Last-Mile Marketing

Been to an advertising conference lately? Read any blog posts or books by marketing vanguards? If so, you’ve most likely been implored to let go of control, introduce chaos, and embrace the unexpected for your marketing campaign.

Inspired? I would think so. Generally the message to break out of marketing’s conventional structures and to innovate gets people’s blood pumping. Throw in a few case studies for car manufacturers or consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies that have successfully thrown out the rule book and achieved breakthrough success, and the task seems simple: do anything but the expected.

How about the execution? The fact of the matter is 99 percent of all marketing sticks pretty close to the norm. Technologies are introduced and conversations begun, but the really breakthrough stuff still belongs to a scant minority. This, too often, becomes fodder for those speakers and writers who diminish the work (and the workers) as scared or (worse) clueless.

It’s not that simple. I believe (rather, I know from talking with them) many marketers would very much like to move into more open and innovative advertising campaigns. But they’re prevented, or at least hampered to the point of ineffectiveness, by the systems that are in place not only within their own organizations but through the entire communications structure.

The Dreaded Legal Department

I was talking with some of the Creative Commons team. If you don’t know about this group, take a couple minutes to explore its offering. Essentially, it’s developing alternatives to the strict binary copyright law, which says a work is either totally protected or totally unprotected. I saw them a day or two after the GRAMMY Awards at which a mash-up had been honored with an award.

In the acceptance speech, one of the artists half-jokingly thanked the lawyers for allowing it all to happen. That, the Creative Commons team members pointed out, is precisely the issue they’re trying to solve. Because each work was under a blanket of copyright laws, it was nearly impossible for the artists to collaborate. Marketers must constantly face this issue. The concept of allowing consumers the chance to remix a commercial or song is absolutely cool. The problem is getting this to happen requires a Herculean effort, and (honestly and unfortunately) many marketers simply haven’t got the time or the budget to achieve this.

So, too, with embracing consumer-generated media (CGM). Why did Apple never, ever say anything about George Masters’ iPod ad? I suppose we’ll never know, but we can be pretty sure someone saw it. It’s possible the only course of action it could quickly and efficiently enact was to send a cease-and-desist letter. If this is the case, thank you very much for doing nothing, Apple. Great decision.

The Measurement Question

There’s such a focus on accountability and measurability these days. This has led many marketers to establish a set of ongoing campaigns providing a steady flow of leads: search, behavioral targeting, and optimization networks. Many of the trends and technologies that have gained a foothold in marketing departments have a common value proposition: structure. Technology is attractive to marketing because it helps solve the not-knowing-where-the-ad-money-goes problem.

So now that there’s some efficiency, structure, and expectation of efficacy introduced into this happily (somewhat-) stable environment, we’re asked to bring in something that’s out of control? You can imagine the concern.

If new marketing ideas are to be accepted, they’ll clearly have to be placed into a similar structure. At least, they must be able to adhere to a similar accountability standard. Each idea requires a different approach, but I think marketers need to think about approaches such as Future Now’s Persuasion Architecture. This is a solid way to approach interaction (not impression) measurement. New ideas are great. But rigor must be applied to their implementation so they fit in.

The Big Opportunity

There’s an enormous opportunity for agencies here. Agencies generally focus on generating breakthrough ideas, as they should. That’s what they’re hired for. But the more breakthrough (and therefore valuable) the idea, the greater the chance of it hitting an organizational wall that will stop it cold. The opportunity, then, exists for either a distinct agency or a distinct department to specifically focus on helping clients work through structural issues.

In a sense, this is more akin to management consulting than to creative agency work. But it’s a critical element; call it last-mile marketing (the distance between the marketing department and the legal department). It’s not as inspiring a message as “break the rules!” but it is practical and can help these ideas see the light of day.

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