For all of our talk about accountability, we're really not much better off than the old master was back in the day. Today's online usage measurement systems leave much to be desired. Different online research companies reporting on the same communication program produce wildly different numbers for page views and body counts. And new click fraud data confirms that fraudulent clicks often exceed 25%.
It's reassuring to get reports that show your 'down to the penny' cost-per-click or cost-per-impression. Guess what? They are probably--to say it politely--subject to interpretation.
OK, so somewhere a digital guru reading this is commenting: "Yes, but in the online world we care about gaining acquisitions, and acquisition counts don't lie."
Not so fast, Mr. Guru. Acquisition metrics are seriously flawed, and John Wanamaker would still suffer from a woeful lack of accountability. Why? Because an acquisition or even a sale is rarely, if ever, the result of a single exposure at the point of interaction. It is always a consumer reaction from accumulated learning gleaned from a variety of sources--including, unquestionably, the big wheel of marketing communications.
Giving Google full credit for generating an acquisition is as preposterous as saying the checkout girl at the supermarket is responsible for making the final sale of, say, Jif Peanut Butter. Sales are the culmination of strategic brand positioning--translated into a focused creative message, supported by a smart media plan, working across a broad array of media. More often than not, the consumer has been surrounded by a symphony of media, both traditional and online. The fact she finally pulls the trigger on Google is irrelevant. The sale is the result of a long chain of events and brand communication working together.
Am I bashing online media? No. I'm not crazy. Any communications plan that doesn't have a digital component better have a good reason why not. What I'm saying is that great results in marketing are about managing the big picture, where media mix is paramount and everything works together (just like it did in John Wanamaker's day).
What's critical is more and better trained media planning craftsmen. Yes, we need the specialists who excel at the technical foibles of digital media. But without media masters to add judgment and perspective to the overall communications picture, Mr. W's going to be complaining for a long time to come.
So, what needs to happen? We need to educate a new generation of integrators to cross the digital divide.
People are using digital media in ways that media planning can't keep up with. That's causing more training in skills (how to execute digital buys) at the expense of strategy (where digital fits in the communications framework). The mastery is in strategy: understanding how media interrelates in consumers' lives, setting priorities, and mixing the message and media to move the ultimate needle.
This is an industry problem. There are things we can do in our respective agencies--instituting continuing education on strategy or simple drills (e.g., everyone makes the business, not simply media, case for a digital buy)--but we need to do something as an industry.
We've been saying for years that media is getting to the center of the action. Now we are, especially in light of the current economy. It's time to pull together and create an industry education series that puts the backbone back in media. We'll end up growing a generation of four-dimensional media people that will put the agency business in the driver's seat.