While a lot of the success stories are the same, what's interesting is watching the pitch for digital branding evolve. As the platforms that enable digital branding (widgets and social media) take center stage, digital agencies and technology providers alike are still searching for the "tools" necessary to sell and execute branding campaigns. More precisely, digital advertising technologies, publishers and agencies are looking for the pitch, process and pricing models for advertisers to participate in branding online. Funny thing is, it might not end up being all that different from getting advertisers to participate in branding offline.
What certainly isn't lost here in New York is the art of the sale. Madison Avenue was built on it (at least according to the show "Mad Men"). I think one of the greatest challenges facing digital media is the industry's tendency to downplay the value of the sales process, in the belief that the best technology will draw advertisers to the market. Even Goto.com, and later, Google, the most metric-focused advertising company ever (err... I mean technology company), realized that creating a marketplace only works when you have the right "market makers." In an advertising marketplace, online or off, the market makers are the sales organizations. From disseminating important information so as to create a more efficient market, to driving inventory to match demand spikes, the sales organization is more a part of Google's success than most people give it credit for. You can't serve relevant ads for searches if you haven't closed relevant advertisers.
And now, having already downplayed the importance of sales and business development in the great success of performance markets, we turn to brand advertising, a far higher-touch category where creating efficient markets will require even better "market makers." When I commented above that getting brand advertisers to participate online, may, in fact, look very similar to driving campaigns offline, I'm saying that the sale is going to be the key to creating efficient markets of brand advertisers. The difference is, the sale and the sales process have to be scalable and repeatable, for both the seller and the agency. This means understanding your mediums' value proposition in advertising terms, having case studies, and streamlining the process of participation for brands.
But we are not going to let the agencies off the hook here, either. The agency probably has more ideas and potential avenues for advertising online then it can keep up with, yet rather then help to sell digital branding's potential to its advertisers, many agencies simply require whatever metrics their clients request.
In the end, it may be that digital will convince the world of its branding power in a very similar way to what television did: with a few great ideas, some powerful examples of market share-moving based on advertising initiatives (with or without performance metrics tied directly to the campaign), and the creation of a streamlined process to repeat. Because we should all remember that done right, digital advertising sales, like digital marketing, should benefit all parties.