Doug Weaver

Adaptation.


The world has already changed. The scientists have invented, the consumers have decided, the marketers are voting with their checkbooks. It’s only us – those who sell and buy advertising – who cling to anachronistic systems and practices.

Reading that first paragraph you may think I missed the programmatic decade. I didn’t.

Programmatic automation of commodity media buying was the asteroid that struck our genteel, structured world, forever changing the climate for agencies and publishers alike. But a dozen years after the big programmatic strike, most agencies and publishers still have the automation walled off and operating in its own island ecosystem. Meanwhile, the principal members of the tribe – the expensive sellers, buyers, creatives, account managers and others – have resisted the kind of radical species adaptation that the altered world demands.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

For one thing, we still – for the most part – rely on the anachronistic rhythms of a rapidly disappearing business. Languid planning cycles, RFPs, campaigns and annual upfronts were relevant in a world of closing dates, air dates, a fixed number of media providers and a predictable pool of available inventory. Today, everything that’s standard, known or predictable is transacted by machines – or soon will be.

Challenged to now manage more strategic and complicated marketing services – content creation, influencers, content marketing, events – many media shops have simply gone back to the much-maligned RFP. And while simultaneously railing against it, many publishers build their entire strategy – a strategy of waiting and responding – around this archaic system. Add to this our collective failure of imagination about how to integrate programmatic and high-touch solutions into harmonious programs. It’s not a pretty picture.

To radically adapt our professions as buyers and sellers would be to abandon the campaign mentality and embrace a perpetual cycle of problem solving and iteration. It would lead us to dismiss the illusion of budget stability and the silos and swim lanes it fosters. It would drive us to create and commit to new processes and structures for operating in what’s now a mostly-unstructured world. Our professional lives will be spent proactively, left of budget and in service to marketers, the products they sell, and the customers they serve.

Adaptation is hard. But extinction is permanent.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.

 


Expect? Or Engage?


The good news: if you’re selling digital advertising and marketing services today, you are in a position to make both a huge difference and a very good living. The bad news: it’s a hell of a lot of work.

In digital sales workshops I teach sellers the research, strategy, critical thinking, patience and discipline that it takes to compete in our confusing, asymmetrical world – a world with no closing or air dates… a world of incomplete information… a world where people don’t call you back or tell you why you didn’t get the deal. I tell them how it often takes eight or nine quality messages to engage a decision maker. I tell them about the insight-driven, structured approach needed to run a successful meeting with a senior customer. I tell them about all the other budgets out there that don’t have the words digital or media attached to them. And I tell them about how many people they’ll need to generate the kinds of quality opportunities and long-term loyalty needed for long term success.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

How they respond tells me a lot about who they are and how they’ll do. They tend to fall into two camps.

The Expecters. This group tends to respond with a lot of whens and ifs. To them the future is a bunch of contingencies. When we have better tools. If the customer could only see the value. When measurement catches up. If I only had a better list. With every pivot toward expectation and deferral comes a new level of disempowerment. The market is too consolidated. The duopoly is too powerful. My company’s management is not making the right moves. It is, of course, a self-fulfilling set of prophecies. At their best, the Expecters will be as good as reality — when reality, itself, is really good.

The Engagers. These sellers lean much more into whys, hows and whats. Why does this customer need us? How can we do something great for them? What’s the best place to start? To the Engager, there’s no someday, only today. They don’t allow themselves to get caught up in meaningless speculation about company politics or the horse-race of venture funding or bright shiny objects. As the name implies, their natural inclination is to engage: with the tools at hand…with the problem or opportunity… in the quest. If I need to do all that stuff and see all those people to be really good at this… well then, shit, I better get started.

There are probably many reasons why someone turns into an Engager or an Expecter. Life experiences, personal psychology, past work history and more. But I believe that it often comes down to something quite simple: a choice.

So choose. Decide if you are going to be an Expecter or an Engager. Then be what you decide.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.


The First Week of the Next 25 Years.


As we began the second quarter-century of digital marketing on Monday, I’m choosing to republish an essay I was invited to write for the University of Florida’s “Captivate” program 5 years ago. Only the date context has been edited. It’s a longer read than you are used to in The Drift, but I hope you’ll feel it’s worth it.

It’s an interesting wrinkle in time for the colliding worlds of advertising and digital empowerment.

