The world of digital marketing and media, one that requires both strong marketing strategy and equally strong technology tools, has seen the line blurred between marketing services providers and technology developers. However, there is a fundamental difference, even if some companies that fit into one category try to play on both sides of the aisle.
At the core of any individual business unit (be it a stand-alone entity or a division/subsidiary of a larger organization) is that company's DNA. This DNA dictates everything from business strategy, to product offerings, to personalities of those who work for it and more. Most importantly, this DNA dictates whether that particular business unit is a technology developer or a marketing strategy and services provider. At its core, no company is or can be both.
So what? Does this really matter? The answer is absolutely. It is of particular importance to marketers as they select vendors and partners to manage their marketing and media programs. If you need one and get the other, you will soon be searching for a new partner.
Let's start with technology providers. Typically, power in these companies sits with the software engineers: the key resource and knowledge base at the core of any technology company. Anyone that has experience building technology knows that once you start, you never stop. After all, that's the point. If you are a provider of technology and your tool doesn't evolve, improve and innovate, it will be left behind by a competitor's tool that has. As time goes on, your technology product becomes larger, with more parts, requires more hardware, and more people to manage it, to develop it, and so on. This reality mandates (at least if the company wants to be profitable) that all energy is focused on driving revenue through this product. This is where the line begins to blur.
At this point, technology companies (especially in the digital marketing world) realize that most people don't know how to use their technology, at least not to its full potential. So begins the birth of account management teams, and marketing services groups spawned to increase the demand and use of the technology. In and of itself, this is not only smart business strategy, but necessary as it is rare to select a technology for which you won't need support. However, here is where the line not only blurs, but can cease to exist.
Seeing the potential revenue streams from "marketing/agency services," some technology developers latch on to the idea that they can do it all; thinking and promoting that they are capable of providing best-of-breed technology and best-of-breed marketing services. Although their DNA suggests otherwise, some marketers, wowed by the potential of the technology tool, take the leap.
It is important to note that, for a limited set of marketers, this is a great decision. In this group are companies with internally strong marketing leadership, and even more important, internal expertise and experience with that particular marketing/media solution. For marketers that truly know what they want done, and how to get it done, but don't want to have to do it, a technology partner that provides agency-like services is a great solution. This solution provides the control these marketers want and the access to the resources they need.
A word of caution: The majority of marketers, especially in the area of digital marketing and media, don't have the expertise or experience in-house to make this solution highly successful. These companies need detailed assistance in making and setting strategic marketing decisions for which technology tools will, and can only, help execute.
Looking at the other side of the aisle, there are far fewer examples of marketing services companies that also seek to be developers of technology solutions. It's truly rare to find success stories of companies with their DNA in marketing services building technology. They are, however, capable of selecting technology providers, as this does fit within their DNA. Selecting and managing technology partners on behalf of their clients are part of providing the full scope of marketing services. Especially when technology (and, in most cases, multiple technology tools) are needed to add efficiency, create automation, and overall, power, digital marketing solutions. By failing to properly use all technology tools at its disposal, a marketing services firm provides no more of the complete solution than a technology company offering "strategic" marketing direction.
On that note, how many technology companies are willing to admit the holes in their technology and, when necessary, bring a second, or alternative, technology provider to the table? Within marketing services companies, there is no conflict if an additional or a different set of tools are needed. In fact, they have incentive to make that recommendation.
The key, as a marketer, is to know what you really need. Understand the difference in the companies you review. Know that, at its core, each company has its DNA, and that, try as it might, a leopard can't change its spots nor can it become a lion or a tiger. Know that for digital marketing solutions, technology is the great enabler, but that, until artificial intelligence is perfected, technology will not replace the need (or value) in sound and detailed marketing strategy.
Matt Spiegel is managing director of Chicago-based search marketing firm Resolution Media (an Omnicom Media Group Company).
iMedia Connection: In your experience, what are the most common misconceptions brands have when it comes to investing in the social gaming sphere?
Kim: I think a lot of people view it as traditional advertising, where you simply repurpose existing content and just insert it in the game in the form of in-game billboards, banners, etc. This usually means that there is not enough budget [in a campaign] to truly do something creative and impactful. I think social gaming marketing can be a lot more powerful than traditional marketing, not only because it can be interactive but also because it can be based in real time.
iMedia Connection: The in-game advertising market has been performing below expectations, driving some of the biggest players to drop some of their popular titles and marketers to steer clear of this strategy. What do you believe is preventing brand marketers from seeing the potential in the gaming marketplace? What would you say to convince them that it's a valuable space to have a presence in?
Kim: I think current efforts did not maximize the true potential of social gaming's real-time and interactive aspects. By truly focusing on these benefits and linking them up with gaming mechanics and compelling real-world rewards, it can show a new paradigm of in-game advertising.
iMedia Connection: Social games seem to be much more diverse in their demographic spread than traditional online and console-based games. What do you feel accounts for this?
Kim: I think this is mainly due to the fact that social games are based on Facebook and other social network services and propagate virally through existing social connections. The social propagation where a friend "introduces" another friend to "play together" is the key driver that enables social gaming demographics to be much more diverse than traditional gaming. We can really credit the combination of Facebook and social game companies in introducing and opening up games to a previously untouched demographic.
iMedia Connection: Do you have any examples in mind of brands that have successfully made their way into social gaming? Any unlikely brands that have found success in the space?
Kim: I don't think partnerships between brands and games have showcased their potential yet. Mostly because I think both brands and gaming companies are still exploring the boundaries and learning to work with each other. However, Zynga's raising money for Haitian relief through virtual items shows the power of social gaming as a captive media and of things to come.
iMedia Connection: How does gaming in the United States compare to gaming in foreign nations, such as Korea or Japan? What can the U.S. do to increase use of this platform?
Kim: I think gaming is a much more prominent part of people's lives because of advanced mobile and broadband infrastructure; however, the U.S. has always been the leader in technology and next generation marketing and advertising, where both U.S. brands and companies are always willing to "try something new." Through trial and error, which in many cases means "effort and money," I believe U.S. marketing and gaming companies will be able to demonstrate that social gaming will be one of the most captive and effective marketing mediums in the near future.
Osas Obaiza is an editorial intern at iMedia Connection.
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