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Introducing the ELF Report

  |  December 1, 2003   |  Comments

In which ELVES are surveyed (using pretty dicey methodology, if you ask us) about the state of the industry.

It is my distinct pleasure to offer the very first ELF Report as we head toward the close of the year. This report surveys online marketers, publishers, journalists, consultants, advertisers, and generally smart people regarding their thoughts on our medium. I think we'll make ELF stand for E-business Learnings and Forecasts. (Yeah, that sounds official.) Respondents are collectively knows as ELVES, which (let's say) stands for E-business Leaders, Visionaries, Entrepreneurs, and Scholars.

Fact is, I sent an email with four very straightforward questions to about 20 people I respect in the industry. I bring you, in aggregate form, their answers -- and my thoughts.

Note About the Methodology

The ELF Report's methodology is slightly less scientific than backyard cold fusion. Use accordingly. I can tell you, though, I reached out to some pretty interesting people. I contacted two very well-known journalists, a few opinion leaders, a very experienced media planner, the former head of an interactive shop, and the CEOs of a couple of search engine marketing (SEM) firms. Think of this as a few snatches of a conversation, rather than a rigorous research report. As such, some things appear out of context. I provide commentary, and invite you to share yours with me.

Question 1: What are you thankful for this year?

The good news is the ELVES find a lot to be thankful for. Not one responded with, "I still have a job," or, "I dunno. I guess I'm thankful I don't have a foot growing out of my forehead" (top answer in 2001). A few responses:

  • The saving-our-bacon growth of search marketing

  • The ever-increasing knowledge (and trust) of our clients

  • LookSmart being yanked from MSN

  • Geeks

Bottom line: There's a significant amount of good feelings in this group. Optimism is high, thanks not only to successes they've seen but also the fact there's momentum behind those successes.

That one about LookSmart being yanked... ouch. I'll protect the innocent, but I will say this did not come from a LookSmart competitor. I believe the notion behind the statement is the herd is being thinned a bit. Tough, but good for long-term survival. My feeling is LookSmart's the one to watch for innovation. It's the most motivated to come up with something new and exciting enough to attract capital back to its company.

Question 2: What (related to the Internet and e-business) is on your holiday wish list?

What would the holiday season be without hope? Answer: April 15. That said, the ELVES submitted a fairly short list of wishes. This might be due to all the enthusiasm and good feelings, a sense we have what we need. But that can lead to a dulling of the innovation side of the brain. We'll keep looking for wild ideas. Responses:

  • Funding

  • Better creative, less bickering about "channel effectiveness"

  • An end to the relentless stream of Plaxo email

  • Google formalizing a paid-inclusion program for Froogle

  • RSS directory

Bottom line: These wishes aren't for new and wondrous things. The ELVES mostly wish for smoothing the rough spots of doing business. This is not to be underestimated. I've hear from some that particular issues (e.g., getting precise about reach and frequency) is an anchor around the neck of this industry. Major efforts should be directed toward fixing problems. I've also heard that some advertisers view SEM as too complicated and difficult.

That Plaxo statement kills me. Someone in my office observed the unstated message in a Plaxo email is, "I'm getting ready to leave this company and want to make sure I've got my Rolodex ready." Careful about sending those things out.

Question 3: Who's the Grinch this year, and what will change his/her dark, little heart?

The ELVES are such good people. As a group, they had the most trouble answering this question. Not to say there aren't any Grinches out there. Just the usual suspects:

  • Spammers -- 2,000 messages in two days.

  • The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

  • The agency exec who refuses to give interactive its due.

  • Google: "I have to wonder if Google's original mission has been sidetracked."

Bottom line: The ELVES, like the rest of us, are sick and tired of charlatans and scam artists mucking up the system. Clearly, bad people find a way to use any medium to their ends. I believe they recently uncovered cave paintings in what's now New Zealand offering "increases in length and girth." There's something about the Internet; when there's bad, it seems to resonate to all levels and with all players. It's clearly a source of frustration.

Thing is, there's not a lot we can do about it, other than continuing to stick to the straight and narrow. Sounds easy, but challenges abound. SEM techniques that were no problem just a few years ago are viewed as unacceptable today. The perception of adware is shifting very rapidly. There are big issues we know to avoid, such as spam and sharing information without permission.

Meanwhile, we find new ways to touch consumers with this technology. Our industry lacks clear ethical guidelines in many areas, relegating the determination of what's right to either the courts or open discussion forums. I hope to see more of the latter, less of the former.

Question 4: Whom do you hope to find under the mistletoe so you can give him/her/it a great big kiss?

This is one of the better holiday season traditions. The ELVES by and large are pretty generous with the kisses. There were even a few who gave simple and inspiring answers. A few responses:

  • Family

  • Anyone executing quality online campaigns and telling me about it [from a journalist]

  • The bankers behind the Google IPO

  • Tacoda, Revenue Science, and SiteAdvance

  • Danny Sullivan, for being the honest voice of SEM

Bottom line: Those receiving the kisses are the ones not only doing good work but also actively trying to make the space better, more open, and more valuable. Even the person looking to warm up to the Google banker isn't solely in it for a cash windfall. It's also about a major PR boost and influx of confidence for our industry. That tide will hopefully raise us all.

What about you? Feel free to answer these questions yourself and send them my way. I'll continue posting them on my blog, at least until the end of the year.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Stein

Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.

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