What does simplicity look like? We could argue all day, but maybe we could agree on some basics.
Advertisers might be happy if they could easily discover what works, across all media, and do more of it, with a minimum of effort, and continually improve return on marketing spend by learning about consumers and audiences. What factors either enable or disable progress toward that goal?
Simplicity, and Markets
To some extent, simplicity is held hostage by market forces. For example, if you could buy any context or audience with quality data-based targeting from a single trusted decision point, things would get simple fast. But you can’t, mainly due to walled gardens. Asking a walled garden to favor advertiser choice over shareholder value is like asking Coke to put a Pepsi button on its vending machines. Not likely.
Advertisers are faced with a tough choice: Hand over their money and data and live with limited scope, or cobble together their own integration from dozens of open players. Or both. Doing that costs money, regardless of who does the work.
Streamlining a system often limits choices. Remember when Toyota streamlined by vastly reducing the number of choices available in an auto purchase? You couldn’t buy a mint-green Camry with power windows but no air conditioning.
The corporate cultures of buying organizations do the opposite. They develop extensive lists of features, ranking them on linear scales. Buyers might consider favoring fundamentals over features. That would calm the waters.
In the interests of making a standard and open ecosystem over time, a lot of progress has been made towards simplification. The following mechanisms engender simplicity, but are not sufficient to create it.
Interfaces. The means for making core technology simpler are well understood. You know the old saying: “I don’t need to know how the watch works, I just need to know what time it is.” Indeed, under the user interface, the guts are complicated. That’s true for your car, too.
Tech Standards. We get older and wiser, and we figure out what to standardize. The analog world got it right: thread sizes on bolts, for example. Examples in digital advertising are ad unit sizes, video player standards, real-time bidding protocols, etc. The Interactive Advertising Bureau created a lot of these standards to facilitate interoperability, not simplicity -- but without them, we would not have a marketplace.
Language Conventions. The ecosystem had to invent new language for new concepts. We have programmatic creative, dynamic creative, and creative optimization, for example. These need to be standardized and simplified, but the fact that we have names at all for many of them is progress.
Measurement Standards. The conventional wisdom says you get what you measure. Stephen Rappaport’s "The Digital Metrics Field Guide" details like a thousand measures in current use. Do we need the next one?
Give the bird a chance to fly.
Today, it’s computers that learn how, why, and when consumers respond to a story or offer. These systems behave more like marketing partners than media suppliers. Marketers should think of those computers as eyes and ears at that seminal moment when the ad meets the eyeball. If buyers really did that, the computers would have a better chance to do what they are good at. Buyers make it worse by playing musical suppliers. When you fire a computer that learned about your market, you are firing its knowledge, too.
Brands should treat the people and machines that sift, discover, and store knowledge about consumers as though they are strategic partners. If advertisers won’t support that, every day will be Groundhog Day as we learn the same thing again and again. Partner with parties that learn about your brand, and don’t hoard that knowledge -- many parties can use it on your behalf.
Ultimately, to engender simplicity, we should let computers sense resonance and receptivity, remember what worked -- and do more of that while continuing to let automation cheaply explore and experiment with untried combinations.
That’s old-hat for marketing, but now it’s happening at light-speed, all day, every day.