Better Metrics, Consumer Interaction Will Fuel Digital Growth

CHICAGO -- Blame it on the dog days of August or the damaging thunderstorms that ripped through the Windy City on the eve of ad:tech Chicago. The opening sessions Tuesday were more review than enlightenment, and a plea for more digital enterprise from leading players, such as media platforms, content providers, ad agencies and advertisers.

The complicated obstacles to achieving digital marketing and advertising nirvana are unchanged. All opening speakers agreed there is a dire need for more accurate, actionable metrics, as well as greater interactivity with consumers. "It's not enough to be marginally better than Google," quipped keynote panelist William Leake, president and CEWO of Apogee Search.

The strategic directives are clear: Local media (newspapers, radio and Yellow Pages) is the battleground. Consumer relevance and engagement are profoundly essential. There are many reasons why it will happen later rather than sooner, including the economic malaise. It will slow digital online advertising growth from 23% to 18% this year, on the way to $50 billion by 2012. Apple's iPhone will change communications forever with more than twice the 400 applications to come.



Macroeconomics, survival of the fittest and the sheer law of numbers will fuel consolidation of all players. For instance, some 300 behavioral and ad networks will be reduced to a few dozen by 2010, said opening speaker Drew Ianni, programming advisory board chairman of ad:tech expositions. Despite the flood of major advertiser spending cuts, the "jury is still out" about what will happen to online advertising in a recession. "$84 billion in ad spending is in play," he said.

Kevin Knell, Google's industry director of CPG, delivered no surprises in "Age of Performance Branding," a keynote speech that called for more consumer relevance and taking advantage of technology breakthroughs. The science of search is the "epicenter" of it all--"the big idea," he said. Strong brands will reach well beyond the concepts of conventional advertising in an interactive arena and will be "in the content game, full stop." It was noted that 10 hours of video are uploaded on Google's YouTube every hour by users of all ages. Cell phones are the global screen of choice. The importance of digital commerce to brick-and-mortar sales is indisputable.

A keynote panel yielded no new insights about how to take online advertising to the next level. The big talking points: more detailed meaningful metrics are essential, and devising them is everyone's problem. Content is king. One of the best thoughts came from Fred Lebolt, president/publisher of Fox Valley Publications and New Media Integration for the Sun-Times News Group, who observed that brand content and marketing is "a continuum" across all media that picks up online where print leaves off. Even the best, strongest brands don't get far in this jumbled environment without smart digital marketing.

Break out panels such as "Developing the Big Idea" drilled down into specific digital campaigns more devoted to the concept, emotions and expectations of the brand than to the tangible product--Diet Coke-Plus, Corona, Hallmark red cards raising funds to fight Aids in Africa. A critical point that emerged: Reaching consumers is not the same as page views, downloads or clicks, which do not take into account the content sharing that goes unmeasured.

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