Is Optimization A Dirty Word?

I consider myself something of a digital media traditionalist, but some folks think of me as a disrupter.  As with anything in life, the opinion is in the eye of the beholder.  Let me explain.

I view digital media as a toy.  Media is like Legos.  It’s fun to play with.  You can create so many different things, and while there are certainly plans you can follow, you can also have free play and construct original things. 

To me, that's the core of optimization.  Optimization tells you that what you built can be changed.  Optimization is flexibility and freedom to craft new ways of engaging your audience even after you’ve already done the upfront media planning to identify how, when, where, and with what message you are going to engage with them.

I find it interesting, and maybe even a little bit funny, that most big companies don’t think of optimization in this way.  They view optimization as a dirty word.



Most big enterprise companies talk about dashboards and marketing performance reviews in terms of monthly or quarterly business reviews. I tend to think of optimization as multiple touches per week in a more agile fashion. 

Agile is nothing more than being nimble and relying on access to data to engage as a team and make decisions. Being agile means you make decisions and read the results.  If you are optimizing for a response-oriented or direct-marketing campaign, your data is more immediate and based on engagement.  f you are optimizing a brand campaign, you are looking at reach, targeted delivery, and website traffic to help you understand the short-term impact while you wait for longer-term brand metrics.  In both cases, there's data to be reviewed and decisions to be made.

Enterprise marketing teams are not typically set up to think like this.  They often have many campaigns live and many initiatives in motion at the same time, so resources are stretched.  Smaller companies are more focused, probably running tighter campaign architectures with more immediate access to data. 

The trick in a big company is to set up the structure like a small one and create little teams empowered to look at data, make decisions and move forward accordingly.  In that way, the teams get set up for optimization, and the concept transforms from a dirty word into a motivator to drive ROI. 

I find that teams who feel empowered, and who are created to act like little start-ups, are the teams who win.

Allowing teams to make decisions and supporting them, even if they turn out to be incorrect, is how you fuel growth.  That last point is key.  You will note I didn't say “allowing teams to be wrong.” Empowerment does not mean you're OK with being wrong.  Wrong implies that a mistake was made. 

Being incorrect is different.  It means you empowered someone to make an informed decision, and that decision turned out to be incorrect, so you go back and make a different decision based on that additional input of data.  Decisions can be undone.

Being incorrect is part of optimization, and that's probably why companies view it as a dirty word.  They have confused optimization and empowerment with allowing people to be wrong.

Sit back as we enter the new year and think about whether you are empowering your teams to be incorrect, allowed to look at data and make optimizations, or whether you are stifling their chance to take ownership and lead.  A little loosening of the decision-making process can have a positive exponential impact -- and optimization may no longer be a dirty word.

3 comments about "Is Optimization A Dirty Word?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 15, 2021 at 4:43 p.m.

    Interesting read, Cory. I think that the points you make apply to all types of advertising and to traditional media as well. However, these days, it doesn't pay an agency to set up selective and/or specialized units of people to handle media planning or buying for individual brands:  worse, few CMOs see a need for that or are willing to pay the higher personnel costs associated with such hands-on service. So we are stuck in large part with cost efficient job function silos which do not communicate effectively with eachother and are out of the loop where the totallity of the ad or marketing campaign is involved. Will this change? Maybe in a few cases where the CMO is really a brand builder or the founder of the company---rather than a glorified brand manager helming a bunch of established brands. Otherwise, maybe not. Sad.

  2. Cam Sivesind from LeadsRx, December 16, 2021 at 12:45 p.m.

    As a manager at a marketing analytics software and services company providing multi-touch attribution and customer journey analytics products, I wholeheartedly agree with the agility concept. With impartial data and insights showing what is and is not working for campaigns, only then can agencies and advertisers make adjustments in their ad programming to increase marketing performance. And they can do so on the fly if they indeed to have someone analyzing the data regularly - and more than just monthly or even weekly.

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 16, 2021 at 8:08 p.m.

    Cory, maybe the better question is, what does optimization mean? I am not being flippant but having worked with a handful of ad distribution companies, everyone one has charts or graphs that shows data that doesn't make sense nor needed or useful. The best information is always the simplest in design.

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