Having been part of the online marketing world for nearly 12 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the hue and cry for “case studies.” In fact, I’ve become more than a little cynical about it. The Catch 22 about the whole thing is that everyone wants to see results but nobody wants to share their own. It's kind of like being at a nude beach where nobody wants to be the first to doff their bathing suit.
So this thing about “open source marketing” has me pretty jazzed. It’s the kind of bold thinking that ends up changing the dialogue. It’s a chance for us to answer some really important, liberating questions for America’s marketers. It can be all this and more… if we don’t screw up the interpretation.
In my long and productive relationship with iMedia, my role is often that of Devil’s advocate: to ask the hard questions and challenge some of the fundamental assumptions. What often results from this kind of Yin-Yang approach -- all seem to agree -- is a more solid and visionary approach. And because I believe so strongly in the open source marketing concept, I hope to make it even more robust and valuable through the ideas outlined below.
So here then is my three-point plan for positioning and interpreting the open source marketing initiative:
It’s Not About if… it’s about how
Throughout the late 90s, the interactive marketing industry paraded dozens of studies that demonstrated the efficacy of online advertising. “It works! It works!” was the common theme that always seemed to emerge. But we’re living in a different age now. With the exception of luddites trapped in the tar pits, marketers know intuitively that online works. They just don’t know how. And that’s the heart of the matter. Open source marketing can actually shed light on what happens when you turn the various knobs in the online plan. So if you’re sharing this with a marketer you love, be sure you position it appropriately. It would be far too easily dismissed otherwise.
Understand Its Limits.
In its current incarnation, the open source initiative will follow a stimulus-response model. “If we make this change, what happens?” Nothing wrong with this: it will at least begin to offer a rudimentary understanding of the various levers and buttons within an online campaign. But it’s also built around the metrics of instant gratification. “Visits per thousand impressions,” “site visits” and “visits to purchase page” are all essentially online DR metrics in a campaign that’s about introducing and positioning a low-consideration, packaged good brand. I applaud the folks at 24-7/RealMedia, Think Metrics and Basement for taking this project on, but I’d like to see two areas more fully developed. First, address brand attribute measurement testing throughout the campaign by overlaying a well-respected brand measurement tool. Even in a TV campaign, you’d have test market numbers or focus groups giving you message feedback throughout. Second, make sure that you’re studying cumulative results, not just the quick hits of website activity that trail the manipulation of the campaign elements. My greatest fear is that this wonderful initiative ends up reinforcing and dredging up the old “gotta get ‘em to the website” farce.
“Proof” is a Fantasy.
The title I’ve given this article is a bit of a lark. When the smoke clears, I believe that marketing decisions are most often based on intuition, politics, personal belief systems, relationships, short-term business imperatives -- almost anything but science. That’s not to say that open source marketing isn’t going to have an impact. It’s a valuable new contribution to the ongoing development of online marketing. But we need to get a firm grip on our expectations. There is no silver bullet of “proof” that will change the game overnight. Instead, there are credible steps to be taken that will attract and involve marketers in developing the business. This is one of them.
I’ll watch the roll out of open source marketing with great interest in the coming weeks. But in the end, I hope it’s remembered as the stimulus for dozens of other case studies and open source initiatives. Rather than seeing it as the pool of knowledge, I’d rather think of it as the rock thrown in the pond. The ripple effect is what matters most.