Mobile Therapy Anyone?

Mobile Therapy Anyone (2)I go into each Seller Forum gathering with at least one big open question in mind. As we head into our mid-year meeting on June 30th, I’m obsessing about this one: Who’s really ready for a mobile-dominant ad business?

Once upon a time – last year perhaps? – we joked that ‘mobile is the future of the online ad business – and always will be.’ We’d listened to the same endless loop of stories about how big mobile was in Northern Europe and Asia and cringed as yet another panelist trotted out the lame “Starbucks can send you an ad when you’re walking near one of their stores!” example. But now the day of mobile reckoning is here, and ad businesses will be evaluated simply and without emotion: Is yours built for the mobile consumer or not?

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The dirty secret is that while we’ve been busily obsessing over the latest programmatic press release, consumers just ran ahead of us. Usage of the internet and consumption of video has flipped and the phone quickly became the dominant screen. As a result, the legacy desktop-oriented businesses will start to look bloated and out of date: PCs are the new newspapers.

So are publishers and ad sellers truly prepared? I don’t know for sure. But within the context of our next Forum, I’d sure like to talk about it. We’re convening a panel of mobile stakeholders for a rolling discussion of the five dimensions that – I believe – are the keys to mobile readiness: Video, Monetization, Creative, Measurement and Infrastructure.  I’m sure the results will be illuminating.

As I wrote two weeks ago (“You’ve Got Phone!”) the acquisition of AOL by Verizon is a wake-up call. To date we’ve been executing mobile advertising with the tools of the desktop, and the results overall have been less than spectacular. If we’re late getting out of bed on this issue, the agencies sharing our beds have also been hitting the snooze button. Who can blame us? After 20 years of hard work building the desktop advertising infrastructure, can’t we be forgiven for wanting to let the machine run for a while?

But the consumer won’t wait. They have voted with their thumbs, and marketers are close behind. The next wave of business reinvention in digital marketing is happening today and full participation is not optional. Is your business ready?

If you’re CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of national sales for a company that sells media and would like to attend this important discussion at The Seller Forum on Tuesday June 30th, reach out to me right away. Seating is limited and most of our spots are already spoken for.

Open. Close. Repeat.

Open Close RepeatI’m writing today’s post from Row 2 at the LUMA Digital Media Summit in New York. For those unfamiliar, LUMA is the investment banking firm that produces the “LUMAscape” charts that aim to make sense of the confusing nature ad technology and distribution (and has run many of the significant M&A deals in our world.) The first topic called out for the day by CEO/emcee Terry Kawaja was “The Digital Duopoly: Open vs. Closed.” There are lots of implications here for anyone selling ad services, technology, data or services in digital marketing.

The details are horrendously complicated, but the core concept is surprisingly simple: Will the data-driven, multi-touch marketing funnel be an open ecosystem or will it be controlled by a couple of parties – Facebook and Google – who are constructing closed technology and service stacks? Will marketing look like the Euro-zone or will it be dominated by a couple of large, highly controlled economies?

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line:

Tim Armstrong appeared this morning via video hook-up talking about how the AOL/Verizon deal was about creating the world’s largest open platform, while Brian O’Kelley of AppNexus claims that AppNexus will be the wide open platform that allows all the players to play well together. Dave Jakubowski, head of ad tech at Facebook, gamely assured the audience that Facebook was all about giving publishers choices about how to monetize their content. Ay yi yi!

This may seem like one of those “Clash of the Titans” moments when we little people accept that we have no control. . I make no moral or value judgments about open and closed, but every day there are lots of little decisions that get made every day that matter a lot. Do we use Facebook, YouTube or neither for distribution and monetization of our video assets? Do we double down on DoubleClick, Atlas or neither as our display serving solution?   What active decisions do we make about who gets access to our first party data and what business rules do we put in place to govern those relationships.

