18 October 2011

100 Marketers in Search of Integration

Digital marketers are ready to help drive marketing integration.

That was a common theme at Peer Summit Chicago, a gathering of about 100 marketing professionals seeking to improve on what they do by hearing from and sharing with their peers. It was organized by Econsultancy, a London-based firm that counsels clients on media and marketing with an emphasis on digital issues. They also publish a lot of research, often working with partners like Adobe and Google, who also co-sponsored the event. You can read about Econsultancy here and Peer Summit here.

My role was to moderate three discussions on “Integrating Digital Marketing,” each time with about eight marketers, while a dozen or so other tables were discussing other topics like Mobile Commerce and Email Marketing. We talked openly, under the Chatham House Rule, so I’ll only report some general things, not for attribution.

“Digital” vs. “Traditional”

Across the three roundtable discussions we had a good mix of seniority, expertise, and industry. E-commerce directors for insurance and for heavy machinery, manager of all creative materials for a financial services giant, director of digital marketing for a risk management company, and a book publishing executive responsible for digital marketing including product development for all her company’s e-books. Apparently if you’re a digital specialist they give you all things digital.

And that was exactly the problem. Every single digital marketer felt siloed in their specialty. Almost all of them either envied or resented their “traditional” or “offline” counterparts because they get more budget and more attention. When one of the speakers said “TV is the only non-discretionary marketing expense” they all nodded. No one argued the point.

Four Ways Digital Marketers Can Break Down Silos

So how do you break down the silos? Here were just some of the things the digital marketers said they would put into practice back at their offices.

The solutions lie in People more than Process. There’s no benefit in trying to force collaboration via some IMC process mechanism. Instead, there was a huge perceived opportunity in simply building alliances with like minds in other disciplines, even/especially “traditional” marketers. It seems like simple advice – “just open the door at the base of the silo” – but few had tried it.

Consumer knowledge rules. In a bit of self-criticism, most participants admitted they didn’t know their own consumers, customers or end-users very well. Instead, they wind up serving only their internal customers such as a project manager or “traditional” marketer, putting themselves at a disadvantage. Each of them needed to change that; it’s axiomatic that any kind of marketer needs to understand their consumer. There are two opportunities for digital marketers. One is to simply do their own homework on consumers because most marketers don’t. The second is to use digital’s own tools to get close to the consumer, either by research or simply as a listening post.

Digital has an opportunity to lead via Knowledge Management. Consumer product marketers were keen to hear about the Knowledge Management function in many consulting firms. “You mean there people whose full-time jobs are to organize, store and retrieve the company’s knowledge base?” I cautioned the group that Knowledge Management, done well, winds up being the full-time job of a lot of people. Nevertheless, digital specialists have the tools to champion the cause in their organizations, thus getting them out of their silo.

Share your specialty. Digital marketers sometimes forget that “traditional” marketers are mystified, even intimidated, by SEM, SEO, Demand Side Platforms, HTML5, etc. A great starting point is to teach others about what you do, so they can see the value and the utility of digital media.

There were some other discussion points, but these were the main ones. It was clear, at least from three roundtable discussions, that digital still lives in a silo, dangerously underutilized. Hopefully we sent forth some evangelists for integration.

17 October 2011

The Role of Creative Production

Exploding Growth in Media Formats Puts More Demand on Creative Production

It’s a cruel quirk of advertising lingo when financial terms creep into normal business practices and hijack their identity.

One such example is “below the line.” In the days of Ye Olde Marketing most agency invoices were simple calculations of a 15% commission. An accountant, faced with expenses that had to be billed as one-time fees, drew a line on the invoices and listed the non-commissionable items below it. The commission structure hardly exists anymore, but the important work of Digital and Promotion gets stuck with a moniker that connotes second-class status.

Production: "Non-Working?"

In a similar way, Media and Production expenses are defined on some budget documents as “Working” and “Non-Working.” Production is said to be “Non-Working.” More than a few agency producers have complained about this term, especially in an era of tight budgets. Anything called “Non-Working” is just begging to be reduced.

At the very same time in history that Production budgets are squeezed, its role is more important than ever. As a colleague succinctly put it the other day: Exploding growth in media formats puts more demand on creative production.

Production costs were predictable in the past. Each discipline, be it Advertising, Promotion or Direct Marketing, knew what kind of programs they could expect to do. The biggest variable was a higher cost for a more elaborate TV commercial, in-store display or mailer.

Two Kinds of Complexity

In modern times you see two kinds of added complexity. One is that there are many new channels of communication, or as my colleague put it, “media formats.” As we’ve posted before, even “TV” isn’t that simple because it entails various online versions on top of the standard broadcast :30.

The second kind of complexity is that if we truly start a project with a channel-neutral or media-neutral approach, we won’t know ahead of time what mix of old and new formats we’ll be producing.

How to Cope with Exploding Growth in Media Formats

Here are a couple of suggestions on how to cope with this new dynamic.

Consistent Brand Voice. If your brand reinvents itself every year or every quarter, you not only risk confusing your consumer, you make creative production less efficient. Even the most routine IMC program these days has many moving parts across Advertising, Retail and Digital. A consistent approach will make it easier to produce things on the fly. To be clear, the goal is not cookie-cutter creative, it’s running a tight strategic ship.

