Meet Dr. Patrick Dixon, one of 20 of the most influential business thinkers alive (according to a survey in The Times). Chairman of trends forecasting company Global Change Ltd and founder of the international charity ACET – tackling the stigma of AIDS – Dixon is a renowned optimist about the capacity of human innovation to solve complex challenges. As the keynote speaker for MediaMind’s Digital Experience Days, you can expect a hugely motivating keynote charting macro-trends in consumer shifts that will take us beyond behavior into identifying the global opportunities for multi-channel marketing.
What is a futurist and how did you become one?
That is a good question. I didn’t realize I was one until they put it on the screen at a CNN interview…
Actually, all of us are futurists. Every leader has to think about the future because you can’t lead without vision. I have written 15 books on a wide range of topics, all to do with the future. (Latest books include SustainAgility and Futurewise.) All of the books are about the future and helping us to develop strategies for future growth.
What is the primary change you foresee in digital advertising?
I think you can summarize it as a shift from mass market to customized advertising. And while people have been talking about that trend for the last decade, we are now seeing a really big shift in a short space of time. For example, in the ‘old’ days, you would have a mass market campaign full of hype/how fantastic our product is. Then along comes social media, which reveals truth. Social media sites are getting much more attention by consumers than the official sites of companies that drive campaigns. So we are going from mass market to customization. And there is a big shift from hype to information to revelation. Customers are not to be blasted at.
So advertisers now need to ask themselves, “How can we get the precise information to the customer? How can we reveal the extraordinary truth? How can we surprise the customer with facts about the product?” It is about discovery and education rather than mass marketing. A shift away from invasive advertising. Invasive advertising interrupts you when you are surfing – it gets in the way of what you are doing, especially on TV. People are now resistant to that. That is why email and SMS are so popular. Phone calls are so last century. Young people prefer social networks because they don’t interrupt. But marketers have traditionally spent their lives interrupting. They look increasingly ‘last century’ – the idea of taking a break for advertising is suddenly offensive. It is a model that is out of step with the digital age. In the digital age, people are not going to take a break for the advertiser.
We need to understand what the customer is doing right now. In order to be customized, you need to understand the customer – not just what they are doing, but how many things are doing. We have a fantasy that our customer is watching our banner ad – he is also on the beach, on vacation, his wife is talking to him and he has a kindle in his hand trying to read a book. We need to understand the context of the small banner ad in his world. You can see how far away that is from traditional marketing campaigns. So we need to ask, “How can I get inside the mind of the individual?” Probably not using a big TV ad. However, you may get there a very clever message, which is on their mobile, which happens to relate to the things they were looking at earlier.
We are entering a very exciting world.
Is it about divergence or convergence?
It is not about convergence. It’s an integrated world. We think of converging technologies, but what I am talking about is marketers catching up with the integrated lives that our customers actually lead. It is a holistic view of how that customer is. We need to be constantly reinterpreting the universe of the customer.
What impact will this change have on the consumer?
I hope advertising will become less irritating. It should be subtle, reliable, appropriate, and sensitive. Brands whose campaigns aren’t like that will lose to the competition.
Tell us about your efforts to use Media to Stop AIDS. How did it start and how can I help?
I was first confronted with the AIDS epidemic in 1987 as a practicing physician. People were dying in my own country due to bad attitudes. I also became aware of the devastation in Africa. I started ACET – AIDS Care Education and Training – which now has programs in over 20 countries providing compassionate care to those who need it and are often in terrible situations. I don’t know any other diagnosis where people are killed because of a label on their medical records.
We have also been involved heavily in prevention, which is obviously the answer. In most parts of the world, the rate of new infection is falling. Over 30 million people are living with HIV and there are 7,500 new cases every day, mainly in the poorest nations and amongst the most vulnerable.
We are seeing a tremendous response and in the 23 years since we have been working, we have seen a transformation, which is very encouraging. It is about getting out the message. Mass market campaigns are not effective. It is all about customizing the message to the class of high school students, to the village.
Media is at the heart of saving lives.