Online Marketing Can Be Cheap, Fast or Good -- Pick Two

Our Dilemma Is Not Unlike That of a Renovator

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Quentin George
Quentin George
Anyone who has ever remodeled part of their house will be familiar with the builder's dilemma. Invariably, the conversation with your contractor results in the following tradeoff:

If it's cheap and fast, it won't be good, and if it's fast and good, it won't be cheap. And if it's cheap and good it will take forever (usually the least favored, yet most likely outcome). It's starting to dawn on me that online marketers face a similar dilemma, although the parameters are a little different.

Say you want to reach a targeted audience, within budget and at scale. The outcome is equally frustrating. If you focus on being cost effective at scale, you likely forgo the targeted audience. But reaching a targeted audience in a cost effective manner won't deliver you the scale you need to achieve your results. And reaching that ideal audience at scale will blow right through your budget. This is what I call the Online Marketer's Dilemma.

Connecting brands with ever-changing consumer behavior is hard enough, and the current value system that dominates display advertising forces us to make false choices and unnecessary tradeoffs. What we need is a new solution.

The opportunity with digital media is to improve marketing efficiency (by reducing labor) and effectiveness (by minimizing waste). However, the economic model we've put in place hurts more than it helps. I believe that there will be the dimensions by which marketers will likely buy digital media in the future:

Rich content integration deals: When we play to our strengths, a media buyer and publisher rep can accomplish mutually beneficial deals. The publisher content and brand content is well integrated and distributed across multiple channels and formats. The focus here is on integration, content and context. The challenge is that it's very labor intensive, limited in scale and unlikely to be replicated.

Pay for engagement deals Many marketers have created richer and more engaging experiences for their users. We need an efficient way to distribute those experiences to where we know there are people likely willing to engage with brands. Doing so effectively means that the unit of trade becomes engagement, not impression. If the impression is delivered for free, the publisher can then charge a proportionally higher fee only when consumers engage with the brand experience.

Buying audiences, not inventory: To solve the reach and scale portion of the equation, we need to be able to more freely define attributes for ideal customers and match that with available inventory in a marketplace- or exchange-based system.

Tackling the Online Marketer's Dilemma will require a combination of all three methods. This is not another false tradeoff -- it's establishing what the right balance and mix should be and how to use data to continuously refine the balance. Only when we have additional levers like this, do we stand a chance of success.

We also need a number of industry-wide infrastructural upgrades that will range from the dynamic provisioning of inventory to open API's that that facilitate the movement of data across systems and platforms. We will require automated systems to reduce the labor associated with the actual trades, reconciliation and reporting.

We need publishers and agencies that are willing to branch out, test the waters and do things differently. And we need marketers willing to innovate -- not for the sake of simply doing something different, but for the sake of doing something smart, something that will lead us all into a new era of marketing results. Who's ready to do some renovating?

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Quentin George is chief digital officer at Mediabrands, the media-buying unit of Interpublic Group of Cos., and also leads Universal McCann's digital and new media practices. He joined UM in April 2007, with 15 years internet-marketing experience at shops such as Organic and Avenue A/ Razorfish.

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