A campaign [operation] without schwerpunkt is like a man without character.
- Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg
Ever since Sun Tzu's Art of War, business schools have borrowed concepts from great military thinkers. Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings has been used extensively to direct short and long term strategies. Patton's brilliant essay, Secret of Victory has guided my own personal business philosophy.
One of these concepts, which I contend is more timely and appropriate than ever, is the principle of schwerpunkt, first introduced nearly 200 years ago by the German philosopher, Karl von Clausewitz, in his brilliant treatise, On War. US military strategist, John Boyd, and his acolytes helped introduce the concept of schwerpunkt to the modern US military.
There is no English-language equivalent of schwerpunkt, and thus, it has been subject to varying interpretations by its practitioners. "Center of gravity" and "focus of intent" are common usages. But the phrase that seems best able to capture its essence is "weight of effort". Business is a lot like war in that resources, human as well as capital, must be deployed properly lest one lose the battle or even worse, the war.
With this in mind, does it not make sense to ask ourselves: Has online advertising lost its schwerpunkt?
The answer is a resounding "yes". And to those of us who offer a growing critique of the online industry, the question seems almost rhetorical. When the weight of our effort eschews creativity for algorithmic reduction, we have indeed lost our center of gravity; our focus of intent; our schwerpunkt.
We have fostered an attitude that devalues relationships by placing technology at the fulcrum of a perverse cause and effect. John Boyd believed that people came first; empowered by ideas that were in turn facilitated by technology. We have juxtaposed this simple recipe with an inverted order that places technology first and people, last. But technology does not dream, and without creative sustenance, relationships starve to death. Creativity can't inspire technology, it can only inspire us. Relationships, not technology, must define our schwerpunkt.
This misappropriated weight of effort is revealed in a recent survey of advertisers who were asked to prioritize the qualities they seek in an agency. The survey comes on the heels of an identical one conducted three years ago. The bottom line: a complete change in schwerpunkt in just three years! Creativity and strategic thinking and planning have become subservient to technology under the guise of analytics.
In 2005, those marketers surveyed listed the order of qualities they looked for in their agencies:
1. Quality of Creative Content
3. Innovation and Strategic value
4. Traditional print, offline services
5. Sophisticated analytics/measurement
6. Proficiency in emerging/interactive
In 2008 the results of the same survey were quite different:
1. Sophisticated analytics/measurement
2. Proficiency in emerging/interactive
4. Quality of creative (virtual tie with price/cost)
5. Traditional print, etc.
6. Innovation and Strategic value
The sad truth is, our "focus of intent" or where the industry is placing its "weight of effort", our schwerpunkt, has shifted dramatically away from creativity, quality and innovation. What now passes as innovation in online advertising is relegated to technological innovation.
John Boyd was not against technology. In fact, he practically designed the F-16. But he preached that technology should never come ahead of people. This is true in war as well as business. He spoke of three components in warfare:
People – Ideas – Hardware
This translates into the modern troika of:
Relationships – Creativity – Technology
It is obvious that online advertising and media have put its weight of effort into technology. The first two, "relationships" and "creativity" now carry almost no weight at all; rendered virtually impotent by a sterile, inanimate master.
Our technology stands poised to "connect us" but in reality we have become more alienated than ever before. How deep can relationships created from Linked In, Facebook or Twitter possibly be? How often have you found yourself competing for attention against someone's Blackberry? Is it any wonder that our children prefer to text rather than call each other on the phone? They now purposely avoid speaking in complete sentences. ROTFLMAO!
We rely more and more on technological solutions to marketing problems. We've conditioned ourselves to accept a .3% click-through rate precisely because it's so precise! As long as we arrive at such miserable click through rates via mysterious algorithms that sift through mounds of data, the .3% holds up well.
Worse yet, there is an unending source of funding from the VC community that keeps this flawed game plan on its misguided trajectory. Money has poured into You Tube, MySpace, Digg, Facebook, and Twitter—relationships measured by the ton in 140 characters or less. Ad networks push quantity over quality and defend a 99.7% failure rate with a straight face.
We have seen the enemy, and he is us. May the best schwerpunkt win.
About Jaffer Ali Jaffer Ali is CEO of Vidsense, the Web's largest video advertising network. With more than 80,000 advertiser-friendly video clips licensed from major film and TV studios, the Vidsense network of more than 20,000 safe-for-work partner websites delivers millions of qualified visitors directly to advertiser websites on a pure Pay-Per-Click (PPC) basis. Vidsense is to Adsense what video is to print -- a far more engaging and compelling environment for consumers and advertisers alike.