Sweating Our Options:The Life And Times Of Media Mix
On many personal and professional levels, we in the media business remember every step of the celebrated rise of the Internet in the early part of the century. Starting in 1993, I was in the Bay Area, where I would remain for 11 years, covering and then working within or running media and technology enterprises. Moving from print to online publishing and then to the agency side, I certainly reveled in the "color" of my own ride. It was an amazing experience that flavored my career, social fabric, and economic world view. These were formative years across the board. And, when it came to our media agency initiatives, they were getting evermore interesting, as interactive platforms advanced. There was an ethos of testing and learning with new media and emerging methods. This extended moment in time essentially became the foundation from which we would later essentially re-spring.
As recession hits, we remember the decline -- as our involvements softened, clients were ousted for earnings, staffs reduced, doors closed, budgets tightened. The honest view reminds us that many converging sectors were impacted in this economy. This was not just a dot-com nightmare. It was broad and deep and rife in dependencies. But, while technology, publishing, media and venture capital all interplayed in that region and others, the dot-com habitat out West drove a certain skew to the view.
As friends and I watched things around us fold into themselves, reports published in the Wall Street Journal announced that in the Bay Area alone, 80% of the surviving Internet companies would fail. These reports were controversial but provided insight into the scale of the situation, nonetheless. Also noting that 170,000 jobs had been created between 1996 and 2000 - analysts tagged San Francisco as above the trend in layoffs, with 65,000 dot-com employees getting served up the pink from February 2000 to February 2001. Others reported that in context (dot-commers were not the only folks losing their jobs), "Internet Economy Firms" accounted for about 30% of all layoffs. Things continued to worsen through the summer and fall. We remember it well.
The Comeback that Begot Digital
Those who know me know that despite my closeness to the flame or hard facts of any situation - I'm focused on core positivity and movement. Even if there is a huge frown on my face. Thus, I had committed to staying in the region, contributing and seeing where things would go. So, it is the remembrance of comeback that exhilarates me, even today.
As things started to revive and budgets started to percolate, it was the emergence of serious search, SEM, that played like an out-of-the-ashes revival. An answer to the question of measurability, performance, accountability, search was hailed by marketers and agencies. In fact, for many, including me, it was a catalyst for new businesses, ventures -- inspiring the heart for jumping so totally back into the game.
Specifically, Safa Rashtchy, U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray's Senior Research Analyst, Internet Media and Marketing, in his 2003 report "The Golden Search" said, "The search market has become the Holy Grail of Internet advertising and continues to grow faster than our expectations. We believe search is actually gaining some market share from other types of online marketing. Our initial estimate of $7 billion by 2007 is most likely to be too conservative and we believe that we are still at the early stages of an expanding and large market."
Key findings from this 2003 report included the following:
- The online search industry represented a major growth market, growing at a compounded rate of 35% annually. The key driver of growth was the increased popularity of search as the most efficient way to find products and information, and simultaneously the rise of search as the best way for advertisers to find and acquire customers.
- At the time, there were more than 550 million global searches performed daily on the Web. Internet users in the United States alone performed about 245 million searches per day.
- Because of the potency and high ROI of search, online merchandisers and businesses were likely to use it more, at least in the 20% to 30% range of their marketing budgets, as a customer acquisition vehicle.
It is that last point that was the crux of the turn. Capitalizing on a marketplace that literally exchanged on consumer demand was a pretty good bet, if you did it well. Search was performance marketing at its best.
Where We Once Split One Hair - Now There Are Many Hairs
So, today, I find it extremely interesting to look at the comparisons of that time and the comparisons of today. At the juncture I am describing -- around 2003 and beyond -- search was extolled over straight display; performance emphasized over branding metrics online. One or the other. Or -- email joined the mix. But, still, that was kind of it.
Gradually, upon revival, with the next evolution of eCRM, diversified digital methodology, and the growing up of social media, we got into a much more integrated space leading us to where we are today. Not only were we integrating -- or trying to integrate -- within the broader media mix, we were integrating our digital. And, now, we certainly are. There is no question. Serious marketers are using a blend of media and method to leverage any given marketing plan and go after both brand and performance metrics at once. And digital really takes that to town.
Today, as a whole set of digital platforms have reached a greater state of maturity - the media consideration amid economic change is quite different. The banter is no longer about "display vs. search" but about fine lines between types and factions of emerging media. In the weeds, we scrape a fine-tooth comb through our arguments and our stats. There are granular reviews and bar graphs on the prevalence of widgets, video, mobile, pointing to the flatness of display. In the blogosphere this week, search media again is being lauded. This should be no surprise. Come on, it's always been good stuff.
But, just as reports vary, so does the popularity and opinion meter around media options go haywire.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that adoption of particular emerging technologies is starting to wane during these trying economic times: "In recent years, marketers have set aside a portion of their ad budgets to experiment with digital technologies such as Web video, mobile phones, gaming and virtual worlds. But with broader economic turmoil reaching Madison Avenue, these 'experimental' budgets are among the first to hit the cutting-room floor... Areas like mobile, virtual worlds and widgets are expected to be hit particularly hard, as it remains unclear what kind of impact ads in these media have."
I would say rightly put, but there's a light at the end of the same article: "PepsiCo says emerging media remains an important way to engage today's consumers. 'The market is not going to drive us to miss one of the largest opportunities that we've had in a long time,' says Bonin Bough, director of digital and social media at Pepsi."
Next up, released earlier this week, on a more uniformly upbeat note, "the Myers Advertising and Marketing Investment Forecast (www.jackmyers.com) projects these emerging categories of video/social networks/widgets advertising will grow almost tenfold from only $425 million in 2007 to nearly $4.0 billion in 2010. Online video advertising is the fastest growing sector of the media business, with well-established traditional brands proactively integrating video players into their sites and developing custom video content. While pre and post-roll advertising continues to dominate, and many advertisers still rely on outmoded 30-second TV commercials, new models are emerging that assure online video will redefine the ad viewing experience in a more viewer-friendly format. Both shorter form video advertising and well as long-form branded content are slowly emerging as the most effective creative applications for online video. These creative developments are also driving growth opportunities for television on-demand opportunities such as TiVo and to cinema and digital out-of-home advertising."
So, while the very tone of the reporting, both the dire and the upbeat, suggests that choices are driven by economic factors. I think it is fascinating how granular the conversation has become. These shifts are not in themselves a negative. If nothing else, they support integrated approaches. The robustness of today's platforms and our array of media options bode well for integrated marketing and specifically, integrated digital.
If you are tuned to your client or brand marketplace, economic factors and business and marketing objectives, then you should remember smart marketing always rebalances the marketing mix. No mix should be fixed -- at least not in the real world.