What’s so hard about Digital Media?

Next year is going to be cool. There’s going to be some ace stuff. With things like Android and the iPhone opening up we’ll start to see some really cool mobile startups; as people begin to grasp the social graph and data portability we’ll start to see some awesome tools in that space; and as marketers start to realise that a conversation with the consumer is more about offering an experience than a product we’ll get some really amazing campaigns. To keep up with this (and in fact to catch up with even where we’re currently at) digital media needs to change significantly in the next year. There’s a huge lack in Australia of media people who understand this space (especially among the traditional media agencies’ digital offerings) and as a result the creative agencies are, to a point, suffering.

So what are the media agencies doing wrong? It would be great to be able to say it’s a problem of deciding on a technology before a goal, but most of the time there isn’t even a consideration of technology. It’s simply display ads being offered up on the same predictable stable of publishers. Digital media requires a solid and sometimes instinctual understanding of online audiences and a geekish love of metrics, and it’s only going to continue down this route. In the future simply going down the path of least resistance and treating digital media like TV simply won’t cut it. Creative agencies shouldn’t (and for the most part, don’t want to) own the media process, but in the future everyone is going to have to work a lot closer together rather than just selling TVC’s and going home early.

In the past few years we have seen an increase in fragmentation of market segments, we now know more about smaller groups of consumers and media agencies need to react to this. As more and more data is gathered this fragmentation will continue (hopefully as a benefit to the consumer rather than some evil Orwellian entity), and we now have to start to consider this when thinking about the messages we create. The days of every campaign having the same over-arching brand or product message tweaked to each channel and segment might soon come to an end. We now have the knowledge, data, and capability to create extremely tailored messages for smaller segments, so we need to have the placement to back it up. But the answer to this problem isn’t as easy as “here’s the message, now show us the media”, there needs to be an almost symbiotic relationship between media and creative.

So cookie-cut responses to a media brief for a specific segment or product won’t work. No doubt media boffins in big agencies are hoping their global tools will work and they can move in and get the big slices of the massive online cake. But localisation means that some simple formula can’t be applied to global digital media. Even online, people in most areas want to stay local, and in the future this probably won’t change and likely will increase. As more and more and more users flood into the online world, it will become more important to people to have a sense of place in this space. This trend, combined with segment fragmentation and the already obvious fact that there’s not going to be any Rupert-esque media domination online means that local knowledge is essential in effective digital media buying.

Quick tactical response and effective data management are the final pieces that need to fall in to place to fully leverage the opportunities we’re facing. Tactical response will require solid client, ad and media agency relationships and will no doubt come once more advertisers see the potential of the area. Data might be a harder challenge. We are already facing a mountain of data that dwarfs the days of analog DM and focus groups, and we’re not even that good at collecting it yet. We have opportunities to collect all sorts of data regarding how, when, why, and where people are viewing, creating and interacting with digital media. Despite this there’s reluctance from most people in all facets of the industry to get out of the kiddy pool and start working with behavioural targeting, attention profiling, integrated CRM and seriously using the plethora of data consumers volunteer on social networking sites.

So for the media people, please jump at this opportunity. The future is way cooler than the past, and if you know and live what you’re talking about you will be an invaluable resource. For the big media companies who don’t seem to be getting it right, just get in people that know what they’re talking about. Get in geeks and skill them up in media, because it’s much harder to skill someone up on the intricacies of the digital world. For anyone else who thinks this doesn’t sound all that hard, jump in and give it a crack. Step up and start something, because there’s definitely a gap there waiting to be filled. And once it’s filled some really great ideas and great results will surely follow.

- December 2007