RTFM - This is Internet shorthand for "Read The Frickin' Manual." (I'm using a less offensive word for the "F" here. I know you'll understand.) RTFM is one of the older cutesy-pie Internet acronyms and it originated in online tech support communities. Contributors to these communities - usually bulletin boards or USENET newsgroups - would get tired of answering questions from newbies that were clearly covered in the supporting documentation, RTFM became the simple, four-letter response to people too lazy to look things up.

RTFM has been coming to mind quite a bit lately. I've been meeting with a lot of ad technology vendors lately - ad servers, rich media technologies, research companies and more. They all seem to have a common observation about their ad agency clients: They tend to learn only as much as they need to get by, and they tend to avoid learning about the more complex features of the supporting technology. It's the old 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of their customer base learns how to use only 20 percent of the product's features.



I am as guilty of this as the next guy. By way of an example, when I first started my advertising career at Young & Rubicam, I had convinced myself that I had learned everything there was to know about Microsoft Excel when I was in college. Boy, was I wrong. While I could get by with what I knew from school, it became clear after watching some of my colleagues that I needed to go back to school on Excel. A couple training sessions and a jog through a Microsoft tutorial solved the problem, and I found myself exposed to new features that I didn't even know existed in Excel, and they made my life easier.

The technology vendors who support our industry spend a lot of money on research and development. Often, they talk to agency people and other folks in the business to get an idea of product features would have value for the advertising community. We offer up our suggestions and very often, they become reality. All too often, however, features we ask for are underutilized and technology vendors are often left scratching their heads, wondering why we didn't use something that we specifically requested. Sometimes when a feature is underutilized, technology vendors will scrap it completely.

A common concern I hear from ad technology vendors is that customers often call them with questions that are easily answered by the product manual, tutorials or training sessions. Paid tech support people obviously can't tell their clients to RTFM, so they spend a lot of time walking clients through "how to" scenarios that should have been covered in Ad Technology 101.

Sure, you could blame the technology vendors for failing to market their product features effectively, but it's hard to blame many of these companies that actively encourage attendance at training seminars, reviews of product documentation and participation in online tutorials.

For example, we all know that we have the capability to perform many of the following tasks, but how many folks in the industry would be able to do these things without looking them up if the client asked for them this afternoon?

  • Showing ads in a specific sequence

  • Segmenting ads by previous consumer interaction

  • Running a frequency distribution report for a campaign

  • Researching competitive cross-traffic to a client's website

  • Setting up a personalized e-mail to be delivered when a customer takes a specific action on a client's website

  • Personalizing ads based on data in a sales database

If your agency is like mine, it has relationships with research providers, ad servers, rich media companies and others. It is up to the agency to know all there is to know about its technology partners and their capabilities. Not only will this help in implementation of marketing programs, but it will also give you ideas. After all, you need to know what can be done before you decide what should be done for the client.

So schedule a training session today. Maybe take that thick binder that came with your ad server home and give it a good read before you go to bed tonight. Ask your research tools sales rep to come in and give you a demo on the latest capabilities. Just don't be a part of the 80 percent who don't take advantage of advanced features and functionality. RTFM.

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