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Why Traditional Agencies Struggle With the Internet

  |  April 30, 2001   |  Comments

An interactive shop does pretty much what a traditional agency does, right? Hardly. The Internet is a special animal. So what is it about it that makes traditional agencies squirm?

Have you ever wondered if "agency" is the wrong word to associate with interactive firms?

According to Dictionary.com, an ad agency is "an agency that designs advertisement to call public attention to its clients." But at an interactive shop, it's not just about drawing attention, it's also about designing for utility, functionality, features, relationships, user experience, and loyalty -- which means clients come with a lot more business objectives than just increasing brand awareness.

Basically, everyone could know about your Web site, but if users go there and find out for themselves that it sucks, they hate you (whereas, before, they just didn't know you). Now you've wasted money and you look like a fool. And if you've got a traditional-agency mindset, that'll scare the living daylights out of you.

Here are the Internet facts of life that make traditional agencies squirm:

  1. The Internet can be a medium or a business. Different brands need different strategies -- it's not as if they all need a 30-second creative execution on cable television. It gets complicated: What do the users want? How much is the client willing to spend? How much upkeep and maintenance is involved? What will happen if... ? And the questions continue because this is all uncharted territory.

    Some of us find it fun; others find it frightening. The Internet is not based on past performance records, and formulas for effectiveness don't seem to work. There's no standard calculation that can tell you which brand needs what kind of online presence. Plus, you can't judge the product by its category because the online experience goes beyond product and beyond category.

  2. There are no "rules," no tried-and-true methods. There is no middle-aged white guy in charge of the business who gets called into a meeting and says, "Well, 20 years ago, when I was working on the [such-and-such] account, we did this, so we should do the same thing now." If somebody suggested this today, he or she would be laughed at. Please -- 20 years ago? It might just as well have been Roman times.

  3. The target changes constantly. Every day, more people log on; every day, more applications are introduced; and every day, there are more sophisticated users and more novices. Consequently, you can't relax -- you have to try and take the pulse of the future and figure out on your own how the heck you can stay ahead in an industry that is constantly changing. Sometimes it's hard just to keep up.

  4. You have to adapt on the fly. You can't sit back and relax because time moves too quickly online -- there is no end to the business day. Furthermore, studies and metrics are never accurate enough. You quote something from a year ago, and it's worthless; it's old news, and things have changed since then. What was all the rage a year ago might not even be in business today. And kids, especially, find new places to go online every day without telling you where they go. Sometimes you're just shooting arrows in the dark, hoping to hit a target.

  5. The Internet is not like any other medium that has come before it. We all find it hard to define what the Internet brings. First came print and print-distributed information. Then there was radio, which added a human voice. Then came TV, which added a picture. And now there's the Internet, but what does it bring? Many of us say it brings interactivity but then have trouble defining why and how.

  6. Measuring effectiveness is a totally different ball game. You can easily measure where people go, but you can't be told why. Without knowing why, you can't predict where they will go next because you don't know who your user is or what makes the user tick. Knowing your user is much more important online than it is offline because online the user has a longer interaction. The online experience is a very direct interaction with the brand. If you can't find what you want on the site, it's bad for the brand. If you can't navigate around the site, it's bad for the brand. It's never the user's fault -- it's the brand's fault. Expectations are high, and high expectations can be brutal to live up to.

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Kate Eberhardt

Kate Eberhardt, is presently Account Planner at imc2 based out of Dallas. Prior to that, Kate worked as an Account Planner at Publicis.

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