To this day, if you ask marketers to show you an example of their media flowchart for the year, they will almost undoubtedly show you a page that has a single line item on it for either "digital" or "online." That's akin to having a line item for "advertising" -- and if you think about it, underneath that single line item is a host of tactics that will achieve your objectives while living out their lives in a sea of anonymity. Would you want your efforts to go so unrecognized?
But seriously, the line item for online should certainly be broken out and integrated into the overall mix. There is an element of online that speaks directly to every other format of media and that is how it should be integrated into the mix. From a strategic perspective, it provides for interaction and engagement that cannot be found anywhere else.
For example, if marketers were evaluating TV, why wouldn't they consider online video as a support vehicle for that effort? For marketers looking at print, contextual display is a strong vehicle to look at in competition or support. If you're a marketer focused on direct mail or direct response TV, then in digital your corresponding tactics might be CPA display, eCRM or behavioral targeting and retargeting. These tactics are all proven very effective -- in many cases, more cost-effective than their traditional counterparts, so they deserve to broken out as a separate line.
Of course, there are also allocations to search and mobile and other digital components that do not have an offline counterpart, but they still deserve to be broken out separately because they're all unique in their tactical role, and the outcome of each is different.
When you bunch all of these tactics together as a single line, item you make it harder to explain their role, and marketers will not see the value. Search, for example, is a year-round effort that immediately drives interested parties to your product. Search is not typically a flighted effort because it always works, no matter what time of year. When a user searches for a product or service and you aren't there, you create a missed opportunity for your brand that translates to your possibly being excluded from the consideration set. Conversely, your competitors who are spending in this area are now in consideration, where they may not have been before.
The biggest line item that should be broken out, outside of search, is social media. At this point I think it would be hard to find a marketer that doesn't realize the value of social media (though I'm quite certain you can find a whole bunch who are not yet engaged for fear of the "lack of control" in that space). Social media requires allocation of budgets that are not necessarily paid media; they may include earned value and the establishment of presence. These elements may not be something that all media planners are used to seeing, so they don't know where to put it. Does it go into production? Does it go into PR? Does it break out as its own line item? I would vote for the latter, personally. My feeling is that any element that can be explained on its own two feet should be broken out.
I know that creating a media recommendation in today's economy is far more difficult than it was in the days of "Mad Men," but that complexity shouldn't be hidden under a single line item on a flowchart. The complexity should be explained so everyone can understand what all of the components actually are and how they work together.
Are your flowcharts still breaking out a sole line item for "online"?