Saturday, March 1

Migratory Patterns of the Interactive Strategist

Advertising agencies are getting hit from all sides these days. Even online marketing agencies, who are the bane of traditional agencies, have to watch their backs.

Media agencies are already wary of web publishers/ad sales reps who go around them, directly to marketers, pushing their online programs and non-negotiated CPM rate cards. AOL was legendary for doing it in Dotcom 1.0, to the point where they were getting shut out of media agency programs and had to launch a mea culpa apology tour to get back on the RFP lists.

Last year came news that Google hired the President of Ogilvy Mather NY to create an Idea Lab as a "new global unit dedicated to collaborating with marketers, agencies and entertainment companies." A big warning shot to agencies who in the past considered 3 lines of text less than 75 characters the sole creative requirement for working with them.

It was enough to make Publicis pull the rip cord and announce their own strategic partnership with Google.

Couple that with Microsoft's $6 billion purchase of aQuantive last year, which includes online media/creative agency Avenue A/Razorfish. Their decision not to spin it off could lead to interesting mash ups between their other divisions such as XBox and MSN, who traditionally have agencies playing the middleman between them and marketers' budgets.

And a recent IAB conference forecast more doom and gloom for agencies, as site publishers continue to offer services directly to marketers.

So now agencies have to worry about getting skipped in the media/creative process. But clients will still rely on them for marketing strategy, right? And if they own the strategy, then that is a good first line of defense against losing the budgets to execute them. Um, right?

Well, that used to be the case. But I think the time is here when marketers (i.e. the clients) need to take control of their online marketing strategies, instead of relying on their agencies.

From 1998 - 2000 online marketing rewrote itself every 3 months. Technical and creative advances continued pushing the WWW forward: search engines, rich media, broadband, live chats, webcams, the AOL/Yahoo/MSN portal cartel, e-commerce, personalized e-commerce, reverse auction e-commerce, mobile reverse auction e-commerce...

This gave agencies the lucrative role of riding those waves, explaining what the hell was going on to clients, and developing new cutting-edge programs before the current cutting-edge programs were even out the door.

Then came the crash, and between 2001 - 2005 the only big advance in online marketing was broadband pre-roll videos. Which sometimes required editing the 30 second TV spot into a 15 second TV spot. We even shipped them on 3/4" tape to the web sites. Online innovation slowed to a trickle.

So marketers and agencies got lazy. We tricked ourselves into believing that banner campaigns and microsites constituted a solid online marketing program.

Then came this whole Web 2.0 thing with its user generated content, "be my friend" info sharing, cell phone and video game ad serving, microblogging, and funny terms like widgets and pokes. And now the Internet is complex and making everyone's brain hurt again.

But in Dotcom 1.0, you only needed your advertising agency -- or Internet hotshot agency -- to explain how to market online. Now everyone has a point of view. Ask your advertising, media, PR, promotion, and event marketing agencies how you should use social media. You will get a different answer from each of them, and none of them are wrong. Online has gone beyond just an advertising channel and now impacts your business in all kinds of new ways. Which is great if you have someone to sort through the 5 different agency recommendations and decide what to execute.

Which gets us back to the Strategy discussion. If the poor brand manager can't comprehend how to handle online marketing, do they pick one of their agencies and follow their lead? (Sorry PR and Promotions.) Or do they skip the agencies and buy into the multi-tiered programs that Microsoft and Google will be selling them? (Sorry Creatives and Media Planners.) You might want to get used to those deer-in-the-headlight-stares that are spreading across corporate America marketing departments.

The logical next step is for marketers to take ownership of their online marketing strategies. Most companies have individuals each responsible for brand advertising, media, PR, and promotions. Visit an integrated marketing presentation and the marketing department's all-star team shows up.

But for some reason the interactive marketing role has consistently been overlooked. When the agency's interactive point person presents those strategies, they end up presenting to the entire marketing team not a specialist, because that role does not exist client-side. And if you go beyond banners and a microsite, then get ready for a room full of stares and follow up "Internet 101" presentations.

So marketers need their interactive specialist. Someone who bridges between the other marketing areas and is responsible for deciding if widgets in Second Life is a good thing. Funny thing is that role doesn't exist in 85% of corporate America. You would assume it did based on how much they talk about the Internet's importance. It will be a serious handicap in the next year, since the Internet doesn't seem to be slowing down this time.

Given all of Nike's awards and successes online, you would think they had this person. But they just announced their first senior-level role with the hiring of a global digital brand leader. Which should make their interactive agencies feel a little bit better. Or maybe a little bit more nervous. Either way you can expect Microsoft and Google already have their introduction meetings scheduled.

1 comment:

Asian Driver said...

My brain hurts from reading this.

For all my kvetching at work, it's good to be on the client side again.