The End of Lazy Marketing

Last week, WebSideStory hosted their Active Insights Conference in New York and kindly invited me to be the keynote speaker.

My talk addressed an important milestone in our industry, so I thought I’d share some highlights:

First some context:

  • The Internet is quickly becoming the “can’t live without” choice (Arbitron PDF download) over TV.
  • Creation and connection rule as the social Web becomes the big story of 2006. There are more people on MySpace today (than were Internet users in the US in 1998. (Just for fun, google “addiction to MySpace,” then “addiction to TV.” Look at the number of hits. Interesting isn’t it?)
  • People are walking Tivos as they unconsciously and consciously filter out the 3,000+ messages we blitz them with every day.
  • The Internet accounts for only 6 percent of marketing spend and 24 percent of consumers’ media consumption. Very quickly, those figures will equalize at the expense of TV and print.

What’s this mean for marketers? Simple. We’re moving away from a world where you can create a juicy piece of advertising content, buy some media and broadcast a zillion impressions to over-saturated consumers. I call this Lazy-Man’s Marketing. It is/was easy, but it’s not necessarily effective. We’re moving into an era of engagement. Winning brands will be those that give something of value in order to get attention and begin a dialog with consumers.

It’s hard work—this engagement business. Things will be much more challenging, and big-brand CMOs know it.

I’ve recently had a few conversations that really brought the point home for me. A Fortune 500 CMO recently asked, “Mark, we’ve been increasing our budget for the Internet every year. And it hasn’t been hard to justify. But the really big money has been locked up in TV. How can you make me feel comfortable moving that money to the Internet?”

With most CMO’s tenure averaging just 21 months (one campaign cycle) smart marketing executives know three things. First, with roughly 6 percent of their budgets invested in the Internet and roughly a quarter (or more) of their customers engaged online, they know they need to move their money to where their customers are. Second, they’re betting their jobs. And third, the Internet is inherently measureable and they want answers -— quantifiable ones. It’s our duty to give them good ones, or we risk their jobs and our own.

Suppose a CMO came to you and said, “I’m thinking of tripling my spend on the Internet next year. How much should I spend and where? And how will I know if it works?” What would your answer be? If she asked if you’re willing to bet your career on the outcome, what would your answer be?

These are tough questions to answer. Our picture of online consumer behavior is incomplete. Blind spots obscure the view.

The purchase path a consumer follows is actually quite complex, particularly for considered purchases. Consider the automotive category. Nearly three-quarters of people go online before visiting a dealership. They spend about five hours on 5-10 sites researching vehicle choices and prices. They don’t follow a linear path, nor do they pass through a well-defined sales funnel.

People aren’t sheep. They’re not going to neatly follow the path you lay. In fact, they often research your product or service in areas on the Internet that are completely outside of your control and not easily measurable, like social networks. To add more challenges to the mix, even in the areas we create and manage, new technologies such as AJAX and RSS don’t naturally lend themselves to measurement. While we know how consumers respond in search and what consumers do on some HTML pages, we have to work hard to address the blind spots so we can answer the tough questions being asked of us right now.

Measurement will be a key variable in the argument we make to shift spend from traditional media to online media. Its tougher in a world where consumer generated content (a good part of which is about your or your clients’ products and services) is the fastest growing content area on the Web.

So what do you do?

  • Think about what it means to be in the era of engagement. First, engage consumers in a dialogue. Be open. Listen. Respect their answers. Let them sample your brand. Let them comment and contribute. Give them space to create their personalized version of your brand experience and hope they badge themselves with it and become your advocate. You must set up a measurement dashboard that allows you to see how you perform in an open world.
  • Remember that your brand is a distributed experience. Instead of thinking about upper funnel and lower funnel, think broadly about your consumers’ experience. They look at more than your site. They hunt and peck across a wide variety of places you can’t control. Consider the entire online experience, not just your site experience.
  • Use a flexible measurement tool and think creatively. Flexible tools allow measurement, but not necessarily straight out of the box. If you think about emerging Web technologies such as AJAX and RSS as “events” (all analytics packages track events), you can begin to track anything so long as you can insert a touch of code the tool can recognize.
  • Create experience and measurement briefs up front. After you launch, it’s usually too late to come up with a measurement strategy. Plan ahead. It’s important to build analytics into every experience, particularly at the beginning, so you’re not left empty-handed when it comes to good answers around return on engagement.
  • Don’t do this alone. It really does take many people with diverse perspectives and skills (we call this approach getting “Three Minds” together) to arrive at the right answers quickly. When you plan a major campaign, make sure you have a diverse team at the table: strategists, creatives, technologists, and analysts. That way, you can figure out how to build an exceptional experience for consumers and measure it successfully.

I’ve waited five years for the big question. It’s finally here. Let’s work together to answer it.

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