Exactly 25 years ago I was part of the team that sold the very first banner ads on the World Wide Web. On 10/27/94, Wired Magazine flipped the switch that lit up HotWired, the “cyberstation” that ushered brands like IBM, Volvo, MCI, Club Med and – famously – AT&T into the digital age. From the humble origin of a dozen brands paying $15,000 per month for static banner placement with zero analytics, web advertising is closing in on $50 billion in annual spending.

At precisely the same moment, the banner ad (and related forms like the 15-second video pre-roll and the mobile display ad) has become a social touchstone that evokes a firestorm of condescension and condemnation at every turn. Indeed, the 20th anniversary of web advertising has mobilized the kill-the-banner crowd like so many pitchfork-wielding peasants out to stop Dr. Frankenstein. To the casual observer this all may seem a bit schizophrenic: Can the digital ad business really have been built and sustained on top of such a flawed delivery vehicle? And if web advertising techniques are really so ham-handed, why are they now being co-opted by the behemoth of television in the forms of screen overlays, dynamic ad serving and programmatic distribution?

Interesting questions indeed. But they are also the wrong questions.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

Over my 22 very active years serving media companies other digital and traditional advertising players, I’ve had a front row seat for a show that is consistently mistranslated, misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Digital advertising was born to an internet that people read and watched. During that seminal period of tiny gif images and narrow, scrolling columns of type we started calling those who put content on the web “publishers” – a role that was even then retiring to a world of hagiographic nostalgia. And advertising – well, that was a science to be grafted onto the web from other forms of publishing and broadcasting as technology and bandwidth allowed. Those first crude banners were nothing more than outdoor ads writ small. That they gave way eventually to larger, more picturesque ‘magazine’ ads and then to TV-style video spots meant more and more growth, but it also continued to miss the larger point that defines the true value of digitization – and lights our path for what happens now.

Let’s be honest in admitting that we haven’t really been all that much of a literary culture for much of the last 50 years and the internet doesn’t change that. You’re now just over 400 words into this essay: statistically, it’s already one of the longest things most American’s will read on the internet today. Over these two decades, the web has become something everyone does – not something they watch or read. We look for answers, we pass jokes back and forth to one another, we settle arguments. We preen and strut, we compare and buy, we “snack” on short bits of video. We organize things, we plan projects, we opine. Does this mean that content no longer matters? Or that it matters more than ever? The maddeningly simple answer is that it matters when it matters; when it’s closely aligned with the experience the consumer is living at that moment in time. And not for its own sake.

This leads me to the crossroads confronting those who aim to create the next $50 billion of revenue through “digital advertising” and for the advertising industry as a whole. The rocket ride from 1994 to 2014 has been driven by a combination of shifting consumer behavior (the increased time spent on browsers and devices is inescapable even to the staunchest traditional media die hard) and our ability to efficiently “tag along” with the experiences consumers are choosing to create for themselves digitally. Always on, always in our hands, the internet has become an extension of us as people. But advertising, mostly, has not kept up.

Two dominant trends in digital advertising today are data optimization and the programmatic trading of advertising display opportunities. In the first, we are overlaying information to identify and make decisions about those who we might show our ads to. In the second, we are building the technology and functionality to trade “ad futures” with one another. Both of these are critically important, “hard trends,” and they’ll continue – to some point – to usher more dollars into digital channels. But they are also both exercises in division and reduction: help me show my ad to fewer of the people who don’t matter; help me buy fewer of the ads that don’t work or don’t’ matter.

So what, then, will create the next great wave of growth for the advertising business? I believe it will happen only by confronting the truth that advertising in a digital world matters most when it least resembles advertising. Google and (to a lesser and less consistent degree) Facebook start the value creation at the point of consumer action and intent. The form that “advertising” takes is malleable and built into the experience: a helpful suggestion via some text as they answer my search query; a post from a marketer on a topic around which I’m already active. Buzzfeed has made a huge splash by helping marketers create just the kind of snackable content-McNuggets that we already like to trade with one another across the very platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – where we already trade them.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. Many current techniques will look as archaic in 2024 as the earliest banners look today. But the companies and leaders who will endure and thrive are those who consistently answer a different set of questions:

What is the consumer doing today with digital tools and how can I help her do it better?

