Life Beyond Swim Lanes.

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Life Beyond Swim LanesTwo years ago in this space I posted some thoughts on how the media and advertising world was getting curiouser and curiouser (“Crossdressing,” July 2014); how publishers were running creative studios, agencies were taking positions in media and marketers are becoming content producers. Thing have only gotten curiouser still.

I thought about this in light of the recent Publicis Groupe reorganization.   It seems that PG is doing what big agency groups do when bad things happen (like losing major business from Wal-Mart, P&G and Coca-Cola); they’re shuffling the org, merging a few divisions and creating some new agency and service brand names while retiring others. But while some of this may be window dressing, there is a profound identity crisis afoot that challenges us all to rethink our roles in the marketing mix.

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Not too long ago, one could look at Terry Kawaja’s LUMAscape chart and say “that company is a DSP…that one is an ad server…and the one over there is a trading desk.” But that all seems quaintly anachronistic now. Big agencies are spinning out their own ad tech companies – Xaxis, for example – that look a lot like next generation ad networks. Companies that once positioned themselves as disinterested ad exchanges are now offering a range of tools and services to work the system. Other firms – the artists formerly known as SSPs (sell-side platforms) – now offer convenient services to the buy side as well. Fluidity is the name of the game now. But the danger is that a company that can be anything to anyone can easily end up standing for nothing at all. So how then to understand your place in the world and create a leadership vision in such a muddled, asymmetrical landscape? I believe it comes down to a handful of questions:

Where is the market underserved? What do we believe marketers and media companies deserve that they are currently not getting?

What non-obvious problems is our company uniquely qualified to serve?   What opportunities are we in a good position to help the customer explore?

Where are the gaps? Where do the handoffs and connections too often fail in current processes?

Once you and your team have really explored these questions (there are no quick answers), it’s best to assume no identity at all and instead work backward from the potential opportunity. That’s right: stop explaining how you’re no longer a DSP or that you only used to be a trading desk….nobody cares. Self-classification is the quickest path to marginalization.

The most successful companies in our world have always rejected labels, crossed borders and connected disparate ideas and markets. For others, it may just be that your box on the LUMAscape has turned into a prison cell.

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