Is Online Marketing Growing Up?

Interactive marketing may finally be coming of age, judging by the themes running through many sessions at this week’s Ad:tech conference in New York.

Ad:tech is often used as a bellwether of the digital marketing industry. Earlier this year, at Ad:tech San Francisco in April, attendees saw hints of a maturing sector, which Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker described as “underutilized.”

Many sessions this week addressed ways online marketers have begun to think beyond the banner; to use more relevant metrics; and to get their bosses to consider the marketing function as an investment, rather than an expense.

While there were still declarations of the death of old media, along with calls to get back to basics with Web site design, many of the sessions had a distinctly grown-up and business-like feel.

Examples of thinking beyond the banner were shared at Tuesday’s “Client-Agency Tango” session, where advertiser-agency pairings from Nestle Purina Cat Chow and R/GA, and Procter & Gamble and Bridge Worldwide talked about recent campaigns. To create a microsite at Catchow.com, Nestle leveraged the studio time, talent and themes from its TV commercials in an online experience. P&G used the online channel to convey useful content within a branded message.

The drumbeat of engagement, so strong at Ad:tech Chicago in July, continued to sound at the New York show. It was certainly audible at the standing-room-only “Simple Principles for all New Media Marketing” session, where execs from Carat Fusion, DoubleClick, the Laredo Group, and Palisades Marketing described an industry that has moved beyond old definitions of media and marketing — and won ad dollars away from TV and print.

Greg Smith, EVP at Carat Fusion, noted the groundswell of support for shedding the frequency metric. Embracing engagement as a marketing metric will help the Web compare more favorably to old media, he said, which will always win at reach and frequency.

Many of Tuesday’s sessions also brought calls for more meaningful measurements, including customer lifetime value and return on ad spend. At a session on “Lowering Customer Acquisition Costs,” Offermatica CEO Matt Roche advised the audience that constant testing of offers is the best way to listen to customers, and leads to more effective targeting. And Avinash Kaushik, Intuit’s manager of research and analytics, said watching pageviews is “how idiots track success.”

Kaushik said end-to-end measurement should do several things. It should examine the experiences of customers, through research and customer satisfaction measurement. It should look at their behavior, through Web analytics. And it should scrutinize outcomes, by counting leads and order placement.

“If you’re making decisions based on CPC or CPM, that’s too small a part of the equation,” he said. “If you have only one metric to drive change, that’s customer satisfaction.” Finally, a session on managing marketing processes proposed marketing ought to be considered an investment rather than an expense.

“Marketing organizations are under a lot of pressure for greater accountability, for proving long-term ROI,” said Naras Eechambadi, CEO of business process consultancy Quaero. “Better processes are an important way to improve performance without increasing spending.”

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