The Great Divide: Agencies and Tech Innovators Need to Get on the Same Page

Tech Strives for the Next Great Quick Hit, but Marketing Is a Long-Term Affair

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The financial world believes that the social-media bubble has popped. That's the message of an article published late last week in Fortune, analyzing the disastrous decline of the "Valley's brightest lights" -- Groupon shares down more than 70% from its offering price, Facebook down 43% and Zynga down 69%.

Restless crowds of investors are calling for Mark Zuckerberg's head, and many shaken financial analysts now are questioning whether these stocks were over promoted.

Yet few of us experienced in marketing are surprised by this news. We have publicly questioned whether Groupon was good for brands. We have struggled over how to translate a "like" into a sale, and scratched our heads at the astonishing Facebook valuation, given iffy returns on marketing programs.

Clearly there's a stark difference in perspective between agencies and the technologists/venture capitalists who are re-engineering marketing. It is emblematic of a deeper disconnect that , as a marketing veteran and CEO of a startup, I experience personally. Great marketing is a multi-layered, long-term, tech-enabled creative process that spans multiple touch points. Great tech innovation is focused on producing the next "billion-dollar single-trick platform pony" (think Instagram).

In practice the gaps play out in five ways:

Agencies live mainly in the "how" of many little multi-touch, multi-platform customer relationships not easily achieved in today's fragmented platform environment.
There are great platforms for automated PR outreach, others for listening and yet others for social publishing. But often these platforms are configured to satisfy a business model -- not what marketing really needs. As a result, we see PR automation companies offering social-media tracking detached from their PR automation software. That makes no sense, given how social outreach is a critical PR tool. Faced with so many badly configured platforms, one must perform herculean feats of technical interoperability to create a useful process.

Real ROI is achieved only when messages connect to real people -- not just impressions or clicks.
Technology platforms let us touch zillions of people in a digital heartbeat, yet we often do not really know who or what we are reaching in the online world. Let's look at recent articles questioning what is real or fake within Facebook and Twitter. Facebook reported that 8.7% of its user base (83 million) is fake. One can safely assume that the true figure is far higher. Twitter's fakery is harder to pin down, but a recent Mashable article speculates that "…fake users on Twitter may outnumber the real thing by more than 2 to 1." Tech platforms let us scale new reach heights; the question is , who is real or what is fake.

Agencies must create measurable programs that can be tested reliably, something not easily achieved in the fast-iteration culture of the tech world.
Agencies need stable systems because one operational program glitch can lose a hard-won customer forever. Yet the tech world's position is to "break things and move fast," a famous Zuckerberg quote. The "iterations" that mean "evolution" to technologists, often mean "half baked" to agencies. It should come as no surprise that agency staff roll their eyes every time Facebook announces the development of a new feature like the "Want" button. Spin aside, every new feature is a variable that agencies must figure into their models, a challenge in a fluid, hacker-oriented platform.

There is too much confusion in distinguishing between a true consumer opt-in intent and a platform-defined "opt-in" action.
Opt-in marketing is universally acknowledged as the gold standard in efficient marketing, because prospects invite brands to engage with them, invariably increasing conversion rates. But the flood of platforms with their vague opt-in classifications has undermined the overall trust consumers place in opt-in behaviors. As consumers get a flood of unwelcome opt-in outreach, they increasingly opt out, poisoning the opt-in well for all marketers. It's useful to remember there's big data and then there's bad big data. Platforms obscure one from the other.

Creating trust with consumers, the key ingredient for building strong customer franchises, is people-powered, not platform-powered.
Technology is a marketing enabler. Yet while it's terrific that a platform can listen well, it still takes a real person to make it right with an outraged customer or to create a satisfying community experience. The connection between platforms and people within these systems is still a work in progress.

There is an urgent need for broader, meaningful, ongoing dialogues between experienced agencies and the tech/ venture capitalist community because too much is getting lost in translation. It's why Ad Age 's Digital Conference in San Francisco next month is so important. It's time for the conversations to begin.

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet. .
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