Connecting the Dots

Slowly but surely, all communications are becoming digital. The Internet is digital, TV is migrating to digital cable and satellite, radio has gone digital with SIRIUS and XM (and HD Radio, to a lesser extent), and out of home is quickly becoming a more dynamic digital medium. The notable exception is print. Magazines and newspapers certainly begin as digital entities, but they end as analog print pieces.

What does a ubiquitous digital platform do for us marketers? It gets us one step closer to connecting the dots.

Many of us remember when the Internet was viewed as a silo in marketing organizations. It was a physical separation, in that typically a dedicated department focused on interactive, as well as a perceptual separation; the belief this Internet “thing” was a whole lot different than other marketing activities.

Needless to say, there’s been a marked change in this regard over the past few years. A recent Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) report, “Integrated Marketing: Using Real-Time Data is Key to Success,” finds of 464 executives surveyed, 70 percent of their organizations gave Internet responsibility to the traditional marketing department. This was followed by 9 percent having a dedicated online advertising department; and 7 percent assigning Internet responsibility to the sales (and sales promotion) department.

The same trend can be seen on the ad agency front. Several years ago, there were dozens of specialized Internet agencies. Now, the vast majority are folded into traditional marketing and communication organizations. Organizationally, this makes a big difference. At the top of the ad agency, and at the top of marketers’ organizations, sit a group of people with a vested interest in getting a holistic view of all marketing activities. Digitization of all communications makes this dreams more of a reality than ever before.

Before we get too excited, let’s remind ourselves we’re not there yet. Jupiter Research asked 411 advertisers who currently use or have used online advertising if it’s difficult to compare on- and offline campaign performance. Nearly half said it is. Of this same pool, nearly a third said their online campaigns are more resource intensive than offline. If we start considering all the available touch points and all the dots that must be connected, we begin to sense how complex the challenge really is.

Some of the most important dots in the picture are Web-based analytics, e-commerce metrics, call/email center activities, online advertising metrics, offline purchase behavior, and offline media communications. Difference companies have different approaches to connecting the dots. Some solutions focus on online metrics as the core data set, others rely more heavily on sophisticated marketing mix models. Some companies that stand out in this include Marketing Management Analytics (MMA), Hudson River Group, WebSideStory, Intelligent Results, and Siebel.

As all things migrate toward a common digital platform, it will become increasingly easier to connect the dots. We’re already beginning to see a convergence of online and TV activity. As digital cable gains penetration, the mechanics behind TV content delivery (from video servers) in an on-demand environment will look very similar to the delivery of Internet content from Web servers. The way we use ad servers online will eventually be the way we use ad servers (the same ones?) to serve ads into the TV space. With a single source serving both elements, it will undoubtedly be easier to connect those dots.

This universal digital ad server could ostensibly serve the wireless space (handheld devices such as phones and PDAs as well as digital radio), providing further cross-platform insights.

I’m certain many of you are struggling with these same issues. Let me know how you’re approaching it. If there are any resounding best practices, I’ll report back in a future column.

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