The Next Small Thing

During the most spirited of times, we encourage each other to think big, go big or go home. And to a certain extent, even when spirits are dampened, we still keep a lookout for something big: for a groundbreaking answer, idea, invention, application or trend taking hold. In our media and technology realm, in no particular order, pick your telltale: behavioral targeting coming of age; meaningful monetization of multi-media; in-game advertising; Kindle; Google Reader; Facebook Connect; the new agency model; would-be Google Killers; iPhone ubiquity.

Whether we are a part of or influenced by it, it's always the "big" thing that we expect to change the game. But, as we navigate these times, check our footing and drive on, there is a certain wisdom to the small things. Not just knowing and appreciating them, but really spending some time on them.

It's refreshing to look in from the horizon and consider the most immediate aspects of your business reality: vision, team, course, proof of progress, core business, definitions and approach. The evaluation does not have to be surgical to make a difference. Small, purposeful measures can be huge. Think about these:



1. Pausing for true eye contact: Often when we are succeeding reasonably well with our teammates or partners, and those successes on the surface outweigh any dissonance or disconnects, we assume all is in alignment. Sometimes, though, all it takes is one of those pronounced successes falling away to reveal a business' identity crisis. It seems obvious, but there is value to looking each other in the eye and verifying vision and business direction from time to time. If you've ever had the experience of the clarified go/no-go following one of these eye-locks -- you know the value.

2. Remembering metrics have shelf life: From the agency point of view, we see this all the time: metrics falling out of tune with objectives. We are often resetting a client, before we even get started. And, that's invaluable groundwork that everyone appreciates.

But it should not stop there. Metrics can dilute over time. On top of the fact that our business is evolving -- so are the tools set and landscape for analyzing it. The environment for measurement and analysis is maturing. The small step of checking in with our metrics, and what we actually are measuring, quarter by quarter, keeps a plan tuned.

3. Enhancing the core, step by step: During these times, you hear a lot of, "We are refocusing on our core business" or, "We're slowing down growth beyond the core." Depending on what the core is, there's  an undeniable value in minding your business and building off your roots. But most of us would argue that if you know directionally how you expect to evolve, strategic boosting of that core will pay off.

Perhaps this boosting means upgrading your tracking and analytics solution to measure more deeply what you do; perhaps it's integrating digital devices to data-capture at events; perhaps it's introducing a new channel or a new methodology to a media or marketing mix that's been reasonably diverse but staid for a while. With the right incremental, small steps, flash-forward and your core has matured without getting ahead of itself.

4. Fleshing out the interpretation of something eluding you: Social media comes to mind. You are an integrated marketer. You've played across the mix. But, because you're never really sure what all this entails, you've left it on the shelf. You're not even sure you should call it "social media" anymore -- and in fact, you probably shouldn't. You've heard rumors about brand advocates, characters and story-telling. It sounds a bit theatrical -- maybe something you might have a trendy intern handle.

But what if you took the time to really delve into the state of the market, checking out players, definitions, strategies and platforms, as well as participating in the conversation. The resulting timely take on what's possible would serve you well. In a lively and maturing marketplace, truly effective strategies can become relegated to nomenclature, if you don't jump in and spend even a little bit of time getting acquainted.

We keep our eye on the big picture and mind our course, still enthralled by the big stuff. Yet I am often reminded that the combined effects of small and very strategic measures have a lot to do with the steadying of our course. And, steady does not have to be slow to win the race.

1 comment about "The Next Small Thing".
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  1. Richard Monihan, May 11, 2009 at 1:22 p.m.

    All media is social. Either because we watch it with others, share it with others, or talk about what we saw with others.
    The concept that "social media" is somehow different from other forms of media because it's user generated and concerning our lives directly is just misdirection. The reason it gets differentiated is because the quality is going to sometimes be questionable in terms of content, or in terms of environment.

    Small ideas or small things often have a larger impact than we realize, and are often more far reaching than we'd assume. They also come with a considerably lower cost. The problem with the small idea is that it requires pinpoint focus, and in the case of managing media, alot more back office work. It would make sense, for example, to spend a larger portion of an ad budget on small, highly targeted sites which usually come with much lower CPMs associated with them.

    However, managing a purchase on 50 tiny sites is much more difficult than buying 3 huge sites which have a CPM that is 3 times larger. The huge sites can give "added value" and other extras which give the impression of value that offsets higher CPMs. This is used to justify the direction of the buy, and we wind up back where we started from with other media - looking for "reach". There is no reason to assume reach is a good thing online...but it's an assumption that is readily made, and a perception that is continually used because we are enamored of BIG things....that somehow BIG is inherently better.

    The Carboniferous Era featured alot of really big plants and animals, too, but they didn't seem to make it.

    Smaller can be better - offering specialization, flexibility, and environment - for the discerning marketer and advertiser. But it's unlikely the focus will shift this way, even in the current economic times.

    It's natural for people to seek "value". And "value" seems to come hand in hand with bigger things. Because we rarely assign value to quality or environment. These are subjective things, and as a result most people tend to overlook them. How many high-end restaurants offer "Value Meals" like the fast food chains? But the fast food chains make far more money...because they offer "value".

    Good strategies will always fall victim to the bottom line. I'd love to buy all organic food....but it's just too expensive. I'd love to have a solar panel or a wind generator on my house...but they are not cost-efficient. Great ideas, but in the end I'm still putting my money where I can get the most for every dollar. Or where I PERCEIVE I am getting the most, in some cases.

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