Do you have industry déjà vu? I do! Doesn’t it feel as though the primary issues of the day we face today are the same issues that we faced eight or ten years ago? Is this a sign of the cyclical nature of the business or have we literally stalled?
Ten years ago, or somewhere thereabouts, we were dealing with the business based on click-through, we were dealing with the beginning of attribution models, and we were dealing with the development of brand advertising online. We were faced with the questions of whether it’s best to be spending on content or via behavioral targeting. We were dealing with our position as a media vehicle and how we fit into the overall marketing mix. Over time one would think some of these questions have been addressed and that new questions would have risen to take their place, but it doesn’t feel as though it has!
In our defense, we’ve grown really fast and we’ve certainly accomplished a lot, but the business is still in need of some standards. The business is still too complicated to command a leadership position in the marketplace, at least when it comes to a comparison against television and other media. Its been stated time and time again, but its easier to spend $10MM on TV than it is to spend $2MM in digital. And the fact is I wrote that exact same sentence last year, five years ago and ten years ago as well. At some point we have to come to terms, make some decisions, and set the stage for growth and expansion.
If I can foresee a trend, it’s that the next year or two should be focused on the simplification of the models and the further commoditization of the business. I personally don’t see commoditization as a bad thing. I see it as a step towards maturity. I see commodization as a way for brands to spend more money, for agencies to become more efficient with their time and for publishers to generate higher margins. Of course the question remains, how do we do that?
The easiest way for this to happen is for everyone in the industry to come to a positive middle ground. I spent the first 15 years of my career building digital ad agencies, and the last 4 helping publishers and start-ups, and in almost every situation I hear that, “what you have is close to what we need, but we need a little more”. That “little more” is what keeps us from coming to resolution, and from my perspective that “little more” is not a necessity. It is a hindrance more than anything. Without that “little more” we could actually standardize and get a lot of things accomplished!
I was a culprit of this while on the agency side, so I admit to taking some of the blame. Much of the time my job was to take something that a publisher had and “make it more tailored to our needs”. Of course, “our needs” was attempting to generate differentiated positions between our agency and the competition, but looking back I think that differentiation should have been on the creativity of our brains rather than the minor differences in technology. Every agency has a trading desk. Every agency has a dynamic ad server. Every agency has similar tools, but every agency has different people and those people are the defining element, whether it be in media or creative. The people are what you can’t commoditize and their creativity is what will propel the business.
Knowing that people are the defining factor means the rest of the business can be standardized from a media perspective. Industry groups like the IAB and others could probably help here by setting the stage for standards in reporting and the ever-discussed “digital dashboard”. By helping brands and publishers come to a single agreement on what they should be looking at, how often, and where they should be looking at it, we could come to a standard on the media side of the business. With that standard would come commoditization and that could help us become more efficient with our time!
Sometimes déjà vu is a nice feeling. It provides comfort and it provides a sense of peace, but I don’t think that we as an industry are ready for comfort and peace. We are a business that is driven by entrepreneurs and evangelists and we love to push things forward, so maybe we can find some new things to push forward if we can wrap up the loose ends that we’ve overlooked?
What do you think?