Abandon the Campaign and Embrace the Channel

Clearly the new constant in marketing is change, and agencies and marketers who embrace this constant change are best suited to succeed in today’s environment. But where does this leave businesses and business models that have enjoyed success and prosperity based on formulas that relied on particular media channels and constants?

Goodbye to Old School

I remember I was in a meeting with a direct marketing company that literally did hundreds of millions in sales via a simple formula: celebrity spokesperson plus DRTV (direct response television) plus limited print. When they first started 20 years back, there were a handful of national and local networks and a menu of shows that hit their demo like an arrow to a bull’s-eye. They ran their ads, the phones rang, and the dollars poured in. The cost per customer was low and the profits were high. Simple! Today, this is not the case.

Shifting Media Landscape

The shifts in media and media consumption habits have been more frequent and more profound than in the last 50 years. Audiences got fragmented as cable ushered in literally hundreds of channels; search changed the way consumers of all ages located goods and services they wished to purchase; print circulations plummeted; banner ROI viability came and went; thousands of affiliate marketers chasing bounties cluttered the web with spammy search results, ads, and email, making it harder for this company to dominate as they did with television; and finally, the analytics requirements to identify what worked in their ever-diversifying environment got ever higher. On top of that, even when the analytics did identify a winning formula, it was often a “nugget” that lacked scale and long-term viability.

So now here I was in this meeting with what I would consider to be very traditional marketers, and do you think these industry war heroes wanted to hear about social and mobile? I was there to tell them about the next big shift in consumer media consumptions and they were looking forward to another variable in their business model like a hole in the head.

Channels, Not Campaigns

The thing that these executives need to know is that it’s possible to succeed in this environment if you embrace change and learn to test, measure, and harvest faster and better than your competition. To do this you need an agile real-time platform that can adapt and evolve to changing requirements and opportunities. In other words, you need an optimization-enabled channel.

The Power of Now

Noted author and speaker David Meerman Scott talks about “the power of now” in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR.” He put it best when he spoke in a lecture I saw about how planning campaigns based on old data can be a dangerous approach in today’s real-time, ever-changing world. He presents a scenario where data from a campaign that was launched six months ago is analyzed. Then a campaign is planned and launched based on that data. Let’s say this whole process takes three months. (Yes, a long time, but have you ever tried getting creative developed, approved, and through compliance?) So in this scenario many companies are launching campaigns that will run for months based on results and data from campaigns that were addressing market conditions nine months ago! This is not leveraging the “power of now.”

The Agile Optimization-Ready Channel

The approach companies need to take to be agile and responsive is to abandon the whole notion of campaigns and to embrace the concept of channels. (This applies to both direct response and branding.) A campaign has a start date and an end date. It either works or it doesn’t work. A channel goes on forever; it has none of these absolutes. It never goes dark, can change and evolve as needed, and builds on itself year after year.

A channel by its nature is agile and ready for optimization. It has a pulse that can be visualized and acted upon. It typically doesn’t have a point of no return. It doesn’t bet the farm on its success. Media types, placements, and creative ad units can be tracked and turned on and off at will. They develop patterns and trends that can be tracked and replicated.

Five Rules for Managing a Successful Channel

So to convert the mindset of a company from campaigns and channels, here are five rules that will help you on your way:

  1. Measure. I know this is obvious, but don’t just say it, do it. Decide on your metrics and look at them every day. Everyone says they do this, but guess what – I can tell you they don’t! They put all their energy into the launch and very little into the optimization. If you’re going to manage a channel, get to know and love your metrics and dashboards.
  2. Accept bad news. The good thing about online media and marketing is you can track everything in real or near time. The data is there – look at it and make fact-based decisions. But also be warned, the bad thing about online media is you can track everything. So be prepared to report bad news when it happens and have a follow-up that says “and here is what we are going to do about it.”
  3. Don’t hold a bad stock. Don’t get too invested in any one set of media properties, creative concepts, or messages. I’m not saying veer from your brand standards, but sticking with a particular concept, offer, message, or ad because you like it, the research you did said it would work, or a lot of work went into producing it is futile. It’s like sticking with a stock you spent $100 on and riding it all the way down to $1. If you’re measuring the things that are important, the pulse of your channel will tell you whether what you’re putting out there resonates with your target audience.
  4. Lock and load. Optimizing a channel can be like chess: always be thinking three moves ahead. Don’t pick one concept or set of creative, pick three or four and keep a couple locked and loaded and ready for when one of your concepts underperforms or fatigues. Keep your channel fresh. This means also having them pre-approved by everyone including compliance. This will help you with rule number five.
  5. Be reactive. While planning is great and we all love a good plan, be ready to evolve and change based on what the data tells you. Remember the quote, “Every plan is good until the first shot is fired.” This means that in addition to having a plan to optimize your channel, you also need to optimize workflow. I’m not saying totally let go like some of the more social media-centric pundits say (we all know that most organizations aren’t ready for that), but taking three weeks to approve a creative concept is unacceptable in today’s real-time marketing climate. So if marketing and advertising is at all important to your organization, create a streamline process. Anything less than a day to get things approved and three minutes for IT to launch a landing page just will not do!

Any more rules to add? Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Please comment, “like,” and share this column!

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