What do Tony Blair, microsoft and google have in common?

The work/life balance has disappeared, just because we clock off no longer means we log off – welcome to the ‘always on’ lifestyle

Damian%20BlackdenTwo things prompted me to write this particular column. The first was a pair of photos picturing Tony Blair now, and in 1997. And the second was the acquisitions arms race in the data and analytics sector by Microsoft, Google and co.

First, though, to Tony Blair. Bloody hell he’s aged. OK, he may have a few things on his conscience which we won’t go into here, but putting that aside I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised by his dramatic change in appearance. The fact is that we Brits are working harder than ever. Our average working week is now 36 hours. That’s the second highest in Europe after the Greeks at 40, although I think they might have been lying when they were researched, judging by the speed they built their Olympic infrastructure.

And if you combine our high working hours with the fact that we consume much more media these days (up 21% since 2003), more than our European counterparts (at least 5% more); and if you factor in that we also have a higher usage of all portable business tools like laptops, smart-phones and 3G handsets, you realise that the pressure on our lifestyle has ratcheted up in the past three years.

Put simply, for many individuals (and the majority of business people), there is no work/life balance – not even one increasingly stacked in favour of work. For many there’s just a seamless fusion of work and life, where downtime is filled by simultaneous multiple e-mail, SMS and messenger dialogues.

Tony%20Blair%201997%20%26%202007I’d argue that the implication for marcoms is that relevance becomes absolutely essential when targeting business audiences living this sad and “always on” kind of lifestyle – relevance derived from timing personalisation and integration.

This is one of the reasons why search has grown so fast here, accounting for 42% of all search marketing spend in Europe. It’s highly relevant, and obviously well timed, as the messages are shown when the individual’s actually looking for them.

Apparently 60% of business decision makers say that the internet is the best way to reach them. And now we have access to targeting goodies that are beginning to really deliver the personalisation promise that digital media’s been making over the past few years.

Now we have the technology and scale of audience (in terms of reach, and time online) to genuinely choose to show messages to individuals according to their behaviour, the editorial context they’re reading in, and to make our communications different according to the historic degree of engagement with the brand. We can even use IP profiling and registration data to focus on specific companies and people, dynamically inserting their names on the fly for added cut-through.

That’s great, but I believe that to get the best out of this technology we shouldn’t be thinking in campaign terms. We should deploy this stuff on a permanent 24/7 365 day basis, like we do search.

Of course there will still be a need for broader, richer activity like TV, however the likes of Joost are already showing how that particular market could turn out. Its lack of proprietary hardware and flexible interfaces will soon be able to offer us similar targeting benefits. Given the fact that it has personal subscription data, I’d say that we’re only about six months away from the first personally addressed TV commercial, delivered via a Flash overlay combined with the video.

Anyway, I’d argue that an “always on” behaviourally targeted and re-targeted advertising strategy is in fact an eCRM programme. The two really are about to become indistinguishable, so in addition to the current discussion about media and creative re-integrating, we need to think about pulling media and RM much closer. And this is why Google and Microsoft paid $3.1bn (£1.55bn) and $6bn (£3bn) for DoubleClick and aQuantive respectively in the space of a month.

These are big acquisitions: aQuantive represents 2% of Microsoft’s market value. But they’re potentially the key to the marcoms future.

However there’s a fine line that needs walking when it comes to our over-worked audience of business people. There’s increasing evidence to show that they’re weary of companies using data to target them using personalised means. The growing number of individuals registering with the Corporate Telephone Protection Scheme reflects this. And Google has kept its gmail contextual targeting facility very low key after getting roundly abused online for “reading” individuals’ e-mail.

There’s a way to go then, but with the issue of the UK being the most CCTV covered country getting hotter – even a Deputy Chief Constable voiced his concerns last week – we may find that the same tensions exist in the online environment. 

Damian Blackden is director of strategic marketing technologies for EMEA at Universal McCann

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