How might we create new value by blending discovery, commerce and productivity into a new experience shared by consumer and marketer?

If there were no such thing as an “advertising budget,” how would we create a connection between consumers and brands, companies and products that can bring new value into the consumer’s life?

These are the questions to be confronted not only by “digital advertising” leaders; after all, what advertising will not be digital by the time we reach our next ten year milestone? No, this is the existential moment for all of what used to be called Madison Avenue and “the Media.” Because when Wired flipped that switch 20 years ago they also set in motion a chain of events that prompts the re-imagination of all advertising.

From this point forward, don’t call any of it advertising. It will either be something much, much bigger – or it will be background noise.


What We Believe.


Today’s Seller Forum in New York coincides with the 25th anniversary of web advertising.  During the event, I’ll be interviewing Blackbird CEO Ross Martin who consults with major brands and media companies on developing belief systems — taking clear positions on issues facing their industries, society and the world.  It inspired me to offer up my own. Here’s what we at Upstream Group believe.

  • We believe that transparency, accuracy and fairness are not deal points.  They are the beginning of our conversation with the consumer and the marketer.
  • We believe that it’s the marketer’s money that fuels our entire ecosystem.  When in doubt or dispute, we should always default to that which creates real value and progress for the marketer.  We have a fiduciary responsibility to do what’s right for the marketer.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

  • We believe that the consumer is a valued human being, with rights.  Reducing him or her to a target, an impression or a data profile begins a process of moral abdication.  Caring for and valuing the consumer as we ply our trade is good business;  without their long-term participation, we have no future.
  • We believe that more is not always better. The relentless pursuit of scale has led us into a world of fraud, non-viewable or repetitive ads, and a devolution of value for both the marketer and the consumer.  We must do better.
  • We believe that those who think sales teams are only motivated by money will reap what they sow.  By failing to imagine and build sales cultures around values and longevity we sentence ourselves to a permanent talent crisis.
  • We believe that as an industry we must look like the world we serve.  Recruiting, developing and hiring people of color is our shared responsibility.  And while women are beginning to occupy leadership positions in our business, there is far more work to do in terms of equal pay and true parity.
  • We believe that there is no way our industry can be a benign presence in the world.  With regard to social justice, economic and environmental issues, if we are not doing good then we are doing ill.  We must own the responsibility for what we create.
  • We believe the best is yet to come.  We haven’t seen anything yet.

Happy birthday to our business.  May we continue to believe, and to live up to our beliefs.


The Wrong Question.


As standard media has become more and more commoditized, publishers and media sellers have diversified their offerings. Rather than racing to the bottom on prices for banners and pre-roll videos, we’ve clambered up to the high ground of content creation,video programming, events, social optimization and data engineering.

The switch can be a jarring one. The work is harder and more detailed, involves more people (account management, client services, creative, production et al), eats up more time and is far more expensive. The uninformed, unqualified RFPs that used to aggravate us in the banner age are devastating us today. Too many sales teams take the bait and engage in a full-blown idea-fest, spinning out fully-baked programs, proposals and bespoke ideas… great work that ends up going nowhere 80-90 percent of the time.

There’s a better way.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

For starters, when we start the value creation process for a client brand, we almost always start by asking a question that begins with what: What are we going to sell them? What should we build? What do we include in the program? Instead, we should be starting with why: Why do they need us at all? Why are they not selling enough of their product? Why do their best customers not understand their value? 

Asking these why questions early in the process helps you quickly expose the fatally flawed RFP and cattle call invitations. Often the understaffed and undercompensated agency planning teams may not even know the answers to these questions. They too are focused on what. As well-intentioned as they are, the planning team is at best an unreliable narrator in a process that is causing publishers to swing at too many bad pitches, bankrupting their bottom lines and alienating their internal teams.

The second big change that must be made is quite fundamental. Accept that this kind of work must be proactive, early stage, left of budget. We must be the ones who identify client marketing issues, approach them with strong points of view, and create our own white spaces. Since we can’t count on decent RFPs in this new age, we have to start writing them ourselves.

Clients have told us what’s important to them. Real data. Real contextual integration within meaningful content. Real solutions to real marketing problems. They really mean it, and they really don’t care who brings them the fresh take on their situation and offers the fresh idea.

All we have to do is believe them. And act accordingly.