Plan ahead. A digital agency creative director joked to me once that IMC stands for “I already Made the Commercial.” Too often, TV artificially drives the process. Instead, use to your advantage the long lead times demanded by retailers. A good client-agency partnership will plan one year ahead of time for best synchronization of efforts.

Media neutral production. Starting a project with a consistent brand voice and one year of lead time is useless if you then just assign production silo by silo. How can the various specialists help one another? At some point each one has to tend to her own work, but starting everyone from the same place makes it easier to synchronize.

Be a cost-control maniac. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: That’s why God created Procurement. As marketers, however, we have a responsibility to deliver great work at a reasonable budget. Challenge yourself and your colleagues to find new ways to save money. (At some point in the near future we’ll elaborate on this point.)

Any other experiences, suggestions or questions?

14 October 2011

Disintermediation II

My presentation to BOLO 2011 is available on SlideShare. Click here to read or download it. The topic was "Disintermediation," or "cutting out the middleman." The presentation defines what it is -- and what it's not -- with some suggestions on how to prevent it. You may also want to read "Disintermediation," my post from last November.

13 October 2011

Small is Beautiful

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – The most exciting places in the agency world have less than 50 employees.

That was my strong takeaway from BOLO 2011, held here on Monday and Tuesday.

BOLO, a conference for the principals of small and midsize agencies, featured Scott Stratten (UnMarketing), Ron Baker (Pricing on Purpose), and Jay Baer (The NOW Revolution). It's run by Agencyside, a consultancy that helps nimble agencies stay competitive.

Here are some of my observations from BOLO:

Small is beautiful. While large agencies struggle with structure and duck their overhead, this group gets down to business pretty quickly. Yes, it's a challenge to make payroll and keep clients happy, but necessity is the mother of invention. There’s less time and effort wasted. Plus, learning travels faster when it can be shared across a tight team.

Technology is part of the culture. BOLO is focused on tech-driven media, so the attendees came ready to learn. But they also had lots to say. I was blown away by the work being done, and the willingness to experiment with technology. There was only a little bit of theory – and lots of practice. More than a few have contributed to TED.

Community is real. "Social Media" starts with the word "social" and that's clear to this group. The way they use SoMe to build business relationships rivals how they use it on behalf of their clients. This week I made a ton of new friends (look for some great #FF recommendations in my Twitter feed tomorrow). In addition, they contribute to their communities. One example was The League of Innovators, a “creative club” allowing local brains to bring ideas to life.

Talent is diverse. Big agencies have a (deserved) reputation for hiring the types of people they already have. The people I met this week included tech entrepreneurs, TV producers, and of course statisticians. Entering the agency world did not kill anyone’s curiosity; everyone was hungry to learn more. (“BOLO” stands for “Be On the Look Out.” I love that.)

I’m hoping to be there next year and recommend the same to you.

10 October 2011

Awesome Social Media

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – In this post I’m going to try and spread some awesome.

Not my own writing, but the great thoughts of Scott Stratten, the charmingly Canadian author of UnMarketing. Here were some of my favorite takeaways from his keynote address at the BOLO conference here.*

People spread Awesome – not Normal

This is a much pithier and more practical way to say that content is king (three overused words quickly losing meaning). If you’re going to post something on behalf of yourself, your company or your client, make it something awesome. Obvious advice? Sure, but do we always live by this principle?

Social Media ROI is Irrelevant

Stratten is equal parts insightful, funny and sarcastic and on this point those traits yielded an eloquent rant. In a more summarized way he made two points. (1) Social Media is really a form of Customer Relations. (2) Asking the ROI of Social Media is like asking the ROI of Customer Relations.

Brand Equity = Brand Reality

We’ve all discussed brand equity and written grand plans to describe what it should be. Stratten defines brand equity as what consumers think your brand is, not what you intend them to think it is. He told a wonderful story about how the Sous Chef at a Hilton did more for brand equity than any marketing plan.

Pick your Social Media Platform

With this last point comes practical advice and a personal aside.

Stratten pointed out that some marketers have avoided Social Media, partly due to the mind-boggling multiplicity of options. What should I use or recommend to my client? Facebook? Twitter? His advice: Just pick one and get some experience so you can figure out how Social Media works. It’s sound advice, and a path I’ve followed as well, first with Twitter in 2007 and then with Ad Majorem two years ago.

The personal aside concerns my close friend and Phoenix-area lawyer, Steve Adelman, an expert in venue safety and security. If that topic interests you, then read about him here on his website. You can also visit his Facebook page, though I’d always wondered why he had one. We got together this evening and I learned that he, too, was doubting whether Facebook was right for his wildly successful law practice. He gets a much better result from SEO and from an email newsletter.

Did he make a mistake? No. He experimented. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, there’s everything right with it. The same applies to all of us. You can start by making a comment in the space below.

* Today and tomorrow I’m at the BOLO conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, a gathering of 200 leaders of small and midsize agencies. BOLO is run by Agencyside, a consultancy that helps these agencies stay competitive. I’ll be speaking here tomorrow.