The Oreo Doctrine

A well-placed metaphor can make all the difference in how people see the world. How would we process mass consensus and change without “The Tipping Point” or picture organizational chaos if not by “Herding Cats.” In my keynote at last week’s iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, Texas, my job was to try and capture the future of our industry and our careers in a single metaphor.

To me it all looks like a broken cookie.

Now before you click away, this has nothing to do with those little text files that servers put on browsers. The cookie in question is an Oreo, and each side represents a distinct path and sphere of influence for media companies, agencies, technology providers and individual careers. In the spirit of group participation, I’d like you to grab a nearby Oreo (a virtual one will do if you’re not near your snack-source). Now, divide it into halves the way you did when you were six. You’ve now got a separate chocolate wafer in each hand, and all or most of the cream went on one side or the other. At this point you might be thinking that these cookies represent, say, “search and display” or “branding and direct response.” And you’d be wrong.

The first cookie represents Transaction: The selling, buying, placement, pricing, optimization and reinvestment of standard media advertising units. Transactional buyer and seller organizations will be almost entirely focused on profitable buying and delivery of the common advertisement, whether it’s the :30, the L-Rec, the Pre-Roll :15 or the column inch. Those who will succeed will be very good at things like negotiation and optimization. Ultimately math and science will be the intermediaries and – often – the disruptive agents. Like a fire needs oxygen, Transaction requires standardization to survive: We can only automate and negotiate and optimize around that which we all agree on and which is commonly available. And Transaction thrives on leverage, so exclusive, controlled buying channels are the ideal venue.

The cookie in your other hand represents what I call Marketecture: A business discipline that applies complex media and communication elements in the focused solution of unique business problems. Where Transaction was about efficiently delivering ads, Marketecture focuses on profitably solving a time-sensitive marketing or business issue for the client. Where the Transactional agents negotiate and optimize within established markets, the Marketect will effectively collaborate with a “virtual talent network” to align unique capabilities and audiences with the client need. And where Transaction dies without standardization, Marketecture will thrive on the relative chaos – “permanent whitewater” – of technical innovation that will always drive the digital world. If you’re having a hard time visualizing the Marketect, think of the outstanding general contractor: He doesn’t own all his talent or have an exclusive contract with you to build all your houses, but he’s the guy who can bring all the best talent – concrete, plumbing, electrical, sheet rocking – to the job at just the right time.

Now let’s go back to our metaphor. Remember that all or most of the cream stuck to one cookie or the other. For our career, our company, our team, it’s up to each of us to decide which cookie holds the cream for us. Is your company’s vision Transactional or Marketectural? In my view, you’ve got to choose: You simply can’t be both. Hiring, skills, training, compensation and ROI for these two kinds of businesses are moving in opposite directions. Much of the dissonance and discomfort in our industry today stems from the overlap between these two visions and functions. And as I said on stage at iMedia, the single biggest symptom is the dysfunctional RFP process that we share. (“Give us the lowest possible price and include the biggest, most creative idea.”)

I make no value judgments about these two models: Great businesses will be created within both. I do have some strong thoughts on each though. In the very near future, I believe the transactional side of our business will be almost completely automated. Electronic exchanges, auctions, automated buying… doesn’t this go a long way toward explaining the recent wave of consolidation (Google/DoubleClick, WPP/24/7-RealMedia, Yahoo!/RightMedia, and Microsoft/aQuantive)? If you’re running a business in this space, it’s time to drop any romantic notions about staffing: You’re going to be ultimately rewarded by Wall Street for taking people out of the process. You should be constantly seeking automation and looking to lock down science and math advantages through patents and technological advances. And if you’re a successful buyer or seller in this space, take heed: Your days are numbered. Any marketplace where high-priced humans intermediate transaction is one that’s ripe for downsizing. If you’re pushing RFPs back and forth on the basis of price and availability, your job just won’t be there 5 years from now.

If you believe that your future is in Marketecture (and this is very much where I think mine is), there are steps you need to take as well. We’ve got to hire and train problem solving and strategic skills, often reaching outside our industry to do so. As consultants and consulting organizations do, we’ve got to learn to align with larger business problems than we do today. And we all need to reexamine the concepts of competition, collaboration and account ownership. The business of Marketecture will create some strange bedfellows, and last week’s competitors may now end up shoulder-to-shoulder with us on today’s project. In Marketecture, he or she who has the best virtual talent network wins.

Still not fully sure about all this? Not to worry. Step one is simple: Just take a look in the mirror and ask yourself in which camp you and your company belong. I’ll be writing and speaking soon about managing the transition and measuring your progress. But if you’re considering half measures or avoiding the decision, remember that great companies are those that make choices. And this is a really big one.

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver