Back to the Future Marketing

Time-shifting is now the most critical challenge facing marketers. But I’m not talking about DVRs.

These days successful marketing requires that we straddle the past, the present, and the future. Hello, McFly.

We must continue to exploit the tried and true approaches of marketing plans past that still deliver business results. After all, we’re all on the hook for immediate growth. But we also must become expert in the approaches that represent the rapidly approaching future.

And so the principal challenge for integration isn’t about the mix of channels and tactics, it’s “temporal” — how to optimally blend the old with the new.

It’s a challenge that isn’t made any easier by all of the noisy chatter and conflicting advice on the topic. Just take a look at the discussion around television as an example.

On the one hand we read about the death of TV so often that the tube could have its own section in the obits (except that print is dying, too, so no one would read it). On the other hand we hear that Americans watch more TV than ever, so maybe things aren’t that different after all? But on the other, other hand we hear that agencies are completely unprepared for the coming future of a more Internet-like TV experience. And so on.

It’s an extremely important topic and conversation, one that calls for more nuance and less hyperbole. What we’re in desperate need of are some facts, a bit of perspective, and a few useful suggestions.

A just-released piece of research conducted by Bellwether Leadership Research and Development does much to help advance the conversation about the integration of traditional and digital approaches in a productive way.

In partnership with the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Bellwether fielded an online survey completed by nearly 300 senior executives from agencies, advertisers, and media owners in an attempt to identify solutions for navigating this past/future divide. In addition, Bellwether conducted interviews with 26 senior executives from across the spectrum of advertisers, agencies, and digital media companies.

The results of the research suggest that success can be achieved through a concentration on four core themes:


In these lean times making a commitment to education may seem like a luxury, but the research indicated the opposite is true. In fact, education is a path to competitive advantage for organizations that make it a priority.


The research uncovered a surprising openness across all parties to working more collaboratively with one another. All three groups surveyed indicated that internal organizational silos are a major obstacle that gets in the way of collaboration and integration. Collaboration may be difficult to achieve, but we all recognize it’s the only way to fully take advantage of the range of available media and creative options.


There exists a widespread desire by both advertisers and agencies (yes, really) for the use of hard metrics to measure the success of digital marketing efforts.


Advertisers want and need creative and innovation solutions, but agencies need to embrace a broader view of creativity — one that includes “creative” perspectives from team members from all backgrounds and disciplines.

In addition to the research findings, Bellwether has also provided a list of 25 actionable suggestions for agencies, advertisers and media owners. Some of my favorites that were directed at agencies include:

  • Tap into the intellectual property readily available at digital media companies (i.e., media owners) as a way to fast-track education. This is a great strategy for getting up to speed quickly on broader marketplace trends and opportunities, and one that costs nothing to put in place.
  • Learn to speak the other person’s language as part of the process of reaching across organizational silos and meet people more than halfway. Having spent my entire career working on digital efforts, I know there’s a ton I need to learn about traditional marketing. You know, the other 90 percent of things.
  • Partner with your clients to develop agency incentives and create scorecards. It’s business school 101: align incentives and desired behaviors. If collaboration is a requirement for successful integrated marketing, then reward and penalize agencies for the ability to play nicely with others, for example.

Even if you don’t agree with the Bellwether’s specific suggestions, you’ll find the study a worthwhile, comforting read. What you’ll see is that beneath the attention-grabbing headlines and proclamations, the industry is being moved forward by people who are very aware of the changes around them and who are adapting as quickly as they can. Just like you.

Double-disclaimer: I was one of the 26 people interviewed in this study, and also work as an unpaid advisor to Bellwether.

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