back of a person standing in the middle of Times Square in NYC, looking up  at all the advertisements
PHOTO: Joshua Earle

Since mid-March, it feels like we’ve been reliving the same scorching summer day where everyone comments on how hot it is. Only instead of the weather, we're all using the same formula to discuss the state of any given software vertical. It goes like this:

  1. COVID-19 interfered with activities X, Y and Z in our industry.
  2. Therefore, there is more digitization.
  3. Obligatory comments about our “new normal.”

Yes, people are working remotely without face-to-face contact, paper or the ability to yell across cubicles. And yes, people who would normally venture into the world are cooped up at home. Point made, we get it.

When discussing a software vertical, such as digital asset management (DAM), there are other issues to consider besides COVID-19 and its impact. The challenges in DAM belong not just to marketers, creators and technologists but to everyone in the world who buys stuff. The most important trends shaping the DAM industry are, in my opinion, peak screen time, avoidance of marketing and declining trust.

These issues existed before COVID-19 and will continue to be afterwards. They shape how marketers must communicate if they want to be heard and believed. DAM technology, as a repository for the world’s marketing content, must evolve in response.

Peak Screen Time

Screen time has spread from TVs to computers and smartphones, expanding where marketers can find and connect with buyers. I think we’ve hit a true peak in how many hours people can spend with their devices, even though the bulk of commerce still occurs offline. I’ll use a few sources to illustrate: 

  • Screen time is tapped out. A survey by Vision Direct, an online seller of contacts, found that the average American spends 17 hours a day on screens (plus two extra hours since COVID-19 began). It is impossible to give more time to screens without sacrificing sleep, among other things. In total, the average American will spend 44 years in front of screens over their lifetime. There’s no room left for growth in screen time.
  • Ecommerce was growing and is now growing faster. Despite all this screen time, online spending accounted for only 16% of US retail sales according to Digital Commerce 360. The same survey also found that ecommerce sales grew 49% between April 1 and April 23 as compared with March 1 to 11, before the pandemic lockdowns began.
  • In-person commerce still starts online. A survey by Salesforce and Publicis Sapient found that 87% of shoppers begin their hunt for products online. Even if we don’t click “buy,” the web still shapes where we choose to shop, our understanding of competing goods, and what we’re willing to spend.

No matter what industry you’re in, whether it’s B2C or B2B, your customers are being conditioned to do everything online. It’s not just about buying a product. Learning to use the product is done online. Socializing with the user community takes place online. Customer service and support are online. Of course, the product or service itself might be digital.

DAM systems manage, distribute and analyze a lot of the marketing content that a person might encounter during those 17 hours of screen time. Increasingly, though, people are becoming more resistant to letting brands invade those hours.

Related Article: Online Ads Still Annoying Consumers

The Trust Factor

Now that we’ve reached peak screen time, the next “frontier” for many people is to eliminate marketing from those 17 hours. This, I believe, is an issue of trust.

Some 30% of all internet users have ad blockers. When the market research company GlobalWebIndex surveyed people who use ad blocking, they said their top motivations were:

  • There are too many ads (48%).
  • They are “annoying or irrelevant” (47%).
  • And they are “too intrusive” (44%).

Something deeper is going on here than mere overload or exasperation. In 2019, for instance, speculation arose that Netflix might introduce ads to grow revenue after US subscriptions fell slightly. Hub Research Entertainment estimated that subscriptions would fall by 23% if Netflix forced ads on its audience. Today, that would mean an astonishing 16.1 million Americans would forgo Netflix to avoid promotional content. What is it that bugs us so much about ads, even when they fund our entertainment?

Well, a study from 4As, an advertising trade association, concluded that just 4% of Americans think the marketing industry behaves with integrity. However, 74% of the respondents said they themselves practice integrity (social psychologists call this phenomenon “illusory superiority”). 

Let’s put this in context: nearly every institution besides the medical profession earned single-digit appraisals of integrity from these respondents. Advertising and marketing scored the worst, but Congress, Silicon Valley, cable news, the pharmaceutical industry and lawyers were all down there. Marketing, in other words, is not uniquely untrustworthy.

In fact, Pew Research Center finds that Americans have declining levels of trust in everything, including each other. Trust in elected officials and business leaders is especially low. Interestingly, people say they have a harder time telling what’s true or false on social media and TV versus in person.

Let’s thread this together. People spend 17 of their 24 daily hours consuming information in a medium where they struggle to differentiate true and false. For the most part, publishers on this medium can only afford to serve content by running ads from marketing organizations. Yet almost no one in America believes that marketers behave with integrity. One could not invent a better system for ensuring that people despise marketing.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

How DAM Can Make a Difference

If marketing technology contributed to the problems I highlighted above, can it solve them? These trends remind us that context is content. The tradition in marketing was to interject ads in channels that can attract a giant audience by providing entertainment or useful information. Now that people spend 17 hours a day on screens, perhaps that model of advertisement is breaking.

Screen time is not just for passive entertainment anymore. People work, socialize, learn and transact during those hours too. They don’t want to be chased by retargeting ads when they’re trying to focus.

This leads me to a few considerations about the state of DAM and its future:

1. DAM Users Need to Concentrate on the Point of Sale

People don’t want to be marketed at all hours of the day. In fact, they’ll pay to avoid that. People can be very clear when they intend to buy something. The searches they type into Google and the types of websites they visit can reveal a buying mindset. When marketers respond to intent — and focus on making product listings that are superbly accurate, captivating and rich in media — they reach people when there’s an appetite for marketing. DAM systems must focus more on supplying content near points of sale. DAM systems that add product information management (PIM) tools to form DAM+PIM solutions are leading that charge. 

Related Article: What Separates Intent Data Success From Underwhelming Results? Actionability

2. Visual Content Is Inherently More Trustworthy

Whatever marketers say or write is hard to trust. Photos and videos, however, are considered more credible. In fact, research from Performics’ Intent Lab, in partnership with Northwestern University’s journalism and media school, found that 59% of consumers think visual information is more important than textual information. Moreover, 60% find it more trustworthy than text. As the repository for visual content, DAM software is already positioned to organize and distribute the photos and videos consumers inherently trust. Marketers need to develop strategies that use fewer words but more visuals to make their point.

3. 'Get-to-the-Point' Marketing Might Be on the Rise

The lofty aspiration to provide “personalized experiences” might be what marketers want, but not what consumers actually demand. It seems that if you put rich media and accurate product information where buyers look for it, that’s enough. Just get to the point. Rather than invest in time-consuming, complex, textual media that no one enjoys (e.g., most corporate blog posts), marketers might just need to be direct. Here’s what we offer. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s why it’s superior to other options. Brands need to become less self-obsessed with their expression and more concerned with helping buyers find accurate, compelling information when they make decisions. Too much content in the wrong places can help people procrastinate and even talk themselves out of purchases.

Let DAM Be Your Engine of Trust

Seventeen hours on the screens is not an invitation for 17 hours of marketing. There needs to be more trust in inbound product content that respects a consumer’s ability to express what they want and find it online. People don’t necessarily interact with marketing content because they find it inherently engaging or interesting. Rather, they are dubious of what marketers say but still want to spend their money well in spite of that, and they’ll consult whatever information is available.

We long talked about DAM solutions as a “central source of truth” for the members of the marketing team. The next step is for marketers to make the content in that DAM system an engine of trust. It’s time to concentrate marketing in the context where and when it’s welcome. DAM platforms can and will help with that task.