The words are there, pressed in neat rows of characters on simple clay tablet. It is a listing of the services of a shoemaker, a scribe and an ointment dealer. They were inscribed in Babylon sometime around 3,000 BCE. As far as anyone knows, this clay tablet represents the earliest known example of written advertising.
In the five millennia since, new communication technologies have arisen and each time a new one emerges, advertising has always been adapted to it. First print and then radio followed soon after by television, the Internet and, now, mobile.
As the technologies evolved and took root in our lives, the content of the ads evolved, too. With each new communication technology there followed a similar progression in the content. The first fledgling ads on any new medium were simple appeals—unsophisticated, factual and rational. Eventually, advertisers would figure out that selling is more psychology than logic and would migrate toward highly sophisticated, lifestyle-based and emotionally charged content.
These more sophisticated ads sell to us in personal ways that are often times difficult to describe in words. It is as if they know us at a deeper level. They don’t sell so much as connect with us and inspire us not just to buy products, but to love them as well. This was and is the essence of great branded communications and what we consider today as the key ingredient of the customer experience.
Compare, say, the ads on this 19th Century page from The Times of London with it’s inducements for constipation elixirs, hair renewers and tooth pastes:
Set against the Zen-like simplicity of Apple’s now iconic early iPod ads:
The next revolution
The ads were visually and emotionally gripping. We saw ourselves in them. They were personal. We are in the midst of the earliest stages of another technological revolution that, no doubt, you are aware of. It’s known broadly as personalisation.
Personalisation technology is now at such a level of sophistication that a single customer journey that might include touch points across all digital media—TV, radio, web, mobile, social, etc.—can quickly know who a given customer is by their data trail, but also serve them very specific content based on that knowledge. And it can do it on the fly, in real time, such that two customers visiting the same website would enjoy different experiences tailored to them personally.
And yet, like every new communication medium or technology, the level of sophistication of the content has yet to catch up to the incredible power of the technology. What’s more, customers don’t find personalisation creepy or off-putting. They are, in fact, demanding it. They want content specific to their needs and wants.
The customer experience leaders who are fully harnessing personalisation may be few and far between at this point, but they are out there. Netflix and Amazon are but two prime examples. They are learning and they are evolving. It is only a matter of time before the medium and the message are once again on equal footing.