Since the days of Netscape vs. Microsoft, we’ve been predicting that two big players would ultimately own everything. Today those players look like Facebook and Google. But we’ve also seen a continuous cycle of consolidation leading into the next cycle of openness and on and on. Open. Close. Repeat.

I always like to say that great companies all have one thing in common. They make active choices. And you and your company have active choices to make in the weeks and months ahead. Open? Closed? Good luck with that.

You’ve Got Phone!

You've Got PhoneVerizon buying AOL for $4.4 billion is…. Well, it’s the biggest thing to happen since America Online acquired Time Warner for $182 billion in stock and debt 15 years ago!   Sure, I know these ancient history lessons are only so instructive, but this one is rich with irony.   In 2000, Time Warner was the company with the content and America Online (which is what AOL was still commonly called then) had the digital distribution. At the time, CNN Money (no impartial observer) breathlessly said that the “largest deal in history” combined “…the nation’s top internet service provider with the world’s top media conglomerate.” Now AOL is the company with the content, and Verizon is the acquiring party with the distribution. Distribution always seems to win, doesn’t it?

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line:

While $4.4 billion may not seem as cool as $182 billion, it appears the money may actually be real this time. And the deal validates a point that can no longer be disputed: Mobile IS the game now. And the shift to mobile-first thinking will be as jarring and disorienting to first generation digital execs as the shift to digital thinking was for magazine publishers and broadcasters.

The initial strategy at times like this is always to re-purpose what you already know how to do for the medium you don’t yet understand. The first TV shows were radio shows in front of a camera. The first MTV videos were claustrophobic, single set performances by rock stars. The first websites were magazine pages with hyperlinks. And our first pass at mobile has been to throw banners and interstitials and short form videos at the smaller screen. And soon we’ll look back at this era like a long-forgotten photo from our youth. (“I can’t believe I ever thought THAT haircut was cool!”)

So Verizon’s here. They don’t think like we do. But they get the needs of a mobile consumer better than we do. AT&T’s here as well. Remember last year when they bought DirecTV? Keep that little deal in mind alongside this one. The world of media and advertising lives inside a snow globe and it’s just starting to get a good shake. Anyone who thinks the Verizon-AOL deal was just about Verizon and AOL needs to think again. It’s about all of us and the future we must confront sooner than we know.

Can you hear me now?

Lies My CEO Told Me.

Lies my CEO Told MeWhen the announcement came down last week that Aol was eliminating 150 sales jobs and consolidating several brands I immediately got a half-dozen emails and calls asking the same question: “Did programmatic technology eliminate these jobs?” The answer Wall Street would like to hear is “yes.” The real answer, I believe, is “no.” As the old backwoods philosophy goes, “Just because your cat has kittens in the oven don’t make ‘em biscuits.” (Translation: Things are not as simple as they seem.)

I believe Aol confronted some core business issues – redundancy of brands, participation in spaces where they couldn’t lead, creeping bureaucracy – by taking swift and decisive action. Investors should reward them for that alone. But if Wall Street wants to infer that a grand automation plan made it all happen… Tim Armstrong might just be saying “Well that was a freebie.”

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Just as there are two kinds of history that get taught in our country – high school textbook history and real, academically reviewed history – there are two levels of ‘truth’ in our world: the truth that the CEO is forced to tell the investors and markets and the truth about how the business really runs. Your CEO isn’t a liar and he or she doesn’t mean any harm: it’s just a case of dynamic messaging based on audience. Here are a few of the little white lies they have to tell from time to time.

“The technology will sell itself.” Maybe if it was 25 years ago and a small handful of tech giants roamed the earth and ate all the food. But even the best technological leap will have a hell of a time even being noticed in the cacophony of today’s crowded marketplace.

“Media sales is a transitional business for us.” Saying ‘we’re just going to sell ads for a while’ is like saying ‘we’re just sending a few advisors to Vietnam.’ You either commit to the core of your technology business or commit to being a player in the media sales game. Doing neither means half-assing them both.

