Woe The Digital Sale: Translating From The Digital-ease

Question from a buyer: I work on digital advertising and have never done anything else. But more and more my counterparts in the agency are being tasked with learning about digital advertising. Some get it more than others, but I’m hoping you can help me to translate digital speak into traditional speak. Any tips?

Jason says: Why don't you ask me to do something easier, like explain what the heck "The Tree of Life" was about? The present task requires graduate-level, Jedi-trained, ninja-quality skills. Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place. For the past 15 years, I have been front and center for the necessary translation between traditional and digital-ease.

There were a few notorious examples of fellow salespeople in the traditional business telling me, “I’ll give away [for free] our Internet advertising to my clients every chance I get.” That sentiment was not unique in the 1990s and is exactly what made so many media companies build their digital divisions as completely separate groups from the traditional teams. If they had kept the teams together, “merchandising the digital currency” would have taken over, and new businesses could not have been established.

Once, when I was attempting to sell a few ambitious digital ideas to a potential client, the sales colleague who managed the relationship asked me, “Did the client ask you for this?” My reply was, “No, but this is valuable, fits their objectives, and I think it would be a good match. Let’s give it a try.” That was all the salesperson needed to hear in order to shut it down, explaining, “I’m not taking these www ideas to my client unless they asked us for it first. I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

It's a lot easier now, because the world is digital and everyone knows it is a necessity to survive in the marketing business. Nevertheless, here are a few quick tips to get you on the same page -- or rather, on the same Web page -- with traditional people:

1.     Speak slowly, clearly and without jargon. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms. When possible, show things on a live screen to illustrate your points.

2.     Relate what’s happening in digital by using a few key, easily definable words. For example, users = viewers and/or readers. Total uniques = monthly audience. Banners = ads. Pre-Roll = commercial, etc.

3.     Do not speak as if you are changing the world and digital advertising is the only thing that matters. It doesn’t help, and it’s not true.

4.     Have some respect for the old school. The advertising business was not invented with the Internet. We are merely stewards, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and caretakers for those who will follow. Put yourself in the other person's position, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If these ideas don't work, create a PowerPoint presentation with spewing lava and sad people walking aimlessly in fields. No one will be any closer to understanding digital, but you might get an Oscar nomination.

Amy says: Firstly, embrace this challenge.  The industry is at an interesting point in its development.  With the pending Facebook IPO, I would imagine there is going to be a renaissance of innovation funded by new venture capitalists.  Mobile, online video and social gaming growth has finally begun to accelerate.  The industry needs a couple of new game-changers to make things interesting.  There will be plenty of interesting news and industry events to make it easy to get your traditional counterparts excited about digital advertising.

Jason has given some great advice above about finding a common vocabulary and being respectful.  Since you’ve been in digital advertising only, take the opportunity to learn things about traditional media.  Then the interactions will be mutually beneficial and you will each be building your competencies cross-platform.  Having experience is one thing, but being able to talk the talk of media does a lot to increase your street cred -- and make you a rock star candidate in job interviews.

Focus on the commonalities of media from the macro perspective as well.  All media connects consumers with brands, and the basic currency is impressions.  After a few calculations, the media math will begin to make sense -- and then what used to be education will become collaboration.

Still having trouble? Maybe you were destined merely to take home a Golden Globe.

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1 comment about "Woe The Digital Sale: Translating From The Digital-ease".
  1. Brian Quinn from Triad Retail Media , March 29, 2012 at 11:54 a.m.
    I too was confused by the Tree of Life. Jason... great suggestions. One other tip...there is nothing better for a seller than to be considered an information source for a buyer. When I was at WSJ an agency person called us when they got a new financial client... "help me understand ETFs". These "not selling" situations will ultimately help you sell a ton.