Wednesday, April 22, 2009
5 Steps To Effect Change In Online Advertising
By Cory Treffiletti In an industry that continues to evolve and mature with the heightened pace which we experience everyday, it can be easy to overlook the voices for change -- or sweep them under the rug and continue to do business as usual. That's always the case, isn't it? It's simpler to do things the way you already know how rather than retrench and try something new, but that doesn't mean those new ideas can't succeed.
Our business was built quickly, on a model for print rather than TV -- but it's obvious that model is changing, and the standards and infrastructure of online advertising need to change with it. The first online ads were viewed as extensions of print, and the first Web sites were viewed as two-dimensional environments. Now that we're transitioning to a more video-centric model -- or at least a more three-dimensional environment -- we're trying to evolve the standards. I hope for the best.
Some of the changes that I see starting to take hold include:
All of these ideas have merit. Still, over the last 15 years I've learned that to effect change you need follow some key steps. It's not enough to issue a press release and make a big noise; you actually have to provide value, considering certain factors to gain traction. To that end, here are my five tips for effecting true change in online advertising:
Step 1: work with industry groups. They may not always be the most innovative or thought-provoking groups, but they are the most effective at aggregating together an audience, making a statement and sticking to it. In my younger, more idealistic days, I felt on top of the world, as if I could be a force for change all by myself. I'm not. I'm only as strong as the strength of my relationships -- and the relationships that drive the business are those of the industry groups. The IAB and the OPA are the most obvious places to start. If they back your idea, it can gain traction in an efficient manner.
Step 2: Don't try to reinvent the wheel. If you try to create a brand new metric or unit that is too far from the currently accepted norms, you will not succeed. This business is quite large, it has momentum and it cannot change direction on a dime anymore. You need to turn the beast, and that can only be done with "baby steps." Monumental changes are going to get pushed out of the way in favor of incremental changes, so focus on incremental changes that can be implemented now.
Step 3: Set realistic expectations. You need to start from a place that is real. You need to set your goals at an attainable level. Don't anticipate that the top 10 advertisers will try your idea, or that the top 50 publishers will run to you with arms wide open. Start small with a few initial tests. See if they work, and incrementally move forward from there.
Step 4: Get brands on board. I hate to say it, but brands are more innovative than agencies, so you need to start with the brands first. The brands will be willing to try new ideas because they get recognition and they are interested in incremental change. Agencies are not as interested in incremental change because they are more focused on their business models, which require efficiencies of scale. New ideas do not feed well into efficiencies of scale.
Step 5: Relate to other forms of media. If you're starting over from scratch on a pricing model or on an ad format, it's best to be relatable to some other form. Look at TV or outdoor and see what they're doing, because explaining yourself in terms of some other existing format is much easier than trying to explain something new.
These steps may seem obvious, but they get overlooked in the excitement and the vigor of a new idea. It's the same as starting a company; you need to ensure that your ideas are defensible and differentiated and that they provide a solution to an existing problem, not that they are a solution looking for a problem. If the problem doesn't exist, then no solution in the world is going to be accepted -- and if your idea is not rooted in realism, then it's doomed to fail. In this space, people are only looking for changes that will affect them positively; scale is at the core of that issue. In order to scale, you need success -- and in order to get success, you need scale.
How's that for a conundrum!
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Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
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