Monday, June 8, 2009
The Guru: A Dying Breed?
By Kendall Allen Since the 1990s, there have always been extreme characters within the digital sphere. Profound market opportunity has bred these: cowboys who swaggered about practically blinded by dollar signs, spawning get-rich business after get-rich business; evangelists outfitted with weird business cards, acting often more as pundit than practitioner; and of course the untethered, lightning-rod CEOs who either inspired greatness or left much in the wake. Then, there is the guru: the guru of a single discipline, anointed to show us the way. As we grew up as an industry, the guru has been a necessary extreme. Recognize these digital personas?
1.Our digital expert: Forgetting the pure-play digital agency for a minute, within evolving agency environments, the "digital expert" carried the flag and resident depth on this burgeoning expertise. Brought into meetings to represent the digital point of view; sent on the speaking circuit; leading 101 sessions for the agency or the client. But, as firms providing digital have more legitimately integrated professional environments, this guru would become an "extra" of sorts and fade away. Even if the agency never got it quite right, or still hasn't, the guru probably went away, as a relic of an earlier era.
2.My friend the email wizard: Before the crashes in the early 2000s, this was one of the most stand-out, developed disciplines within online direct response and eCRM. A whole subsegment boomed and was populated with gurus able to edify the rest of us. It certainly was viewed as a key specialty. We all had someone who was "brilliant" on email, on speed dial.
3.The search guru: No segment possesses more fabulous gurus. They practically own the G moniker. This is primarily because they are often named such, by themselves and by their fans. As a broad and deep specialty, at first representing the comeback of digital and accountable online performance, and then advancing as a discipline to become a world unto itself -- search has often needed these docents. And conference circuits have provided just the habitat to perpetuate these gurus, as world-class authors, thought leaders, and practitioners have been buttressed by groupies worldwide. Truth be told -- it's outright fun to spend time in that mix. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek and you are always wiser for the exposure.
4.Social media maven on board: In the earliest period of today's social media gaining legitimacy, some among us made it their task to figure this stuff out. Sure, chat forums, message boards and "viral marketing" have been around for years, with online audience development being the precursor. But, what about deftly using these new emerging environments to leverage demand and influence, plant and propagate brand, and develop slick method after method to engage in consumer market conversation? Over the past few years, this almost needed to be a specialty. This was the maven's gig. Now most of us have jumped in the pool.
Today, as we look around, we can look back and smile at the '90s cowboys swaggering around with wads of cash and cigars, the perceived geniuses being wheeled in for pitches to talk "emerging media" -- and gurus griping about being recognized in airports by conference groupies. But now the guru -- the extreme single-discipline guru -- may be a dying breed.
As we navigate these times mixing corporate and entrepreneurial business, we are being called on for creative thinking 24/7, and new levels of collaboration with fewer resources. It is an exceptionally hands-on time. Lines are blurring. Industriousness is in the air. There is a more blended outlook on marketing -- and we all must embrace an integrated picture. It's increasingly dangerous to flatly defer to specialists or to silo expertise, without rolling up our sleeves and getting to operational understanding ourselves. As marketing pros, it is essential to own the marketing mix and not just pieces of it -- at least on the level of strategy and method.
One Guru Who Still Counts
All this considered, there is an exception. I believe we still are wise to keep company with one guru: analytics. We have long known that online or digital trumps other media in what can be measured and how swiftly -- as long as we have a hold on objectives, metrics, measurement systems, standardizations, and filters of understanding.
The promise of a robust data analytics landscape is something we've not seen fully materialize. Personally, I'm relying on a roster of metric gurus -- I can see all their faces right now -- and the enterprises and schools of thought they support, to take us all to a better place over time. I believe this is an accelerating journey for which pronounced, singularly focused leadership is still needed.
In the past week, with the news of ComScore's Media Metrix 360 and as numerous conversations, on everything from standards to engagement, percolated in the circles I roam -- I was reminded of just how much we're watching this swath of the landscape. The following are a few areas of concern -- and they are not small things:
Musing on the personification of expertise here, I will say that the sociological tendency to anoint gurus has seemed necessary, since we tend to rely on thought leadership during long periods of great change. Sure, there is an element of cartoonishness to gurus, but they are often our willing trailblazers and laser-focused guides.
Still, I believe that we should own our personal levels of expertise and always strive to build our muscles and reach for more. Mastery is overrated. But, in the big bad world of our own making, and when there is ripe territory to be forged, such as analytics right now, I still say: Bring on the guru.
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Kendall Allen runs most of her media and marketing pursuits through a company she established, Influence Collective, LLC, based in New York City. The group advises and manages special projects in integrated media and marketing for clients, including Carolyn & Co. Media, where Kendall is overseeing the launch of upcoming digital publishing and community ventures for women and career.
Online Spin for Monday, June 8, 2009: