Beware the pretty lights of paid media

Glittery TVCs might represent the advertising of yesterday, but times are changing, writes Brian Vella.

There’s been a disturbance in the force. In recent years, the value in a great campaign has been challenged as customer behaviour drastically evolves. While the terminology around paid, owned and earned can be debated, what can’t be is the declining value in broadcast and reach media. Yet the attention it receives is disproportionate to what is equally, if not more important – and that is marketing platforms. The fact is today more than 50% of all purchases are digitally influenced, according to Forrester.

It’s been a big shift in a short time. For decades, paid media has been the darling of local marketers and agencies. Affection for the TVC often spared it accountability. Today, clients want more ROI, results and value. And they want it now. That’s seen digital media and technology rise to form new foundations of modern marketing.

Old habits die hard

But is it getting the support it deserves? Owned, as the name suggests, is an asset. A living and breathing investment. The issue for our industry is that given it is less sexy, it gets less attention. And that is a shame, because it’s equally important. In fact without a strong platform and digital ecosystem, investment in paid media is at best wasteful. At worst, it can erode and break down a brand all together.

It’s easy to be taken in by the pretty lights. Campaigns are our glittering advertising heritage. The amount of award shows rewarding campaigns is at an all time high. When was the last time a sound marketing automation platform one gold at Cannes, despite the fact that this could add more money to a marketers bottom line than any single piece of brilliant creative?

Paid only does half the job. The question needs to be asked; where is it driving customers? And what will they find when they get there? An award-winning campaign will be let down by a sub-standard online experience. Today speed, usability and simplicity are the keys to ‘cool’. Loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Even the best-loved brands need to be careful not to let customers down.

Investing in owned and earned may not be sexy – updating technology stacks, responsive design solutions and adding data analytics don’t come with a catering truck – but they are key to making every mouthful on the customer journey delicious. It’s this total customer engagement that will support and secure brands into the future, once the pretty lights fade.

Invest and lead the possible

The tendency remains to do what we know. Businesses still spend most of their time ‘managing the probable’ rather than ‘leading the possible’. It’s difficult to lead if you’re stuck with outdated skills and technology. Though it’s easy to get stuck spinning wheels. Implementing modern platforms is complex work though it is getting easier. It’s predicted that a CMO will spend more on technology than CTOs before the end of the decade. That is going to come at the expense of the glittering campaign and in my opinion should happen sooner rather than later.

Think fast, move faster

The emergence of businesses like Uber, Tripadvisor and Airbnb show how powerful the right platform can be. In just a few years they’ve become part of how we live, in some cases having spent zero on paid media. Taxi driver and travel agent are not new business ideas. Modern digital marketing platforms have changed the game. This connected agility keeps up with an ever more demanding customer.

Meanwhile, the next big brand campaign that may take months to produce is likely to have the same life span. It’s not to say paid media doesn’t have a role. When you have something new to say or rapidly boost awareness, that approach can be worthwhile. However being ‘always on’ and communicating with customers regularly and in a personalised way is smarter. And of course the customer’s next step is crucial. That’s why a brand’s marketing infrastructure; its website (mobile optimised of course), or experience within social channels, is still critically important. Thinking about the campaign solus is setting yourself up for a disconnected experience. Without the right ‘next step’ platforms ready to convert, ‘paid’ media can really cost.

Agile and frugal, I’ll have a piece of that

Some argue the goal of a marketer is to spend no money on marketing. Andy Lark of Xero agrees, saying: ‘Damn right, the aim is to make all other costs other than development unnecessary.’ Why talk about yourself when your customers can do it cheaper and better? That’s the power of owned and earned. Develop modern and scalable platforms and watch your own marketing ecosystem evolve. This infrastructure is capable of sustaining your brand across the entire consumer lifecycle. Sound worth investing in? It might not get you a gong at the next festival but wider reach, stronger relationships, and greater depth of experience year-on-year should be reward enough.

Clients aren’t the only ones warming to the power of marketing platforms. Its potential to solve business problems hasn’t gone unnoticed by a new player. Management companies like Deloitte, Accenture, PWC and McKinsey are throwing their hat in the marketing ring. They might not boast the creative flair of an agency but are equipped with the knowledge and discipline to make technology and data work. Will we one day see a management consultancy invest in an ECD?

It’s a disturbing thought for traditional agencies that may not be as far, far away as we think. But that’s for another episode.

Brian Vella
BY Brian Vella ON 12 August 2015