Doug Weaver

The Binary Future of Digital Ad Sales

At Monday’s iMedia Brand Summit in Coronado I had the opportunity to speak with a group of 150 sales leaders on a topic of pretty serious urgency: the sales talent crisis….with a twist. The position I shared with the group was that we don’t have a sales talent crisis: We have two of them.

Harkening back five years, the profile of the successful digital seller was pretty clear: The job was squarely focused on selling the placement of ads on sites (or groups of sites) to digital media planning groups through the successful management of the RFP process. If you sold for a site, you might stress sponsorship or specific placement; a network rep might heavy up her offering based on reach or optimization. But everyone was pretty much casting their lines in the same RFP pool.
To say things have changed would be a significant understatement. In the intervening years, two major forces have disrupted the picture.

The Movement of Audience Buying: The agency holding companies have decided that automated audience buying is the key to digital profitability. You all know the rest of the story: Exchanges begat DSPs, which begat Trading Desks and so on. Anyone engaged with the audience sale pulls ever farther away from the past….new skills, new buyers, new picture. (And meanwhile, the planning groups continue to lose mojo and headcount.)

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The Facebook Effect: Part of the reason marketer’s have helped Facebook Bank $4 billion in ad sales is that they want to be part of the consumer’s life; they want an embedded presence within something the consumer is doing….something important to them. Now that they’ve breathed this rarified air, will they ever be happy with dated ideas around ‘sponsorship’ again? No, they’ll demand that the seller who’s representing a site help them really become part of the experience. Take me deep or take me home.
The net effect of all this? Two distinct digital sales models emerge, and look less and less like each other with each passing month:

The Audience Seller: Armed with reasonably strong quant skills and a deep understanding and comfort with a technical sale, the Audience Seller will have to be able to lead a team into long term, complex, enterprise sales environments. Once the automated future is built, we aren’t going to let just anyone run things.

The Experience Seller: Equipped with both deep marketing background and a mastery of consumer behavior and user interface, the experience seller must also be able to navigate multiple levels of the client/agency hierarchy. She must be as comfortable talking with creatives as she is with brand managers or researchers.
As these two skill profiles pull farther and farther apart (and away from the current people-driven RFP process) they present the digital sales leader with a very stark set of decisions. How do I find, train and retain these new levels of talent? What will my organization rely on? If I’m to offer both audience and experiential sales, how do they coexist within my sales team? And what am I going to do now with all these 2006 sellers I just paid for?

A Pause in the Targeting Arms Race

At last May’s iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, I offered up a dozen “Dead Internet Ideas,” long-held beliefs and practices that – if left unquestioned and unchanged – would stifle the further intellectual development of online marketing.  Probably the most controversial “dead idea” was the assumption that we have a “right to target” the consumer for the purpose of advertising.

To be clear, I wasn’t saying that targeting in and of itself was wrong or that it should come to an end.  Rather, that the underlying assumption that “because we can, therefore we may” was a very dangerous and self destructive idea.  I believed then (and still do) that we as an industry have largely ignored any true value exchange with the consumer as we pursue ever more levels of data-driven targeting.  Neither of our principal rationalizations for the targeting buildup (that it keeps the Internet “free” and that it brings consumers more useful advertising) withstands much scrutiny.

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I’m reminded of this theme by two items I’ve read this week.  First, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced this week that the federal government would seek to institute a do-not-track capability for consumers.  Can it be done?  Will it be pursued? Enforced?  Don’t know.  But the industry response that I’ve so far sounds a lot like that which surrounded the last spring’s “Boucher Bill” discussion:  lots of kicking the can down the road.  Whether or not FTC action is imminent, realistic or even workable is beside the point.  We simply can’t afford to whistle past the graveyard one more time on this issue.  Read the next sentences carefully:

It’s time our industry drives forward a data and targeting compact with consumers that is based on a  real value exchange.  Let’s aim for something truly great, instead of just something good enough to keep the would-be regulators at bay.  Let our ambition on this issue match our technical acumen.

The other item that prompted this post was Nancy Galanty’s interview with internet pioneer Jaron Lanier on iMedia Connection.  His book and the interview are much broader than the issues of this particular post, but I’ll use two of his statements here and effectively give him the last word on this issue:

“You have to be realistic about what you can achieve when you are bringing technology into marketing. You have to be balanced. You have to live in the present, not in the future…..I think basically, somebody just (needs) to point out that we are on a path that won’t work forever, and that we need to start thinking about alternate ways to do things.”

Help us, Mr. Wizard!

As a kid in 1960s Los Angeles I ended up watching the same show every week. The UCLA men’s basketball team would play even-up with some other college for the first ten minutes of the game. By halftime, they’d have a double digit lead. Then a romp. Game after game, season after season…victories…NCAA Championships. An astonishing ten of them in a twelve year stretch. The ironic part was the guy running the team: dark suit, horn rim glasses, every so often shouting out “goodness gracious sakes alive!” In the middle of the turbulent 60s and 70s, at the apex of the protest movement, in ultra-trendy L.A., the guy in charge looks like…a schoolteacher!

The recent death of this ‘schoolteacher’ – John Wooden, ‘the Wizard of Westwood’ – got me to thinking how much we could use such a schoolteacher in the turbulent 2010s, at the apex of the digital age, in ultra-trendy internet land. A few of Coach Wooden’s greatest bromides for your perusal (I’m sure he’d like nothing better than for us to pass them on to one another):

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
Far too many of us – individuals and companies – focus on what’s missing, what we lack. Winning is about making the most of our strengths.

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” The economic crucible of the past three years was a great time of learning. What did you learn…about you?

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” The great people and great companies don’t over-react to failures and they always adapt. In fact, they celebrate their ability to adapt.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Time management tip: Slow down.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Many people in our business are crippled by the weight of their own knowledge and experience. The only guy who really worries me is the one who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
Question your own process constantly. Much of the sales day is taken up by “stuff we’ve always done” that’s not really making any difference.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
Sustainable, long term success is always built across carefully cultivated team environments. Always. So whenever you think it’s just your own mad skills that are making it all happen, remember that…

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

Steal this Blog.

Today’s post asks that Drift readers become viewers, listeners and — ultimately — distributors and analysts. The 30 minute embedded video clip is “The Tyranny of Dead Internet Ideas” keynote I presented at last week’s iMedia Agency Summit…and it just might start something.

There are a dozen “Dead Internet Ideas” packed into a half hour, and they may just change the way that you, your team, your agency and your peer group think about web marketing going forward. As I said to the iMedia audience, “These ideas, this debate: they are yours now.” Post to the blog; Tweet #deadinternetideas; forward this post and video to your team, your client, your customer.

Above all, do something. The web marketing future you save may be your own. @UpstreamDW.