Nothing’s new in digital marketing. Digital moves fast but is cyclical, like all industries. Technologies, regulations, and the actions of the walled gardens are changing the advertising landscape, but is what’s emerging to support this new reality? Let’s power up the flux capacitor and see the future of advertising – in the past.

The re-rise of networks

My experiences 20 years ago were in premium publishing and ad networks before the growth of programmatic buying. Today’s changes remind me of those early days when businesses joined as networks to build scale and efficiency. Whether it’s collaborations between publishers, data or brands. Just look at retail media. You've got powerful individual players, but buying across them is hard because they use disparate platforms. Then, there are many small retail media businesses that can’t access media spend because they’re too small to buy efficiently despite having a valuable proposition. But bring them together, and it’s a different story. That's why we’re seeing this proliferation of retail media networks. Once viewed as outdated, we’re now adopting an approach from 20 years ago. And their role will grow – untila more efficient way to buy comes around.

Channels are irrelevant if customers come first

Peppers and Rogers’ 1993 book The One to One Future imagined how the emergence of addressable media would put customers first and deliver marketing success. But we’re still struggling to achieve this.

One major blocker has been media fragmentation. But if you take a one view, one vision, one voice approach to your customers, it’s possible. That’s what we’re doing. We're running media campaigns that push the same audience wherever they interact with a brand and personalising their journeys using one-to-one communications. And the more we focus on individuals, the more we realise channels make little sense anymore. Where we're going, we don't need roads - and it’s finally delivering the One to One Future. 

Digital might finally become addressable, just like direct mail

This might be controversial, but many people think of digital media as an addressable medium when it’s no such thing. Direct mail is the model digital media wants to be – and isn't.

Direct mail is really addressable. You know who you're talking to, what you’ve sent, and whatpeople have bought. It's probably the most measurable media because it focuses on business outcomes, not the vanity metrics of digital.

As cookies die and the focus shifts to first-party data, the idea you can speak to an individual is suddenly real. Why? Because with the right partner you know who they are, their name, address, and email, and you've permission to message them. If you know who you are talking to and it’s the same person over time and across devices, true personalisation becomes real – just as you’ve been doing for your CRM and direct mail. And this is important because performance for personalised communication typically improves by 10-30%. Adopting a direct mail approach to your digital activities gives you a massive opportunity.

A clean slate for collaboration

Years ago, brands had no issue combining their data in cooperatives and then using these to build their businesses. But collaboration became a dirty word. Now, people are coming back to this idea. They’re recognising the value of using data clean rooms to combine data, find their best customers, and then activating it to reach them. It’s new technology reinstating an old but effective approach.

Contextual targeting is back – sort of

Contextual is back on the agenda as cookies die. It’s suggested this early 2000s approach will save targeting, but it never worked then. Yes, it’s better. More can be done with the data because there’s more processing power thanks to AI, and semantic and sentiment can be tied in. But the idea contextual on its own is the answer: well, that’s just unrealistic. While it’s definitely much more effective than in the past, I doubt it will ever form the core of any marketing plan. That’s the reason audience targeting superseded it and contextual fell by the wayside.

Often in business, what goes around comes around again. But what’s important is not if an approach is old or new but whether it works. Make sure you choose what’s best for your business. As Doc Brown says, “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

Great Scott! Don’t miss Elliott on stage on day two of MAD//Fest. Hop into the DeLorean at Elys Yard and journey back to the future with us at the Epsilon Booth. Flux capacitors not required!