacy, fraud and fears of Big Tech will continue in 2021. When naysayers shout, “what good is digital?” the answer is: plenty. The free and open web that helped us all get through 2020 is indispensable.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. We must reset our obligations as an industry and to deliver trust, transparency, safety, privacy, and respect for consumers’ time and attention.
Lastly, we must reset our commitment to working together as an ecosystem. We must park our egos and our pride of ownership at the door and pull together. The most challenging industry problems we face—cross-screen measurement, identity resolution, balancing privacy, personalization and safety, and more—won’t improve unless we all work together.
Ready or not, here comes 2021. When the industry looks back at this moment in 10 or 20 years, we won’t remember what ended. Instead, we’ll remember what started.
This is our moment. What we make of it is up to us.