I am writing this from my seat at the back of a 50-plus-year-old plane heading from Bogota, Colombia to Cartagena. The pilot has spent the last 20 minutes shouting in Spanish and turning the fasten seat belt sign on and off. Every five minutes the engines go silent for what feels like an eternity, the plane begins to shake wildly, and then at the last minute, the engines roar back to life.
I would give anything to be safely on the ground right now, and I am seriously regretting having chosen to learn German rather than Spanish in high school.
In an effort to keep my mind off the idea of crashing into the FARC terrorist-laden jungles we are currently flying over, I would like to use this opportunity to talk about something I have been really concerned about lately: purpose.
Don't worry. This is not the start of a dialogue that ends with us holding hands and sitting in a circle, or naked in the forest covered with finger paint. Rest assured, I eat copious amounts of red meat, avoid yoga, do not own Birkenstocks, and have never, ever, listened to John Tesh.
I am talking about our industry's purpose: If, and why, we matter.
Like most of you, I prefer to think that I walk into the office each day to do something more than just make money and pass the time.
This discomfort with our industry's impact on the world lead me to ask several questions: How do we make the world better? How could we make a bigger difference? Most important, how do we ensure thatwhen we die, our tombstone doesn't read, "He handled a lot of insertion orders."
Our challenge of identifying a purpose is compounded because of the near-universal perception among consumers that advertising is annoying.
It does not have to be that way. Here are three things we can do to get on the right side of meaningful:
1. Stop fighting over user data. We need to stop sitting on industry panels and regurgitating the tired debate about who owns the data. If we do not come up with a consistent answer for this that clearly benefits the consumer and addresses privacy concerns, we are going to be regulated into oblivion. The user owns the data; case closed. Now we need to figure out how to give the user control.
2. Remember the user (experience). In the rush to plaster ads all over our pages, we seem to forget who we are delivering these ads to, and why. Study after study has shown that less ads produce a better result for both users and advertisers, yet we continue to inundate our pages with ads. If every conversation about ad placements began with a conversation about user experience, we would be much better off. It is really simple: click-through rates are so low because we have failed to deliver something the user wants to click on.
3. Put serious energy into optimization. While there is lip service paid to optimization, the reality is that today's optimization abilities are akin to voice recognition in the 1980s. It might impress your friends, but it doesn't actually get the job done. By optimization, I mean the ability to understand a user's needs at a given moment and fulfill those needs by delivering a relevant and useful ad. We need to apply large amounts of dollars, scientists, and research to this problem.
These three changes are clearly not a silver bullet, but rather steps in the right direction. We need the artists, the designers, the technologists, the scientists, and the entrepreneurs to push the thinking farther.
Most important, we need to elevate the collective debate and talk about how to deliver an iPhone-like user experience to users and advertisers -- to deliver a product that users want to click on.
What do you think would make our industry more meaningful? Please share in the comments below.