Every time some publication, research concern, or industry pundit conducts a survey of interactive marketing personnel to find out what obstacles still stand in the way of major marketers using online advertising, the answer "more education" invariably ends up on the list of top five reasons.
Is this because as an industry we simply haven't done a good job at this? Do we fail our clients, or our potential clients, by not sharing with them knowledge and information that demonstrates the power of the Internet as an advertising vehicle? Are we going about extolling the virtues of webvertising in all the wrong ways?
Perhaps at first, we did go down the wrong path. What we thought were pretty primroses (click-through rates, one-to-one marketing) turned out to be just coarse perennials with more than a few thorns.
But this industry has really gotten its act together in a lot of ways. There is so much research available that demonstrates the powers of the online medium that it is impossible to avoid. Research concerns like Gartner and eMarketer regularly tell us about how the media is working for users and marketers alike. IAB's XMOS studies have done a great deal to educate us all about the effects of online advertising as part of the larger marketing context.
And clients, too, seem to understand more now than they ever have. They get the research from their agencies. They sit for presentations. They are even attending the more "insidery" conferences. I have clients who know just as much about the online advertising medium as any of us punctilious pundits.
So, when people are saying that one of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of online advertising is education on the part of the client, just what are they saying?
Maybe it isn't so much that your direct client doesn't understand the wonders of webvertising, but that they have to answer to people who don't.
In many organizations, especially the large ones with the big budgets, there is more than one layer of oversight of a marketing budget. Typically the higher up you look, the more removed from the front lines of marketing those people are. It isn't that they are indifferent to their company's bottom line and the achievement of marketing goals, but change is hard to come by. These are busy people who have learned what they know over the lifetime of their careers. To now be expected to learn everything there is about a brand new medium and get behind it is unrealistic. It goes against the convention of human behavior as well as corporate inertia to think that these members of upper management are going to drop 20 years of marketing experience (most of which includes the ascent of television as THE media experience) to pick up the mantle of the Web.
This isn't to say that there aren't exceptions, and it isn't to say that they won't come around. But think about yourself and how you approach your own world. The things we do as individuals that we sort of assume the rest of the world does, too. When a show on television we watch all the time is cancelled, we find it hard to imagine why. I watched regularly, didn't everyone? If these people aren't using the web regularly - if it isn't a de rigueur aspect of their lives - it is hard to conceptualize the role it might play in other peoples' lives.
The best we can do at this time is to make sure that our clients, our direct contacts, have as much learning, information, data, and knowledge as is available and hope they can then teach their management.
We answer to a client, but whoever that person is typically answers to someone else. Those of us at the agencies and the publishers are failing those clients if we are not equipping them with everything they need to make their own case. They know the politics, the language, and the personalities of their company. It might just be that our primary client contacts can do more as emissaries of the online medium than we can.
The more we involve the client in our processes and the closer we get them to what is being thought, and said, and done, perhaps the less "education" will be a top-five line-item on the list of prohibitions to online media adoption. Let's get them to conferences; let's send them new, relevant reports as they become available; let's invite them to peer in on the planning process if they want. Like ambassadors to a foreign land, they can bring back with them all that they have learned and being to educate from within.