Breaking the Ready Fire Aim Mentality


thinkThe first term I learned when I moved from the traditional side of marketing and media to digital was “Internet time.” Everything I had learned about how long things took and the best processes to get to the desired results went right out the window.

Digital experts were and are required to get to action plans much faster than was the norm in traditional. There were several reasons for this:

  1. Because no one really cared: Digital was less thought through, less scrutinized, and generally seemed less important to brand leaders – not worthy of months/weeks of thinking and development.
  2. Because we AND OUR DAY TO DAY CLIENTS were rewarded for activity rather than thought. No one really expected thinking from digital. Instead they wanted banners and KWs up tomorrow.
  3. Because we could: Many forms of digital creative and media can be executed FAR more quickly than TV or Print.
  4. Because we were the bastard step children: 8 times out of 10 we were brought into the campaign process at the last minute, expected to slap together some sort of digital program aligned with the traditional effort that had been built with painstaking steps and dedication.
  5. Because we did it well: Digital attracted some of the best, most tenacious “do-ers” in the world. We proved it could be done again and again.

There are inevitably consequences to an approach focused on NOW NOW NOW. And as digital has grown in importance in the whole integrated media and marketing soup, client expectations have evolved significantly. Clients want solutions to problems, not mindless activity.

Have we evolved to address them? Not enough, at least in my view. Our collective orientation is to move from a challenge – sell widgets at $8 per or generate leads or whatever – straight to execution. “What’s the offer?” “What’s the tagline?” “What sizes do we need?”

It was a natural consequence of our old challenges to behave in this manner. But it resulted in tremendous churn. Quickly developing banners that were ultimately off message, or indistinctive, or whatever. The results, if I may be so bold as to suggest, are banner blindness, assessment on click rate, and a bastardization of the word “campaign” to mean three banners with the same piece of stock art and the same background color.

Digital is uniquely positioned to solve real business problems if we apply our heads to creating distinctive messages and executions that connect with consumers instead of bombarding them. If our output is simply blue banners with flashing red buttons, or “just running the TV ad as pre-roll, we denigrate the medium and have no competitive advantage over freelance designers with a Mac in their garages.

Add to that the fact that we none of us got into this to make bad ads, and you have a recipe for – scratch that, you have no recipe at all. You have a steady diet of bad microwave meals that may “do the job” but at a tremendous cost to the “health” of ourselves and our brands.

IBM used to give out little wooden paperweights to employees that said simply, THINK. It was good advice then, and essential direction now if we are to develop powerful digitally-centered marketing concepts and programs in the future.

About Jim Nichols

Jim Nichols is Senior Partner - Strategy at Catalyst S+F, a marketing services company based in San Francisco. Surrounded by so many youthful Internet marketers every day, he fancies himself at 47 the "Oldest Living Digital Marketer." He keeps a daily blog profiling start-ups for ad:tech, is a is a frequent contributor to iMediaConnection, and has also contributed to ReadWriteWeb, Venturebeat, Brand Channel, MediaBizBloggers, and Daisy Whitney’s New Media Minute. You can also find him on Twitter @CatalystaJim


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