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The Other Side of the Oreo

I felt a great deal of validation when I read yesterday on my recent iMedia Agency Summit Keynote about "The Oreo Doctrine." Tom is one of the great "practical visionaries" in our business, and his is one of a handful of columns that I always make a point to read. So I took his comments on "The Oreo Doctrine" as both a compliment and a challenge to go further in explanation and elaboration. I'm taking the time and space here to address some of his questions and comments, which are set apart in italics.

Tom: Where the Oreo metaphor began to fall apart for me was at the point where I tried to make it fit with some real-life business scenarios. Suppose you're operating in the marketecture sphere and you identify that the challenge for your client is buying leads at a low cost, or selling ad inventory at a high cost. We all have clients like this: direct response media buying clients or publishing clients looking to increase the value of their ad inventory.

First, I'll editorialize by saying that hiring Tom's firm -- Underscore Marketing -- to buy low-cost leads is like buying Secretariat and hitching him to a milk wagon. Underscore is a marketecture firm, through and through, and the higher order strategic work that Tom and his team can offer is hugely valuable to clients. Now, to answer the questions directly, "low-cost leads" is probably one narrow tactical component of the overall program Underscore will "marketect" for the customer. Somewhere in your "virtual talent network," you'll have an outsourcing relationship with an automated vendor who can deliver against that tactic. 

Tom: In either case, if you actually want to be able to act on your recommendations, you need to play both sides of the Oreo.

I disagree. Tom's assumption would seem to follow the agency/client "account ownership" or full-service model, where Underscore needs to provide the complete end-to-end solution. I see Underscore as the strategic builder and general contractor. You will indeed help the client act on your recommendations, but I don't believe you'll need to own all the talent and provide the solution in a vacuum. In the future, Underscore will take a more open-source approach and leverage its talent network instead of its "owned" assets and capabilities.

Tom: I agree that firms in our industry should concentrate their efforts on what they're best at. I also believe that companies can take the expedited path toward profitability by concentrating on their core business and performing well in that area, rather than becoming a jack of all trades that does many things in a mediocre fashion. However, I tend to think of these axioms as business guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.

First, let me say that no one is going to make this change in a single day. There is a process to migrating your business to pure-play status whether you're a marketecture firm or a transactional one. But smoothing out the concept to "business guidelines" is a dangerous form or relativism that will guarantee inertia on this very important question. Why not do high-level business strategy in the morning and crank out some rock-bottom lead-generation plans in the afternoon? Because (a) it forces the Underscore team to be "OK" at both and probably not great at either one, while (b) also forcing Tom to maintain transactional people and processes in-house that are ultimately indefensible. That giant sucking noise you hear is GoogleClick and its ilk automating all those processes and making those people seem costly and anachronistic. Tom, you didn't ask me for business advice, but I think the value you and your team at Underscore bring is all about perspective and vision and relationships. The quicker you migrate to that model, the more defensible your position and the more profitable your future.

Tom: If marketecture involves complex marketing problem-solving, what DR advertiser in their right mind is going to hire a firm that can't execute on what it recommends? While I agree with Doug that buying and selling ad inventory is becoming an increasingly automated process, I also believe that successful DR campaigns rely not just on signal intelligence (such as the data coming back from ad management systems and auto-optimizers) but on human intelligence as well. It's rare that a DR client is happy simply meeting his lead quota at an acceptable cost per lead. The client also wants to know why certain media types work and others bomb atrociously. Otherwise, media selection becomes a wasteful and tedious cycle of test-and-refine, without any direction as to what drives success, or any way to narrow down a rapidly growing menu of media choices.

It's interesting that Tom's premise stems from the "DR advertiser" doing "complex marketing problem solving." Here's a different cut: By the time this client becomes a DR advertiser, most of the big strategic issues have already been handled and acted upon, often through traditional media and consulting channels. A classic case in point is Dell. A great brand that spends hundreds of millions solving distribution, messaging, audience selection, trade issues and -- yes, brand persuasion -- in the brick-and-mortar world, but treats online as a one-note DR tactical ghetto. Some of the growth in marketecture will be driven by Blue Chip advertisers taking a much broader look at what online can accomplish across the entire marketing communications spectrum. But let me also say that I couldn't agree more with Tom's take on "the wasteful and tedious cycle of test-and-refine." That "cycle" is what's going to be automated. Where a firm like Underscore will thrive is in helping clients narrow down (that) rapidly growing menu of media choices. Tom, you and your people will help clients manage and profit from deviation, not standardization. You're the impressionistic strategists who will help them harness innovation. Once something becomes standard, you'll relegate it to one of your outsourced buying channels.

Tom: If it were my keynote, I might have chosen a different dividing line between my two halves of the Oreo. Perhaps one side of the cookie might have been firms that embrace automation and the other those that resist in order to preserve outdated business models. To me, that would have made a lot more sense.

With all due respect, this is a false choice. Firms that embrace automation and truly leverage it will be the leaders in transaction. As to the latter of your two models, I'd argue that preserving expensive human intervention in a marketplace of transactions is suicidal. That's not a choice at all. My definition of marketecture offers a legitimate model for the future of all of those great brains in our business. Like the ones working for Tom at Underscore.

Doug Weaver is the president of Upstream Group  and a senior analyst for iMedia. Read full bio.

Doug Weaver is a highly regarded strategist and opinion leader in the world of online advertising. Over the past 16 years he's worked with over 600 leading companies, including Facebook, Yahoo!, Apple, Fox Sports, USA TODAY, CBS Digital Media, YuMe,...

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