Do you have industry déjà vu? I do! Doesn’t it feel as though the primary issues of the day we face today are the same issues that we faced eight or 10 years ago? Is this a sign of the cyclical nature of the business -- or have we literally stalled?
Ten years ago, or somewhere thereabouts, we were dealing with a business based on click-throughs, with the beginning of attribution models, and with the development of brand advertising online. We were faced with the question of whether it’s best to be spending on content or via behavioral targeting. We were dealing with our position as a media vehicle and how we fit into the overall marketing mix. You’d think some of these questions would have been addressed and that new questions would have risen to take their place, but it doesn’t feel as though it has!
In our defense, we’ve grown really fast and we’ve certainly accomplished a lot, but the business is still in need of some standards. Online advertising is still too complicated to command a leadership position in the marketplace, at least when it comes to a comparison with television and other media. It’s been said time and time again that it’s easier to spend $10 million on TV than to spend $2 million in digital. In fact, I wrote that exact same sentence last year, five years ago and 10 years ago as well. At some point we have to make some decisions and set the stage for growth and expansion.
If I can foresee a trend, it’s that the next year or two should be focused on the simplification of the models and the further commoditization of the business. I personally don’t see commoditization as a bad thing. I see it as a step toward maturity, and a way for brands to spend more money, for agencies to become more efficient with their time, and for publishers to generate higher margins. Of course the question remains: How do we do that?
The easiest way for this to happen is for everyone in the industry to come to a positive middle ground. I spent the first 15 years of my career building digital ad agencies, and the last four helping publishers and start-ups, and in almost every situation I hear, “What you have is close to what we need, but we need a little more.” From my perspective that “little more” is not a necessity, but a hindrance – without that directive, we could actually standardize and get a lot of things accomplished!
I was a culprit of this thinking while on the agency side, so I can take some of the blame. Much of the time my job was to take something that a publisher had and “make it more tailored to our needs.” Of course, “our needs” was attempting to generate differentiated positions between our agency and the competition, but looking back I think that differentiation should have been on the creativity of our brains rather than minor differences in technology. Every agency has a trading desk. Every agency has a dynamic ad server. Every agency has similar tools, but every agency has different people, and those people are the defining element, whether in media or creative. You can’t commoditize people -- their creativity is what will propel the business.
Knowing that people are the defining factor means the rest of the business can be standardized from a media perspective. Industry groups like the IAB and others could probably help here by setting the stage for standards in reporting and the ever-discussed “digital dashboard.” By helping brands and publishers agree on what they should be looking at, how often, and where they should be looking at it, we could come to a standard on the media side of the business. With that standard would come commoditization, which could help us become more efficient with our time!
Sometimes déjà vu is a nice feeling. It provides comfort and a sense of peace, but I don’t think that we as an industry are ready for comfort and peace. Can’t we find some new things to push forward if we can wrap up the loose ends that we’ve overlooked?
What do you think?