Innovation Isn’t a Clean Sport

“Innovation is not a clean sport.”

Or so I read recently in a “Wired” article about an entrepreneur trying to find a way to recycle plastic grocery bags by turning them into hip messenger bags. It involved feeding bags into a crazy homegrown machine designed to melt the bags and form a piece of fabric.

As I read, I was envisioning a couple of guys in some back alley huddled around a boiling cauldron of sorts, slowly feeding bags into a gurgling mixture, all the while stirring it with a giant stick. I began to see similarities to my current role.

We deal with interactive video, mobile, gaming, virtual worlds, digital signage, and the like. This stuff is messy. It’s frustrating. It’s ugly, devoid of standards, and rife with pitfalls. In many cases, the audiences you wind up reaching just aren’t all that big yet. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. We must all be willing to jump in and get dirty. This requires a shift in the way we (and our clients) evaluate media and, more broadly, risk.

The platforms we’re testing today already provide mechanisms to develop deeper conversations and relationships with consumers. That, in and of itself, makes this stuff worth the effort. But there’s a bigger issue. Real changes in consumer behavior, enabled by technology, are creating mass chaos in the media universe. As the new world continues to evolve, it’s critical to begin experimenting now. So much of this stuff requires entirely new machinery and strategic approaches; those who sit back and wait will find it difficult in a few years to simultaneously test and learn how to leverage it all, then build the machinery. They’ll fall behind. You can’t get the best product out of your machine while you’re still learning how to build said machine.

It’s like buying a home theater storage unit from Ikea the day of the big game and putting all your expensive gear in there before it’s fully assembled. Those pictograms don’t provide a lot of guidance, but the gang is coming over to watch the game so you’ve got to run with it. Danger, Will Robinson! Suddenly, you’re putting a lot more money at risk than simply the cost of the storage unit. Those thousands of dollars you’ve invested in the gear are also hanging in the balance.

Similarly, those who push off testing and experimenting around emerging media platforms risk much more than the relatively small dollars required to test today. But how do you get started in a smart way?

Here are a few basic best practices for navigating these emerging platforms:

  • Manage expectations for all parties. This is a really broad one, touching on everything from the investment required to the size of the audience to the expected results. It obviously includes the client directly, but it’s also important to provide the tools and support they need to manage the expectations of their internal organizations. Emerging media can go sideways quickly. Things change at a moment’s notice, upsetting the best of plans. It’s the nature of the beast. Just be ready to adapt and move as fluidly as the channel itself, and make sure everyone’s aware of this possibility.

  • Redefine ROI (define). Some tests fit nicely into a marketer’s existing metrics and expectations for return. Others don’t. But if the test is structured properly, the lesson will be the true return.
  • Review detailed terms and conditions early. The lack of standardization goes beyond ad formats and metrics. It also applies to legal terms, privacy policies, counting methodologies, and so on. We’re still working a lot of this stuff out in the “established” online media world, so we can’t expect it to be perfect in emerging media. We’ve had a few campaigns nearly get cancelled recently due to unexpected fine print that appeared at the last moment. Get all this stuff out of the way upfront for your best chance of smooth sailing.
  • Leverage partners for best practices and audience insights. In most cases, partners or publishers know the audience their channel or technology will reach. They’ve done their own testing around what that audience wants and how they want to receive it. Leverage those insights to inform how your campaigns get integrated.
  • Don’t just repurpose assets. It’s tempting to try to make ad assets from one channel fit into a new one. That can be effective in some rare cases, but many emerging media platforms reinvent both the content and the advertising. Trying to repurpose for those new formats will render any lessons almost useless. You won’t know how the thing works unless you test it the right way. That means developing new assets that truly leverage the new platform. To do that, you’ll likely need to get a cross-discipline team engaged in the project. It sounds like a lot of extra effort, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 19 in New York City.

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