Do We Care About Commoditization?
On article pages, in classrooms and on stages everywhere, you can find plenty of marketing guidance tied to a single letter of the alphabet. Pick your letter. The four Ps; the five Ps; the four or five Cs: pricing, product, place, participation, content, community, consumer, creative and on and on. These lists are constantly reconfigured, renumbered and ordered for emphasis. I'd like to focus on just two. These two are on the list called: "Things We Say We Care About."
There are two particular Cs that I'm not sure as an industry we entirely get. No matter how often we flail the platitudes, our actions belie our words all day long. The first one is Creative. Most of us acknowledge that the days when the big creative idea leads, and media follows - are gone. At the same time, most of us also acknowledge that media did not simply take creative's place as the lead; we righteously assert that cooperation between the two is required. Sure, there are the media-biased among us who would argue from their vantage point that media strategy sets the initial stage and creative follows suit.
But, as we've grown up a bit, it's commonly accepted point of view -- in industry circles, at agencies -- that media and creative must work equally as hard to deliver on objectives and build toward ultimate achievement. We supposedly buy into the duality. Yet, we do or don't do any number of the following things, thus, standing in our own way:
- We don't organize our agencies to maximize the relationship between media and creative, early in the discovery process.
- We don't institutionalize the application of iterative learning and data analysis to course-correct our creative; we instead focus on fiddling with, re-allocating or tuning the media.
- We don't invest in the right systems to automate the levels of creative optimization (ad, landing pages, messaging) that can and should be automated.
Speaking of "can and should be automated," this brings me to the other C: Commoditization. We say we care an awful lot about this one. The current hilt of automation within our planning and buying environment makes commoditization a day-to-day reality. I have seen really great, differentiated, independent agencies dim their strategic capability and divest from their creative resourcing in order to become more and more mechanical, at scale. Sure, as we beef up our systems, our automation tools, we are proudly able to "transact" more and more on behalf of our clients. This may be "on plan" for the big guys and holding companies. But how can the small to mid-size independent expect to keep up and compete, playing this game? If you eschew the need to differentiate and simply focus on the mechanics, without the ability to scale - you are not long for this world.
We talk about commoditization in passing - but don't realize how very real the threat is. What is the threat? You become interchangeable with other like resources and partners - replaceable. And you certainly are now more "resource" than partner. Not a good place to be, if you think about yourself as being in it for the long haul, with your clients and with your own business. Who wants to keep recycling their client base? That recycling has an operational and human cost.
On the publisher side, the same sort of zoned-out conversation about commoditization persists. We talk about it as a factor but don't really deal with the real risk as we plan for the long term. Do we really care if we are commoditized? The more I talk to folks -- zealous on the new mechanics of buying and selling media -- it seems only a very light concern. As buyer/seller relationships constantly recycle in this new marketplace reality - we seem collectively less concerned about sustaining together for the long-term. It's as though we've all let go of the quest for Mr. Right: finding him OR being him. We are A-OK being Mr. Right Now.