34987-lgOriginally published in iMediaConnection.com on September 30, 2013.

Our industry is full of great ideas and new ways to engage prospects. And every now and then, something comes around that changes the industry. In 1997, who would have thought we needed another search engine? And then along came Google, which not only changed the search industry, but in many ways has changed the world. However, this example is more the exception than the rule.

Our industry is drawn to new ideas and new technologies. But, often times, we’re also drawn to mere buzzwords that confuse our clients and don’t necessarily provide much value. So, to protect the innocent, let’s take a look at an array of fictitious companies that you’re reading about in the latest headlines — but aren’t necessarily adding any value to the industry.

I can’t seem to open an email newsletter without some mention of native advertising. This is an astonishing new concept that is rocking the internet ad space and improving online campaigns like no other — or perhaps it is just like something else that’s been around for years, with roots in the early days of television (and likely even before that). According to Wikipedia:

Native advertising is a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience.
Is this really much different from the days when soap companies started presenting daytime dramas or Texaco presented the Star Theater? These companies produced content to engage target audiences and thereby enable the opportunity for advertising.

The other old school technique newly labeled native advertising is the idea of product placement; this too has been going on for decades. It occurs when a popular star puts on a pair of sunglasses or drinks a soda. Or even when an extraterrestrial being grabs a candy-coated peanut butter snack. Clearly product placement isn’t a new idea.

Is native advertising a good idea, and can it work? Yes, definitely. Does it need a new name? No.

It’s amazing that we continue to see new ad networks emerge — and how rarely they are able to differentiate themselves. I have yet to find an ad network that doesn’t claim tremendous reach, better targeting, stronger publisher relationships, and premium placements. Perhaps the venture capitalists who fund these networks should spend some more time with media buyers to understand what’s important.

So what truly differentiates an ad network? The sales and ad ops teams. We’d all love to have more time to plan. We want to deliver creative early, but the reality is short deadlines and late creative are the norm. The support teams that provide the extra support and make it easy to work together will get the next order. (The mani-pedis are nice, but they really don’t win deals.)

DPSs, programmatic buying, etc., all offer the promise of lower cost and greater efficiency. Marketers are thrilled by opportunities to buy cheaper, but often things can get lost in translation. My favorite example to illustrate this point is running a campaign for a silverware client. Contextual targeting would suggest targeting utensils, silverware, knife, fork, spoon, etc. That makes perfect sense — until your ad appears next to an article about a stabbing (after all, “knife” was in the copy). Of course, this example is an extreme, but there are nuances computers can’t understand, and human oversight is necessary.

That said, I’m all for the efficiencies technology can provide. Just don’t give up the value that your experience brings to the table. A smart, well-placed buy at a higher CPM can often deliver more-cost-efficient results than a programmatic buy (and in turn generate better results for the marketer).

Just because you’ve got a lot of data doesn’t necessarily mean you add any value. The Great Pyramids have a lot of sand, but it’s the blocks and the architecture that are important. Many people are overly concerned about how much data marketers have about them, but the reality is marketers don’t care about individuals. A beverage company doesn’t care that one person enjoys diet soda. But give me a way to find 100,000 people who prefer diet soda, and you’ve got a market worth targeting.

The other important factor overlooked in big data is analysis. Clients want to know, “What does all this mean? And what should I do about it?” Data without analytics is useless and distracting. Collecting data you’re not going to use can be a waste of time and effort. (I’ll leave off “waste of space,” as data storage costs are so cheap now.) Instead of looking backward at data and trying to figure it out, be proactive about what you want to know. Define that first and then collect the data that will help you answer your questions.

Thankfully we don’t hear too much about these companies anymore, but once in a while I still come across a vendor that is selling a technology fad that’s too secret even to let its customers know about it. Secret sauce (a.k.a., Russian dressing) works for a Big Mac, but that’s not the same as an ad network suggesting its technology works better because of technology.

We need to know more. I’m not asking for company secrets or trying to steal technology. I need to justify to clients why they should spend millions of dollars with you. “Don’t worry, our tech has got this covered,” is the last thing I want to hear (or have to say to my client) in a sales presentation. If your company uses this approach, take the time to figure out a plausible answer for why your tech works better and let us know.

I’m not quite sure why everyone is so anxious to put advertising in the middle of our social media experiences. Sure, it’s a huge audience, the users are engaged, and we know a lot about them. But the reality is that social experiences are often not the best venue for advertising. I liken this idea to being at a cocktail party talking with a group of friends and having someone jump in the middle of the conversation and tell us about a great new product he likes. In that scenario, the group usually goes silent, rolls its collective eyes, and repositions itself so that person is no longer the center of conversation — and then talks badly about him after he walks away. Is that really the experience your brand needs? When it comes to social, think about stadium advertising — it’s all around the venue, but it’s not in the center of the playing field.

So with all these vendors we don’t need, which ones do we need? All marketers face an ongoing dilemma: If I do X, spend Y, and target Z, what will happen? They are asked this question daily by their CEOs and CFOs. So if you want to build a company that will make Google look small, get started on Actual-attribution-modeling.com. Help us understand the real value of the banner that’s never clicked, the search ad that never appears when the client does a search, and what a “like” can really do for your business. Of course, if this were easy, we’d all be out of jobs and sitting on the beach somewhere.