I was speaking with my friends at Universal McCann a few weeks ago, and one thing that emerged clearly from our conversation was that despite the fact that digital is in the final stages of maturation and is in many ways undergoing commoditization, these guys still yearn for that great promise that fueled the space's rapid ascension to the top of the pile - to connect all the dots from the moment a consumer is exposed to a message to the moment that that same consumer makes the purchase.
Most advertisers, and to a large degree their agencies, know the directional relationship between ad spend and how that impacts sales, and depending on the sales channels and product category involved, the effectiveness of each step as the consumer heads down the sales funnel. Embracing the growth in measurement tools and the living, real, "liquid" data that is continuously generated, marketers and their agencies are busy building out extremely complicated scorecards and dashboards, powered by massive servers and armies of number crunchers. That technology will ultimately allow management X-ray-like visibility into their businesses and, in turn, empower them to tinker with their entire marketing and product supply chains in real time from behind their desks. And this, in turn, will allow them to hold their agencies more and more accountable to improve the cost-effect ratio with more precision, less waste, and greater return.
If it sounds complicated, just try to imagine what it takes to get this type of thing off the ground, much less to get a large organization and all of its myriad partners to buy in and actually make this system work. Yes, it's possible, but at what cost, and more importantly, at what benefit? Or to be more exact, when is the benefit going to be realized?
That is not to say that these types of integration endeavors should not be pursued, but it just makes more sense for all parties involved to focus first on smaller playing fields that are more manageable in scale, and with the consumer squarely at the center.
Many, if not most, online platforms are already allowing advertisers ways to connect an ad response with a downstream activation, and to some degree, with direct sales. In cases where physical sales are dominant (vs. immediate online redemption), coupons and offers received digitally and transferred into hard copies, redeemed in store, are what's being tracked. The math for the advertisers is simple - this much spent, this much redeemed, this growth in sales. This small integrated system works pretty well, so the question is, how do we bring this to the big screen in the consumers' living room?
At the time of writing, there are several ways to activate the TV viewer - a request for RFI can be mailed to the viewers' home, or sent to her email, or the viewer can bookmark it and then visit a Web site where the offer can be redeemed. There are a few other approaches, but the key question remains - is this the optimal way to connect the televised consumer message to that consumer's spend, and in turn, where can we improve and where should we be headed?
I truly believe the key lies in being as immediate as possible thus allowing the consumer to do the least amount of work necessary to realize the end benefit. In other words, we need to get whatever we're offering right into the viewers' hands. Immediately.
And what's in most people's hands, for the better part of the day? Their mobile device.
There are several factors that make this a more viable proposition than ever before. Firstly, the industry is undergoing a unanimous transition towards graphics-driven mobile devices. Many are touchscreen, others combine a touchscreen with a QWERTY, and even the keyboard-centric device manufacturers like Research in Motion's Blackberry are either launching touchscreen models or enhancing the size and the resolution of their e-mail machine screens.
The richer, more flexible, yet at the same time more consistent graphic palette bodes well for the user experience of receiving an immediate confirmation of their request. It also seems that an ad that one proactively requests is something that mobile users will react to more positively than those ads that are pushed on them while they're in their personal mobile space.
My wife hasn't checked her e-mail on a computer in weeks. My mother has the Google phone and texts feverishly. My grandmother has trouble walking, but never misses a call since she's got her cell phone strapped to her wrist. Everyone has one, all the time, and they're not afraid to use them.
It's time to embrace the mobile device as the ultimate conversion mechanism. And help my friends at UM realize the true promise of digital - a direct line from spend to sales.
Mark Risis is Director of Interactive Advertising Sales for TiVo, Inc.
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