Thursday, March 5, 2009

Video Insider: It's Time We Educated Brand Managers On The Digital 'How,' Not Just The 'What'

It's Time We Educated Brand Managers On The Digital 'How,' Not Just The 'What'

Amidst the flurry of news around bailouts, stimulus, broken banks and broke homeowners, our conversations of late seem to have moved from talking millions of impressions to the immense impact of the millions, billions and trillions of dollars needed to revive our national economy. And rightly so.

While Wall Street continues to dip, marketers have watched their share prices drop by as much as one-third to one-half their former value -- leading more and more to hold onto much of that precious cash once known as the marketing budget to bolster their balance sheets. Concurrently, the trickle down to the advertising industry looks like a standing order to deliver the same amount of TRPs or impressions we did in '08 for, let's say, 20% less spend in '09. And while you're at it, can you calculate the savings we'll realize since market pricing has dropped?

Are we having fun yet?

From a creative perspective, this also places the onus the ideas we generate to have even greater impact -- be even more breakthrough, more disruptive, choose your adjective of the month, then Tweet about it and make sure the cameras are rolling. This isn't just about getting consumer's attention anymore -- it's about breaking through the cultural context of current events. But like all forms of borrowed interest, even gloomy economic prognostications can be mashed up into a reason to "buy now" - despite the huge drop in the kid's college fund. The question is, will it work this time around? Or will our creative messages fall on deaf ears simply incapable of the liquidity to convert from awareness to purchase.

Have we ever been here before? Holy incentives, Batman. Last week I bought a Buick just to do my part.

From a digital perspective, we face another important challenge: How to keep marketers learning lots more about HOW our digital ecosystem works in order to keep the spending curve moving in the direction of our more measureable media. You would think, at a time like this, that media more measureable would actually see an INCREASE of great proportion given its finite ability to measure return on advertising dollars spent. Yet, I suspect those marketers who were spending only 5-8% of their total media in digital BEFORE Wall Street imploded won't see 2009 as a year to lean in and leverage digital. But rather, they're more likely to retreat to their pavlovian TV schedules, a few print books, and oh yeah... I guess we'd better keep our Search budget intact.

For those marketers spending 10-15% of their total media in digital in '08, this is turning out to be a challenging year to continue the flight towards digital. Much as some have adopted "video neutrality" and lobbed online video budgets in with television budgets, most brand managers still question the ROI of trading television reach for online frequency. Which is just one dynamic that suggests that all of us pushing the digital rock up the brand management hill need to start pushing lots harder. Our client emarketers need our help! And that goes as much for creatives as it does for the media and publishing community. The IAB, OPA and digital confabs will only get us so far.

Note to digerati - Bob Liodice at the ANA needs our help!

Over and over again, we hear the same response from our emarketers: "It isn't that brand management doesn't want to be spending more in digital." It's that, we, as an industry, haven't shown them the "how."

So let's get busy. If we continue to rely on our now years-old lean-in audience arguments, XMOS studies, nano measurement and metric reporting "better thans," and contextual and behavioral targeting (how many CMOs know the difference?) tips, I fear we'll continue serving as just another search and "awareness" filler channel in the Great Media Mix Model in the Sky.

If we really mean what we say about moving beyond impressions to digital engagement with brand; ability to advance relationships through interaction; activation; sampling; trial offers; personalization, CRM and lead generation, then it's time we looked past the cultural context of current events that's holding the majority of our client marketers back. It's time we start serving up "digital immersion weeks" instead of "days" and "lunch and learns" to our client marketer brand teams. Or it's going to be a long road back to 10%.

As for this digital creative director, I'm off to speak at another client's Digital Day. Because for me, the budget path to client innovation starts with more digital education.

Alan Schulman is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of U. DIG > The Digital Innovations Group. An industry leader in the development of new ad units for new and emerging platforms, Alan has created digital programs for such global marketers as P&G, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Dell Computers and others. He currently serves on the faculty of Upstream's Habitat Group and the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, New York.

Video Insider for Thursday, March 5, 2009:

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