Commentary

Nights And The Roundtable

I was in Chicago last week. It was to speak at a dinner attended by agency folks, marketing folks, and professionals affiliated with related ancillary services. The event was for the IAB Innovator's Roundtable dinner series, an event that seeks to gather the top minds and movers in the digital advertising and marketing industry, put them together in a room, feed them well, and get them talking with one another about the issues that sit top-of-mind with each of those persons. The events are sponsored by publishers, in this case, Advertising.com.

Over the last 6 months, these pages and others have contained jocund bons mots about the attendances and moods at industry events of late, and this one could have been included among them. OMD, McDonald's, UAL, FCB, the IAB, StarcomIP... the list of those in attendance is both long and distinguished. And the energy was taught and real.

What's so cool about these dinner gatherings is that you end up with something that is really -- how should I say? -- more concentrated than the leading brand? Only about 30 people gather, so there is better opportunity to spend a couple of hours exchanging ideas about a particular issue and actually flushing them out with peers. And opportunity you might not ordinarily get elsewhere.

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And just what are the issues that were floated last week in Chicago? What are the things that our industry segment would do well focus on?

The technology issue:
Talking about technology with the client may not be very useful when it is a traditional general market advertiser. Techno-babble and references to it are irrelevant if you are talking to a client about how to provide them with solutions to their business problems or methods for addressing their business needs. This isn't to say it is unimportant, but it is not the best approach. When you are selling a car, the buyer wants to be convinced that the car is the one he or she wants, that is it safe, and that it will work when they get behind the wheel and turn the ignition. Only a select few want to know about torque, suspension, and how a combustion engine works.

How much to spend online?
Enough of the "how much to spend online" discussion, posits Neil Perry of McDonalds. Advertisers like that want to know things like, what kinds of ad sizes are best, what mix of online vehicles yield the most effect, what environments are best, and finally, just what do we really know about the impact of the interactivity of the medium? How does a consumer who engages my brand in an interactive environment differ from the one I reach through other channels? What is the lifetime value of a consumer that plays a branded interactive game versus the consumer who sees my TV ad? Tell me, WHY SHOULD I USE THIS MEDIUM?

Boon & Bane: Tracking
Does the level of accountability, long a selling point of the medium, actually hinder it at times? With all the points that can be tracked and the data that is available as a result, are we bogged down in navigating a sea of actionable versus superfluous data points? Data for its own sake is not a great way to do business for businesses. It not only distracts from focusing on making the simple, better; but it creates the conditions for analysis paralysis that is common within organizations that have more MBAs than they have experience.

Does the level of accountability found with online bleed over into offline media? Should it? Most agreed that it probably should, eventually.

Education:
The client attendees think that too much talk about needing to "educate" could instead, alienate. Yes, internal stakeholders and clients need to be in a constant state of learning, but too much focus and talk of needing to "educate" a client is not always well received. A client is going to smell the unspoken condescension. Many a client are smart people who follow, to the best of their abilities, developments in the marketing and advertising world and aren't going to want to be told they are ignorant.

The attitude of needing to "educate" could be an obstacle. The agency or media vendor needs to be sure that they, too, are educated when talking with the client. Who to talk to, when to talk to them, what is the business trying to achieve?

Rishad Tobaccowala, of StarcomIP said: "Success is a combination of humility and patience. Our enemy has been arrogance and speed."

These are all issues we've talked about, heard about, and wrung our hands over for some time. But maybe all of these are just symptoms of something else. Mark Wright of Blue Chip Venture Capital made the point that much of what we face is not so much an education problem or a technology problem or even a knowledge problem. It is really a matter of introducing something that is potentially interruptive to the normal business process. If a business is getting results doing what they are doing, are they really going to give pause to their process in order to make significant changes to the set of established and predictable risks? Sure, the rewards may be great, and it really may be a better way to do things, but if objectives are still being achieved, then the consideration of something new in the mix becomes less of a priority.

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