India’s digital revolution is one of huge numbers. With 566 million internet users, 337 million smartphones and 294-million strong social media users, it’s no surprise digital advertising is experiencing considerable growth; set to be worth Rs. 24,920 crore by 2021.

But by focusing on large gains and quick sales, digital ad campaigns are frequently missing the mark. Content is key for modern marketing success: consumers want high-quality, streamlined, personal experiences.

Brands need to re-focus their efforts around consumer needs, ensuring content is both relevant and valuable at every stage of the funnel. Essential to achieving that is an understanding of what audiences actually want.

Fit for purpose formats

Convenience is vital for today’s consumers. They want content to flow easily when moving between digital environments, but experience often falls below expectations; particularly on mobile. Despite India’s strong preference for mobile browsing — a popular method of access for 97% of users — ad blocking is high. Across Asia Pacific almost two-fifths (38%) of mobile users block ads, and in India, 51% of consumers use blockers on any device – mobile included.

Blocking motivations boil down to one major cause: mobile ads aren’t well adapted to their context. Data use, slow page load times and taking up too much screen space are cited as the leading reasons for opting to block, making it clear a significant change is needed.

At minimum, formats should be environmentally friendly; there is no room for ads that take over small screens and deplete data allowances, such as interstitials and generic banners. To maximise effectiveness, content should be tailored to fit mobile habits. For example, given the vast appetite for social media and apps — with 1.2 million downloads last year — rapid scrolling is a core element of mobile behaviour. As a result, marketers must adopt ads that better match their surroundings and allow individuals to engage voluntarily, such as custom native ads that mirror editorial, in-feed units, and targeted paid search.

Relevance before revenue

The industry is still not addressing the issue of ad quality and the tendency to use types that cause irritation remains. Nearly half (47%) of consumers block ads because they are irritating and irrelevant, while 28% are frustrated by formats that prevent them from accessing content, such as pre-roll video formats. It’s not hard to see why this hurdle hasn’t been overcome. Many of the formats that seize consumer attention and fuel clicks — whether accidental or not — are also those which consumers find most obtrusive, especially pop-up ads. If marketers want to engage audiences, they must re-balance their priorities: tipping the scale away from purely high-revenue formats and towards consumer-first creative.

While there is no one-size-fits-all method for unique needs and tastes, there are two factors marketers should bear in mind. Not only must ads be non-intrusive — telling intriguing stories without interrupting activity — but they should also align with consumer progress along the purchase funnel. For example, mobile consumers at the start of their journey are likely to respond positively to a short-form video story that introduces the brand, whereas desktop users close to buying may appreciate natively suggested links to product reviews.

Responsible data handling

India is among the world’s most trusting countries; with an overall ranking of 72 in the latest Edelmen Trust Barometer. Yet there is one area where consumers are increasingly wary: data privacy. Following multiple headline breaches and rising demand for better security, this year will see India’s Data Protection Bill come into force; joining the EU’s GDPR, as well as Singapore’s data act and fake news law. From a marketing perspective, the effect of these regulations goes beyond tighter scrutiny and a likely reduction of supply as more individuals opt out. Consumers are more aware of data use and base their buying decisions on how well their information is handled; 48% have taken their business elsewhere due to a breach.

To retain consumer confidence and consent, brands must prove they are trustworthy. Those who already have permission to access data should apply it responsibly and wisely: demonstrating the benefits of data sharing by using insight to deliver genuinely valuable and useful messages or offers. Marketers still seeking consent need to work on building their reputation by mastering non-personalised tailoring. For instance, matching ads with the topics and themes of the publication’s content will add relevance and impact performance, and can help to earn consumer trust and even consent.

Shaping experiences around consumers might be the underlying principle of marketing, but reality doesn’t always reflect this ideal. Too often, failure to understand what works for consumers — and what doesn’t — means digital marketing falls flat, especially if profits are ranked above true engagement. If marketers want to optimise campaign results and drive high-quality traffic, they must put consumers back at the centre of their campaigns. Doing so effectively not only means cutting down on the bad – including generic and screen-obscuring ads – but also paying more attention to the elements that make experience exceptional. By delivering ads that align with individual interests, positioned in the path to purchase brands can offer real value, which wins consumer faith and long-term custom.