Technical Due Diligence

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

Last week’s column on tracking online competitive spending, as expected, generated more than the usual amount of mail. I knew I’d get mail from the various companies in the category. I expected the typical “Yes, you’re right” and “No, you’re an idiot” mail. What I didn’t expect was mail from interactive marketers asking whether or not I thought it would make sense to cancel subscriptions to these competitive spending services.

That’s a tough one! It really doesn’t matter what I think; such a decision has to be made by the folks considering whether or not they need the service.

Most of our traditional media counterparts can give a client an idea of how competitive spending is tracked offline. When a client asks about how it all comes together, many media planners can describe how ads are tracked, attributed to various advertisers, and monetized. It shouldn’t be much different for those in interactive media.

As we guide our clients toward success on the Internet, it is imperative that we familiarize ourselves with the technology we use in performing our jobs think of it as taking a peek under the hood. I’m not suggesting that every interactive media planner needs to geek out on Slashdot every day, but we should be familiar with the basics.

In continuing with the car analogy, I think it’s only fair that ClickZ readers should know that I am not the biggest gearhead in the world. For all things automotive, I consult with my friend Dan, who is a claims inspector for State Farm Insurance and comes from a well-established line of car enthusiasts. (To give you an idea of Dan’s level of expertise, he completely restored a 1971 VW Beetle of mine without leaving his garage.) When Dan and I talk cars, the conversation goes something like this…

    Me: I’m thinking about buying a used Miata. Anything I should know?

    Dan: Well, the Miata got an 87.58 in government crash-test ratings, and the car shows a strong propensity toward…

    Me: English translation, s’il vous plait…

    Dan: If you get in an accident, it will crumple like a piece of crepe paper.

It’s good to have a guy like Dan around. Likewise, if interactive media planners poke around under the hood of a new piece of technology and they can’t grasp exactly what they’re looking at, they need to enlist the help of their organization’s tech equivalent of Dan.

Your agency’s Dan might be one of the guys who sits in the air-conditioned network room during the day and throws around terms like “shell account” and “TCP/IP stack” in casual conversation. In many cases, these folks would welcome the chance to come to a meeting with a potential technology partner and help out with the technical due diligence. Usually, your invitation to the tech folks to try to poke holes in a piece of technology is like inviting Rush Limbaugh to tell you about what the Clinton administration is doing wrong. It will be seen as a challenge, but a fun one. You will get earfuls of feedback.

In conclusion, we owe it to our clients to make every attempt to understand the technology tools that help us with our interactive marketing efforts. If your clients haven’t asked already about ad management, competitive research, search-engine submission tools, or tracking solutions, they probably will soon.

Be prepared to discuss your evaluation of the various tools in these categories and others. If you’re not enough of a techie to describe how these tools work on your own, tap into your company’s technology resources to find someone who can. There are too many technology pitfalls out there and too many companies selling vapor to take a potential partner’s word for it.

Do your technical due diligence to avoid getting stuck with a lemon.

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