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February 10, 2008

By all accounts, we're heading into difficult economic territory. Credit's tightening. Advertising spending in the traditional spaces isn't predicted to increase as it has in years past.

What's a marketer, ad agency, or advertising rookie to do? I think the current situation calls for C+D+B+C.

Last week we debuted "Conversations About the Future of Advertising," co-sponsored by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, with an insightful presentation called "Dada.Data.Alpha.Beta" by Jan Leth, Vice Chairman, Global Digital Creative at Ogilvy & Mather.

From my point of view, Jan's presentation offered at least two keys to surviving the economic storm: Data and Beta. To those I add Curiosity and Community.

Curiosity. It's about learning to adapt.

When asked why he practiced so much, the saxophonist Branford Marsalis said something to the effect of, "If a storm comes and washes the bridge out, I want a bunch of different options for getting home." How many different marketing solutions are you prepared to discuss and deliver? I'm an old school TV and print creative. I'll admit to being less than curious about the intricacies of Search in year's past. I'll also cop to being foolish. The (as of 2006) $9.4B allure of search engine marketing isn't subsiding. It's gaining in marketing priority faster than ever before. So what am I doing with my free time now? Playing around with Facebook's Social Ad program, operating a Google AdWords account and absorbing as many insights as I can from the smart people. And if I already was a Search expert, I'd likely be very curious about live-casting, social network development or mobile. In difficult times, it's time to get curious about how marketing works outside your comfort zone.

Data. The new key to storytelling.

We're talking about the effect of numbers. Jan argues one intriguing result of data is the opportunity for better storytelling. I agree. If you haven't already, I suggest making data your friend, especially when budgets tighten. Buy lunch for anyone who can run you a report from Nielsen NetRatings @Plan or comScore. Use Social Ads to discover, for example, just how many of your target audience exist on Facebook (i.e. "out of 19,708,060 people on FB in North America, 6,120 people 18+ are interested in Marketing, while 4,940 are interested in Advertising"). It's not just about making the case for your ideas. Data can often reveal hidden connections and insights that lead to more compelling and more useful ad ideas. Need proof? Read The Davinci Code. I believe an understanding of, and familiarity with, data -- how it's generated and how to leverage it -- will define the success of advertising strategists and creatives in the future.

Beta. As in, "always in..."

Jan's third element is all around us. Being "always in beta" means being flexible, dynamic and always listening and reacting quickly to your customers. It means you believe in and empower conversation. Being "always in beta" is a distinct departure from advertising practices of old, affecting financial systems, traffic/project management and HR. Is your agency or client relationship structured around rigid, finite systems born from decades of producing for rigid, finite media? That model is too slow and inflexible when time and money are in shorter supply. A recession should encourage greater investment in and reward for innovative budgeting, staffing, creative development and the ongoing management of creative ideas. Instead of ratcheting up heavily-focus grouped, high-dollar production that goes off-the-air or off-the-newsstand almost as soon as it starts, shift your messaging and production to forums that continue the conversation.

Community. Who’s got your brand’s back?

Who can you turn to when the costs of acquiring new customers goes out of reach? In a clinical sense, I'm talking about CRM. But "Customer Relationship Management" sounds too clinical and too controlling. In a recession, we're all suffering together, right? It's communal. So it's not about "managing" relationships so much as encouraging and enabling them. It's about nurturing conversations with your brand's evangelists -- who know more about your brand and how to sell it to their friends better than you ever will. It's about listening. If it were my budget, I'd be heavily invested in developing and participating in communities and social networks related to my brand right now. I'd be engaged in listening more than speaking. Because if your friends can't or won't help you, no one will.

Practiced together, practiced well, Curiosity, Data, Beta and Community provide a form of marketing arbitrage in difficult times.

That's my two cents. I'd offer more but times are tight.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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