Incompetence on the Cutting Edge

It’s beginning to feel like marketers will do just about anything for attention these days. Consider Snapple’s ill-fated popsicle debacle, Target’s takeover of “The New Yorker”, GoldenPalace.com’s wacky human advertising, the coming-to-a-Tube-near-you moving subway advertising, and the morally questionable practice of “bumvertising.” There’s no question we’re all in an endless quest for the consumer’s attention.

And why not? With the growing explosion of new media channels coming at us via cable, podcasting (define), PSPcasting (define), blogs, and other attention-sucking diversions, it’s getting tougher to get our brands in front of the people we’re trying to reach.

But is the problem always one of too many choices and not enough attention? Could our basic business practices really be to blame? Two disturbing new reports seem to indicate lack of success in online campaigns may have more to do with incompetence than lack of eyeballs.

WebTrends recently released a study indicating over 26 percent of Web marketers are “flying blind,” lacking the confidence and tools to effectively measure their online marketing efforts. Combine those who report they’re flying blind with those who report they’re only “moderately confident” their measurement methods are sufficient (another 26 percent), and you end up with over half of marketers surveyed not even sure if they get what they pay for (and what their clients pay them to do).

Even more disturbing are the results of the “Internet Campaign Effectiveness Study” released by U.K.-based SciVisum. It finds nearly 75 percent of online campaigns suffer from Web site failures and technical glitches, with 14 percent of campaigns suffering from technical glitches so bad they failed to meet their objectives.

Though marketing on the Web today seems pretty routine, these studies point to the fact many are still wrestling with the technology. The SciVisum study finds most problems arose when the IT and marketing departments failed to communicate, not surprising for any of us who’ve ever had to deal with IT staff who don’t speak our language. It’s not just a language issue: over 25 percent of the firms surveyed admit they never alerted their IT departments when a campaign was about to be launched.

Other advertising forms’ technical parts of delivering a message to a prospect are handled by outside media experts rather than internally (most companies I know don’t have internally managed TV or radio stations). The Web is different. It requires coordinating a lot of different folks who may rarely speak with one another. We’re still dealing with a relatively young, highly technical medium. These studies underscore the importance of not forgetting that fact.

The issue’s bigger than just lack of measurement or technical glitches. Lately, it seems marketers are inundated with an unstoppable tide of new media choices and new ad forms. It’s easy to get overwhelmed deciding where to put money and efforts. RSS (define)? Podcasting? Blogs? Search engines? Alternate reality gaming? PSPcasting? In-game advertising? The choices seem endless and ever growing.

What’s a savvy marketer to do?

Though the temptation may be to jump onto the latest bandwagon, the fact remains most users spend their time on the Web doing pretty mundane stuff. A recent Forrester study finds only 2 percent of U.S. adults use RSS, a number that seems to fly in the face of the buzz associated with the medium. Podcasts are definitely growing in popularity (especially after the advent of podcasts on iTunes), and blogs have begun to catch the eye of media buyers (particularly after the publication of the Feedster 500 list). But these media forms are still in their infancy.

Does this mean you shouldn’t consider these new media? Not at all; the demographics of all the latest, greatest stuff skew sharply toward younger, savvier users. If these are the folks you’re trying to reach, you’d better be on the cutting edge. Even if you’re not, you’d better understand what’s up-and-coming. The today’s young podcast listeners will be tomorrow’s adult big spenders.

What do you do? These studies seem to point to a strategy that should comfort you overwhelmed marketers out there. Get your house in order first, concentrate on the basics, and experiment with new stuff until you understand it. If you can’t get the basics down — measurement and technical excellence — all the fancy ways of getting people’s attention are moot. Without the ability to measure success and provide a flawless user experience to the prospects you drive to your site, you might as well advertise on a cow.

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