Digital content discovery needs a human touch

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As the digital economy has grown and flourished, consumer’s understanding of how they are being targeted and monetised by brands has often been playing catch up. But now, marketers are faced with increasingly savvy audiences who are not only harder to reach via traditional advertising, but are also inured to traditional hierarchical modes of communication between brand and consumer.

We have taken steps to identify this shift in our recent Audiences Unbound study. We reveal a group that actively rejects traditional media, spanning mainstream audiences from Generation Z to Baby Boomers. Our research reveals these ‘Unbound’ consumers’ tastes and decisions are increasingly driven by online influencers who are flexing their muscles across social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram & Facebook.

In addition, this ‘Unbound’ audience are wise to brands’ attempts to target them, and are conscious of how their personal data is leveraged to do so. This has led to the rise of ad blockers, specialist search engines and webmail facilities to avoid unwanted targeted advertising and programmatic recommendations.

As such, to combat this cynicism with digital marketing and fatigue with advertising and content feedback loops, brands must manage their relationship with these consumers carefully and will only build trust and reputation by addressing their underlying needs and expectations.

So what are these? As consumers’ digital lives have grown and flourished so too has a latent desire for authenticity, an itch often scratched by human interaction. It is this human touch that brands must leverage to successfully connect with digital audiences. Therefore, relationships with consumers mediated via third parties is increasingly what brands will need to harness to drive engagement and maintain relevance.

And the explosion of content curation, be that Apple Music’s high-profile hire of Zane Lowe to head up Beats 1 Radio or the video game platform Steam’s curation programme, are all evidence of this trend in practice. In both instances either celebrity DJs or video game producers are harnessed to create meaningful thematic ‘playlists’ of content with which to engage and inspire consumers and cross-promote content.

These human connections are so valued as they help consumers navigate a glut of content and engage with their passions and interests whilst also opening them up to new media, products and brands that they otherwise may not have heard about. And importantly this helps free them from the frustrations of programmatic recommendations which are seen by many ‘Unbound’ consumers as annoyance as they actively narrow their horizons.

But whilst the value of online influencers is already apparent to some brands, evidenced by the regular stories of Vlogger’s earning millions or people quitting their job to curate their Facebook page, this is only the start of the journey. The digital economy will continue to grow and digital media will continue to out shadow and outpace old media. All the while, consumers will continue to demand the benefits of the new digital paradigm - instant access and two-way communication with brands - whilst expecting a human face to be able to guide them through an ever-increasing pool of content, products and services.