“Programmatic will eliminate the need for a sales team.” If you “set it and forget it” you will get the results you deserve. And if you have no more imagination than this about how great sellers could create value and margin for your business, then programmatic will likely eliminate the need for the current CEO. Programmatic is real, it’s vitally important, and it’s part of a balanced revenue diet. But it won’t run itself and it won’t create the kind of margin that your high growth business needs.

“We’ll get there in 12-18 Months.” It’s always going to be harder, take longer and require more money and resources than the business plan assumes. Don’t buy into the projection; buy into the quality of the leadership.

The next time you hear your CEO speaking in code like this to the markets, fear not: he probably knows the real truth and will run your business accordingly. If not, you may want to forward him this post.

We’ve just added Terry Kawaja, creator of the LUMAscape, to our discussion of the digital video landscape at Seller Forum on March 12th.  If you lead a team that sells media, you need to be there.  Request your invitation today.

Six Questions: Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad TobaccowalaThe Drift is turning a new page this week.  We’re publishing the first in an irregular series of interviews with provocative media, marketing and communications thinkers.  This post features an edited interview with Rishad Tobaccowala, chairman of Digitas LBi and Razorfish and thought-leader within Publicis.  Rishad will be keynoting the Upstream Seller Forum on Tuesday October 29th in New York.

DOUG WEAVER:  What do you think of our industry’s talent level today?  What other disciplines or backgrounds could help us inform the work ahead?   

RISHAD TOBACCOWALA: We do not have enough talent that combines an awareness of business (IQ) and creativity/insight (EQ) and a digital mindset (TQ). As an industry…we need to a) invest in training, b) hire people who are good in one or two of these skills and expose them to opportunities to learn the others and c) aggressively hire folks without a college degree but who have taken courses in computers, or folks from Art Schools (who increasingly are very tech conversant) and d) place a real priority on minority hiring.

DW:  Is the idea of a “digital agency” or “digital specialist” already anachronistic?    

RT: In a networked world where people can speak with each other we have to invest in product and services and experiences more than just advertising. The mindset change is very significant, the processes are different and there is need for true tech and data expertise and a faster metabolic rate. In some cases digital groups will become part of what were historically analog agencies and in some cases digital experts will pick up offline/analog skills.

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DW: Does the concentration of power and insight by Google concern you at all?   And do you see a credible competitor assembling their own “ad technology stack?”

 RT:  Google is an important partner for us and clearly a dominant player. However there will be many other players emerging as data/creativity/commerce begins to blend with each other. There are at least half a dozen key players in the US including Facebook, Adobe, Amazon, Ebay, Aol, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter that can morph in some very interesting ways since they have identity, data, scale and lots more. Of these Amazon and Adobe and Aol are all working on building stacks. Salesforce and Oracle are also approaching the space from a CRM and employee focus.

DW: Do exchanges, trading desks and “bidding” for audiences have the potential to change the fundamental scope of the advertising business?  It seems like the weight has shifted toward distribution and connectivity and away from creativity. 

 RT: Exchanges, Trading Desks and Bidding for audiences is a growing reality and recognizes that marketers want to reach audiences rather than underwrite space and they want to do it as efficiently as possible. Relevance with tight controls is what this is delivering. However in building a brand we need more than plumbing we need poetry. We still need to plan the interaction.

 DW: Name something you read or watch regularly that keeps you grounded in the present and something that keeps you thinking about the future.

 RT: I chair a foundation in India that helps 10,000 poor people and reading about what we are doing and their stories gives you a sense of perspective. For me the Arts is what makes me think about the future because the best artists start with blank sheet of paper or canvas or space and create/see/visualize/make happen things that were never there, which really is about re-imagining reality.

DW: You’re coming to speak at the Upstream Seller Forum at the end of October.  In 12 words or less, tell us what we’ll be hearing.

 RT: The Key Trends That Publicis is Betting On. How to re-invent yourself.

For a full, unedited transcript of the interview — including additional questions — click here.