I talk frequently about the importance of widgets – how they’re an advertising format that swims with the current instead of against it; that of the major marketing disruptions handed down by the Internet only widgets are proving to be both promotion-effective and brand-enhancing; how they allow marketers to join conversations they might not otherwise be invited into.
But let’s suppose for a minute that widgets aren’t important to marketing.
OK, I can’t do that. Let’s suppose for a minute that the importance of widgets to marketing is not yet known, that they are just emerging as the next new thing, are building in buzz, but short on evidence. Let’s suppose that we are where we were about a year ago. Or where every new platform, technology and distribution development have found themselves. eBay, Amazon, Google have all been there. Mobile, Video, Behavioral Targeting did their time. Virtual worlds, advergaming, much of social media are there still.
Whether the current marketing fascinations evolve into the next Google, or deteriorate into the next PointCast is relevant to their executives and VCs. But it shouldn’t matter a whit to marketers. Marketers ought to be equipped to plunge into opportunities as soon as they are spotted, not after they have been proven. Not because they may develop into opportunities that marketers will have missed. Trust me, if any startup suddenly finds itself the brand marketer’s Holy Grail, there will be inventory and opportunity for everyone.
Rather, marketers should be involved in emerging opportunities because even if they are not big events themselves, they are training for marketing’s big events, and for the past couple of years the Freewebs sales and marketing team has been trail blazing in this area.
Every discipline needs practice, and no level of expertise can be achieved without it. For example, Derek Jeter probably fields about half a dozen ground balls during a 9-inning game. That he does so with such aplomb is because of the countless thousands of sharply hit grounders cracked his way during practice every season. Imagine if the only driving Jeff Gordon did other than his qualifying and competitive laps on the Nascar track was shuttling his kids to school and soccer practice in the family minivan. Or if Lance Armstrong took 11 months off every year, and only rode his bike about 100 miles a day for 3 weeks straight during the Tour de France.
These are world-class athletes I’m using as examples, but the analogy is valid. The clients I work with here at Freewebs – at major movie studios, CPGs, auto manufacturers, music labels, and financial services companies – are world-class. If there were an Olympics for marketing, these people would be medal favorites in every event. And if you’re not among them, you’re competing with them for the same consumer mindshare.
The trouble comes when opportunities have to be Olympic-caliber to warrant attention. The analogy ends here because athletes can’t just decide they’ll do the Olympics. They have to train and qualify and prove their worth every step of the way. Marketers with a big enough budget can elect to compete in any arena, including only the biggest. But without the endless hours of training and practice and qualifying and simulating competitive environments, their chances for gold are severely hamstrung.
Emerging opportunities – in whatever medium – are an ideal training facility. The skills marketers are sharpening there, by nature of the "emerging" part of "emerging opportunity", are likely new skills, giving marketers more depth and versatility. Imagine if Brett Favre could run like Vince Young. Or if Roger Clemens could suddenly throw a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. Or if Wal-Mart could make people love them as much as Prius. Sheer domination.
But practice takes time, and time is money. And when you’re talking about advertising, everything is money. How should you determine how much budget to allocate to the skill-building offered through emerging opportunities? One ratio to consider is Mickey’s, who said to Rocky as the fighter was languishing through a workout, “For a 45-minute fight, you have to train hard for 45,000 minutes.” By those calculations, for every $100K an advertiser spends on television, they ought to put $100 million into Second Life.
Again, you see the analogy is like the lane dividers on NYC avenues – more of a suggestion than a hard rule. Wannamaker might suggest half the budget be devoted to emerging opportunities (he just wouldn’t know which half). If only we could identify the wasted parts and put them to better use.
I would posit, however, that given the supersonic speed of media change, all resources NOT contributing somehow towards developing the world-class marketing skills required to compete within emerging opportunities will someday be viewed as wasted. And some brands may remain on the sidelines, watching the race they ought to have won. The Freewebs team is dedicated to making sure they win next time.