Endangered Species Watch: Experts

The endangered gray wolves in Idaho got a new lease on life this month, when a federal judge ruled that they be offered the same protection as their "need a license to kill" counterparts in Wyoming. But there's another species on the endangered list that the kind-hearted judge might not be able to rescue: experts in the online advertising industry.

We have our fair share of experts in the advertising space: Broadcast experts. Online branding experts. Search advertising experts. Email experts. Social marketing experts. Rich media experts. Digital video experts. And many others.

Masters of their trades, domain-specific experts have held sway since the early days of advertising. Some have expounded on the intricacies of GRPs, others the nuances of email deliverability and still others on the finer considerations of pre-roll. They spoke. And we listened.

But as the old bard once sang, the times they are a-changing. With every passing day, even as they speak more and more, we listen less and less.



And here's why.

Nowadays, we cannot hope to get our message through to consumers by focusing our efforts and spend on one channel. No longer are consumers spending six hours working with a single medium. They are now watching TV on TV, watching TV online, watching videos on their iPads, sharing clips via email and Facebook, recording shows on their DVRs and shooting mutants on their Xboxes. They do all of this and, often, they do it all at the same time.

A Nielsen media usage study released recently shed light on our media consumption. Assuming that all of United States' Internet time was condensed into one hour, we spend 13 minutes and 36 seconds on social networks, 6 minutes and 6 seconds playing video games, and a further 5 minutes on email.

In fact, there are more than 10 discrete activities we carry out in less than an hour. And that's just online. If one were to factor in the media consumption habits across all media forms, we would undoubtedly have to grapple with a far more complicated picture.

With such highly fragmented consumer behavior, how can we have domain-specific experts setting our strategies? As the Nielsen study shows, it simply isn't sufficient to have mastery over one area. The new media strategist will have to acquire knowledge across multiple disciplines, so as to be able to have a unified strategy across a TV commercial, its online teaser, the mobile call to action, and the messaging elements that will spark the next big thing on Facebook.

This multi-disciplinary approach is also good for creativity. In a recent article in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman quoted Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, as saying: "One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other."

He gives the example of Leonardo da Vinci -- the great artist, scientist and inventor, who used knowledge in one field to form new concepts and executions in the others. In his article, Friedman serves a timely warning: "... if you spend your whole life in one silo, you will never have either the knowledge or mental agility to do the synthesis, connect the dots, which is usually where the next great breakthrough is found."

So the Nielsen media usage report is not an opportunity for social marketers to tout their relevance, or for email marketers to thump their chests, or for search marketers to point out just how much time consumers are spending searching for new products.

On the contrary, the report serves as a wake-up call.

It tells us that marketers need to gain proficiency in multiple disciplines so that they can craft campaigns that are in keeping with highly fragmented consumer behavior.

No longer can brand marketers be content to simply run display banners. Instead, they have to learn how to acquire new consumers and engage them through one-on-one conversations on Facebook and Twitter. No longer can social marketers bemoan the lack of accountable metrics. Instead, they must learn how to segment, track and optimize campaigns from the world of email -- which, after all, is the original engagement vehicle.

Successful media strategists will have to master the ability to transplant ideas between fields effortlessly. These are the experts who will prosper.

And the others? They'll go extinct.

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