The Long Tail? How About the Short Twitch?

The marketing intelligentsia has been affixing the long tail descriptor to Blogs and Search Engine Marketing for so long that there's been less attention paid to what's really been driving growth of interactive for the past year - the short twitch.

It's the short twitch that drives marketers to reallocate branding dollars to direct response, and ultimately to the web. The same short twitch is what's been accused of "ruining" the agency business, because of pressure from holding companies who need to drive increased revenue quarter-on-quarter. The short twitch is why companies usually spend more on their sales departments than on marketing talent and campaigns - because sales is where the rubber hits the road, baby. And marketing is where the rubber hits the sky.

If we can estimate that roughly $17 billion has been spent online in the past 12 months, what's an appropriate estimate for how much of that is from SEM - perhaps $10 billion? Of those SEM dollars, how much is spent toward direct response metrics and how much is spent toward branding metrics? We all know the answers here - it's all short-twitch spending. And the SEM practitioners and agencies that have the best bid technology make short twitch thinking the tip of their spear. After all, bids are adjusted and ROI calculated in "real time," as we all know, right? This all screams to the vitality of short twitch thinking.



Here's a question though - if SEM is what's driving so much of interactive spending, and the sell side of Search is garnering the valuations it's been able to garner (seen Google's stock price recently?), then why are the companies on the buy side so undervalued?

Viewed from another perspective, how can companies like WebClients and NetBlue attract enormous valuations at a time when already large SEMs who have doubled in revenue in the past year - with no venture capital infusions - proliferate? Could it be about their ability to target? Perhaps it's their response-driven model? It could be something else though - their technology assets.

Technology that drives results which satisfy short twitch objectives is technology that attracts investors. One of the things that drove me to write the March 4 column "Search Company Introduces Proprietary SEM Technology!" was the complaint I've heard from so many venture capitalists - that while so many SEMs proclaim that they have proprietary technology, there really is very little difference in the SEM model from one agency to another.

What we're left with then are the people - just like it's always been in traditional advertising agencies. But, elbow grease is hardly a proprietary technology.

That column sparked a panel that I'll be moderating at the OMMA West show on June 7 which will feature four Search professionals who have all forgotten more than I know about Search. I intend to ask panelists Harrison Magun from Avenue A | Razorfish Search, Josh Stylman from Reprise Media, and Dan Boberg from Yahoo! whether Search can be regarded as media or simply a direct response marketplace - and what the role of branding becomes (and where it resides) in a short twitch world that we in interactive have helped spawn.

Even the uninitiated among us - let's say, our parents - will find it hard to argue with the idea that direct response is taking over for what used to be advertising's domain. For all of us who claim that the web is bringing these two closer together, and I'm usually happy to remain in that camp, there's perhaps a fear that direct response and its array of disparate messages and "touches" will begin to increasingly dominate - and not just online. What will that mean for advertising on the whole - let alone the creative that has made the advertising industry one of the most fun to be part of for generations?

One last digression - Is it just me, or does everyone else need this three day weekend really badly? Nothing like serious growth to keep us all too busy, hmm?

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