Making Digital Marketing Easy, Part 1

“Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

A high school teacher gave me that advice years ago, and the acronym stuck. “Simple” is the antithesis of a conversation about the digital marketing industry I had recently with a colleague. During our talk, I came to the stark realization that nothing about this industry is simple. From the initial client engagement right through to the billing and reconciliation processes, we’re fraught with inefficiency and complexity.

Until we make the process simpler, we won’t become more than the “3 percent medium.” Once we identify the primary “pressure points,” we can think about how to remove the barriers. Key problem areas include: compensation; the media planning and buying process; creative needs; tracking/analysis/optimization; and billing/reconciliation.

Barrier: Compensation

Once you secure a new project and/or client, you must typically agree on compensation before starting the work. Depending on structure (i.e., independent digital agency vs. internal digital group within a large agency), you face slightly different challenges at this initial stage. In either scenario, you’ll undoubtedly be forced into the defensive posture of justifying the costs necessary to do business in the digital space. It won’t matter if you’re fee-based or charging a commission. You cannot compete with traditional media organization rates.

We’ve had success educating most of our clients on the complexities of the business and proven the need for higher commission or fee structures for digital services. There’s no doubt it’s a struggle to convince clients to pay the fees necessary to run a profitable digital media unit (greater efficiencies in the process help drive the operating costs down, more on that later).

For those of us who are part of a larger communications company (read: ad agency), it’s often even more difficult. Typically, client contracts are in place covering full-service (media and creative) duties, but these may not cover interactive services. If a project arises mid-year, one must approach clients for additional fees. In this economy, that’s rarely (if ever) well received. The solution is to anticipate all clients will eventually have some need for interactive services.

If you’re a client, ensure your agency builds time into the contract. Agencies should be proactive and put it in. If the service wasn’t rendered, a rebate can be issued. Returning money is always much easier than requesting more.

Barrier: Media Planning and Buying Process

We’ve come a long way, but there are still inefficiencies in the way we plan and buy digital media. Let’s destroy those barriers! If you’re still in the world of Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, move on. Two products can save you tons of time with campaign planning and media buying basics: MediaVisor (from DoubleClick) and Media Console (from Atlas DMT). Both are Web-based applications permitting you to perform online research, issue requests for proposal (RFPs), create flowcharts, obtain client authorizations, send insertion orders, traffic creative, and so on.

These systems do reduce face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) contact with media partners, which some object to. But they really help streamline the workflow. We institutionalized one of these products across our U.S. offices about a year ago and have seen dramatic improvements in planning and buying efficiency. Often, they’re thrown in as “free services” as part of a third-party ad server contract, so there’s really no excuse not to use them.

The digital world has no shortage of data and research. So establish a set of “preferred” research tools. Do some due diligence on each data source’s methodologies, and go on record with clients as to which you support. Instead of scouring all of Jupiter, Forrester, comScore Media Metrix, Nielsen//NetRatings (including @Plan, NetRatings, WebRF, and AdRelevance) as well as CMR, you’ll rely on a standard set of two or three tools. This forestalls any ambiguity when planners set off on exploration and research. Clients are less inclined to question your research if they’ve already bought into the preferred vendor.

Next, we’ll look at creative needs — tracking/analysis/optimization and billing/ reconciliation. I’ll identify specific pain areas and ways to alleviate that pain. Once we make engaging and working with digital media professionals easy, it will be an integral part of the marketing equation.

Until then, remember to KISS!

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