Outlook: Enthusiasm, Optimism, and Confidence

Last week, I attended the iMedia Summit on Amelia Island, Florida. It’s a gathering of interactive media buyers, sellers, and a handful of creative people. Twice a year, for two and a half days, we all get together to share the latest trends, best practices, case studies, and a drink or two. The vibe at this year’s conference can be summed up in three words: enthusiasm, optimism, and confidence.

Remember the dot-com boom and its atmosphere of “irrational exuberance”? This conference was full of “confidence” because now, that atmosphere has changed. I’ve seen the industry during the up times and the down times. This time around, people seem wiser, more serious, seasoned… and more confident.

The agenda featured lots of discussion about things like 21st century strategy, behavioral targeting, mobile marketing, emerging platforms, the online urban audience, and human capital. The latter in particular seems to be a real industry concern.

One panel addressed the human capital issue and how it’s harder than ever to find good talent. Lots of companies are looking for people. (As a matter of fact, I’m looking for an interactive media superstar to help lead and grow the department as a media director. If you’re interested and qualified, send me your resume.) The demand for more people is certainly a great business sign.

It’s not the only one. We’re a little more than a decade into the interactive marketing business, after all, and people are starting to feel really good about where the industry is heading. Rick Bruner, director of research for DoubleClick and a speaker at the summit, recently authored a report about the last 10 years of interactive marketing. He’s covered the high notes, the low notes, and the resurgence of interactive media.

Some high points from his research:

  • A seller’s market is emerging. It seemed there existed an unlimited amount of ad inventory on billions of Web pages. Yet in key categories like automotive, technology, telecom, travel, and healthcare, the most desirable inventory is becoming tighter. In some cases, it’s sold out. In addition, publishers are responding to audience demand for less clutter. Ad sizes are growing, which means fewer ads per page. Rates are on the rise. This should be a win-win-win. The consumer wins by not being bombarded with multiple ads. The advertiser wins by having more prominence, and more impact, on the page. And the publisher wins by being able to charge higher rates.

  • Marketers are demanding more accountability. The Internet has always been viewed as a measurable medium. That’s both good and bad for us. Good in that we continue to set standards for how all media should be measured. Bad in that it’s made it a little more difficult to establish the Internet as a brand-building medium. We seem to have overcome the latter.

    As marketers demand more accountability in all aspects of their businesses, interactive marketing is taking on a more prominent role. And the industry is rising to the challenge with even more ways to measure performance, ways that include view-through measurement, optimal frequency, and media mix modeling.

  • Consumers are demanding more control. Rick points out the mass media is losing its “mass” as consumers get more and more media choices. They also have more access to technologies that put them in control. Technologies such as DVRs, pop-up blockers, even iPods, put more control into the audience’s hands. This signals a shift in media consumption and marketing. Consumer control scares advertisers and publishers. An Online Publishers Association study highlighted in DoubleClick’s report points out more people are paying for online content. So publishers are finding alternative ways to monetize content. This also means marketers must find more innovative, entertaining, value-based ways to engage consumers.

I’ve got to say I’m more excited than ever about the opportunities and the challenges facing this industry. After having spent the last few days with 300 of my peers, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who’s jazzed.

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