Online business blooms thanks to collaboration

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The year 2000 is going to be remembered as a watershed year in the history of digital marketing in North America. For the first time, interactive communications moved outside the orbit of the technology early-adopters who live, predominantly, on the East and West coasts and touched the lives of mainstream consumers who live in places like Dubuque and Shreveport and Boise and Saskatoon.

That breakthrough hasn't happened by accident. First, of course, it's the result of the ongoing march of technology toward products and services that are ever more useful, affordable and understandable to consumers.

But those of us who deal with digital marketing can be justifiably proud of the fact that we too have had a lot to do with the mainstreaming of online business. In ways that didn't seem possible two years ago, our industry has finally gotten its collective act together to raise consumer comfort with the Internet and other technologies to a level high enough to make people trust the messages they're getting via digital media.


For our industry, it's been a commitment to long-term collective interest over short-term special interests. It's also been a commitment to the belief that the consumer is justifiably situated at the center of the future of digital marketing.

That focus on consumer acceptance and collective industry action was one of the central tenets of the Future of Advertising Stakeholders Summit two summers ago. In addition to all the other things it was, the FAST Summit was our industry's challenge to itself to untie the Gordian knot of special interests that was holding back progress on digital marketing.

It challenged us to set in motion processes to quickly finalize, adopt, enforce and communicate meaningful consumer privacy and security principles. It challenged the industry to broaden consumer understanding about key ad model parameters. It challenged us to study how consumer acceptance varies based on online media environments and media mindsets. It challenged us to advance permission-based marketing, where online consumer benefits are provided in return for the voluntary consumer information that is used in message targeting. And, above all, it challenged us to accelerate development of a higher-quality experience.

This year, we're seeing digital marketing step up to meet those challenges. But there's a lot more to be done. Because as fast as we may be moving, technology and consumer options are moving faster.

Five years ago, who would have imagined that millions of consumers would be buying their airline tickets via something called a "reverse auction" from their desktops? Or that teen-agers in middle America would be less than cool if they didn't have a digital PCS device in the massive pockets of their baggy jeans? Or that the price of a state-of-the-art PC would fall to around the cost of a decent set of snow tires?

New ad models are sprouting fast and there's a great deal of pragmatic, behind-the-scenes work for us to do if we expect to keep up. Specifically, e-mail and wireless advertising models (to name just two) need insertion order, audience measurement and effectiveness guidelines that are meaningful to both advertisers and publishers or the progress we've made is likely to stall.

The good news is that both advertisers and publishers have awakened to the realization that there's a huge upside potential associated with simply settling on guidelines and getting on with life. Compared with this potential, our differences over what counts as an impression or how an insertion order works or confusing, idiosyncratic ad models look like squabbles over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Go back to some examples from the history of consumer advertising as an indicator of what can happen. At the dawn of TV in 1950, less than 3% of total consumer advertising went to that medium. Five years later, TV was the new dominant medium for reaching the consumer, a dominance in both mindshare and spending it has held ever since.

Why? It's because the industry got together to figure out the mechanics that needed to be in place to demonstrate to advertisers what they were buying and how much it was worth to them.


Among the major industry associations, there is now a clear willingness to collaborate to answer those basic questions. There is a commitment to provide the resources to get that job done. There is the diversity of perspective from both traditional and online advertisers to make that activity meaningful for everyone.

From where we sit, it seems clear that after some initial attempts at an "every-man-for-himself" approach to the future of digital marketing, the industry is now serious about treating the future more like a relay race . . . where the baton gets handed to the runner best suited to win each leg of the race. That's the way it should be.

Or, to put it another way, to continue to be successful, we're all going to have to do what the FAST Summit first encouraged us to do: to leave our agendas at the door.

Ms. Bechtold is director of i-Knowledge, Procter & Gamble Co., and 2000 chairman of Future of Advertising Stakeholders. Mr. Donahue is exec VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies, and chairman of the Digital Marketing & Commerce Coalition.

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