Marketing, Let’s Face the Music…

Architecting Better Data-driven Digital Experiences

Marketing, Let’s Face the Music…

Two recent back-to-back Ad Age articles painted a very compelling picture of the challenges facing the marketing and advertising industry, and left one feeling that the most deeply established parts of the industry do not quite know how to dance to the changes around them.

The first article by Edmund Lee was the best head-on analysis of an issue that is surely keeping agency management up at night, the death of the “impression” as “the basic unit of attention that has been sold by media and bought by advertisers for more than 50 years”, asserting, quite rightly I believe, that “the impression, and all the economies based on it, may be doomed”.

Wow! That’s a $151 billion dollar economy in the US alone. Now, Mr. Lee is not predicting the death of advertising and marketing – just the kind that relies on impressions – meaning the kind that just about everyone is buying and selling right now. The gist of this perspective is that simple visibility or presence in media, in and of itself, is not enough to motivate people’s behavior, especially given the vast competition of competing messages. As a numeric measure that takes on greater value the bigger it gets, the impression is a currency of “mass” messages, and in our long-tail world, very few people fit into any “mass” graph.

As for what will take the place of marketing built on impressions, the second article, by Simon Dumenco, illustrates that the industry is just in its infancy of understanding how to “influence” behaviors in a hyper-digital, mobile and social-media driven world.

Mr. Dumenco takes on the notion of “social influence” by questioning how well it can be measured. Now, common sense assures us that there must be some validity to the idea that some people can influence other people’s behaviors (consumer and otherwise) through their social media discourse, but as Mr. Dumenco illustrates, there is not yet any methodologically established and validated way to measure this influence. The best efforts to measure “influence” are at best measures of reach and visibility, or in other words, the ability to generate impressions. No surprise that an industry oriented around impressions would understand influence to be that capability to generate impressions.

Of course, as I have written about before, real influence is the ability to generate behaviors and outcomes, and no one has yet show a clear way to predict or even accurately measure the outcomes that can be generated through social media engagement.

This does not mean that attempting to measure influence is not a worthwhile pursuit – indeed, if impressions are doomed then better understanding how to motivate and influence through social engagement versus media impression is indeed the only worthwhile pursuit. It simply means that the measures we have now should be taken with a large grain of salt.

I predict that the next several years will be uncomfortable for the advertising and marketing industry, with clients dissatisfied with both the diminishing returns on impressions-based strategies, and the lack of verifiable best-practices in the emerging engagement-based strategies. The faster the industry can orient itself around building sound insights and measurable approaches into engagement-based strategies, the better it will be. But the large agencies are probably in the position of Detriot’s automakers in the 80s, with management and infrastructure that just can’t change fast-enough to adapt to the new socio-economic landscape, and that will therefore lose their position to upstarts that grew up on the music that consumers are playing now.