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George Orwell’s 1984 is here, privacy is redundant: Rob Norman

Rob Norman, chief digital officer, GroupM Global

“The future is here and it is much more evenly distributed” GroupM Global’s chief digital officer Rob Norman had a ‘new-age’ reply to William Gibson’s famous quote, ‘the future is already here – it is just not very evenly distributed’. Norman’s optimism is courtesy the constant growth that the digital media landscape is witnessing globally.

Norman cited statistics such as the download of the 100 billionth app and the billionth broadband subscription to elucidate how consumers were embracing different form of digital media. He said, “Searches on mobile devices have finally exceeded internet searches. There were predictions that this day would come but no one predicted when it would come.”

With personal computers around the world no longer being the dominant means of accessing the internet, Norman reiterated that the fate of digital media was not dependent on the evolution of infrastructure because technology already was allowing economic ways of connecting devices to consumers.

In 1977, Ken Olsen, the co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation had said that there was no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home and he was much ridiculed for the statement but years later, his statement is true in a strange way because today there is computing in the palm of a consumer rendering it practically unnecessary to own personal computer. “Computing detached from computer,” said Norman.

Marketing is changing fast, courtesy innovation

At the heart of the changing marketing scenario, is innovation. People are constantly finding new ways of doing something. “In our business, we are witnessing change at an unprecedented rate. This is driven by consumer’s adoption of new devices. We embrace innovation and innovators and go about our working life without fear of disruption. But while innovations ensure long term success, not all innovations are equal in connecting brands,” said Norman.

He spoke about the concept of marginal utility to assert that in products, significant increase in utility is at times prompted by one extra component. “It is not about what you are doing but how much better would come from what you are about to do,” he said.

We can’t do everything but to do well, it is important to do a small number of things effectively. Some of the questions that must be asked when an innovation is talked about are how many people are using that technology because reach is important to make a difference. What are the barriers to increase this reach in the future? Will tech undermine the effectiveness of something we do today – how does it bring more value of existing partnerships? It is not about Big Data but about distillation of actionable insights – how can we apply data to improve? How easy is deployment of technology and does this technology produce new creative assets? Is there a first mover advantage in adopting technology and can it be sustained over time. If not, then there is an argument of learning from the experiences of others.

Norman admitted that agencies and clients are frustrating people to deal with for innovators. “They (innovators) think we don’t get it and we move slowly. But the opportunity for them truly lies in focussing on developments that creates opportunities for brands because that is where the money will come from,” he advised.

The new age of extreme transparency

The evolution of digital media has implications on various segments and marketers need to observe this carefully. “In this atomised world, consumers will have superpowers — they would have 3D vision and would be able to see right through brands. Brands can run but not hide. The brand will be tested on its proposition and performance and their experience would be shared. Marketers won’t be in control of campaigns any more. They are going to need to respond in real time. They would need data and forecasting on when people are going to be in the market for their product. It is complicated but it is up to us on how to get more value for clients,” stated Norman.

As the world is becoming virtual and data informed, it is expected that devices and content are going to understand when a consumer is communicating and who is important to be part of that communication. But in such a world, the idea of privacy will also be redundant. The digital fingerprints, despite what regulators say, will not be private. Increasingly demands would be placed upon us for technology to tell the truth about us. Privacy, as we understand, will create a divide between the discoverable and the undiscoverable. The discoverable would be judicious of what they want discovered. And there would be some prejudice against the undiscoverables because it would be seen that when you don’t want to be discovered, you may have something to hide.

“There is no scenario that we should not prepare for as marketers and agencies. We have to predict what passions are going to survive,” pointed out Norman. For him, amidst speculation is certainty. Perhaps one thing certain is also that marketers are headed into an era of truth. Consumers will decide their final image of a brand on the basis of various little details and experiences. It would be important to think through all areas of where a brand interacts with the consumer. The ingredients that would make brand communication of 2015 would include what a product does, how it is made, the opportunity cost it creates, its performance and its truth in advertising.”

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