In running any business today, it's almost a certainty that you won't have all of the necessary information that you need in a timely manner, and in the right form, to permit you to make all of the critical decisions that continually confront you. It's a given that waiting too long-- and the indecision and inaction associated with such reticence-- is far more costly than the downside of any decisions or action you might take. If we knew all the answers and how things were gonna turn out, we wouldn't call our sometimes fruitless attempts "experiments." There are no guarantees in the startup world except one: standing still will get you run over sooner or later. The way you build a successful business and the way you get better every day is by improving every day. Each morning arrives with more data, more insights and more to work with as you struggle to figure things out.
Intuition, great guesses, pattern recognition, experience, research, homework-- all of these things help to fill the data gap, but you're going to come up short occasionally and that's just how it goes. Eventually, all the models stall, all the formulas fall short and then you've got to make that leap of faith. That's why you get paid the big bucks. The good news is that ignorance is curable if you make the necessary commitment required to get on top of the situation every time-- even as the situation changes quickly and sometimes radically. Your job is to steer the ship through a sea of changed conditions and circumstances without ever giving up on the goal. You can trim the sails from time to time, but you can't lose sight of the shore-- or the vision.
The right attitude and the consistent application of serious effort, which includes a fair amount of false starts and a bunch of trial and error, will eventually overcome the initial absence of the facts, figures and results. But only if you do the work. Far too often, not knowing actually means not looking or not caring enough to look long and hard enough to find the necessary answers. Ignorance is fixable but indifference is fatal. See "Why 'Whatever' Will Sink Your Business."
One of the deepest and darkest data holes these days in terms of willful ignorance is the actual value of traditional advertising as compared with the billions of dollars being spent on it. I'm surprised and even a little impressed to see the remarkable amount of creativity and ingenuity that you find in larger companies when it comes to figuring out how to hide their stunning degree of indifference and continued reluctance to change their old school ways of doing things. It's still a Mad Men world; it's still "business as usual" with a little less alcohol; and the clients are still getting the shaft. There are better tools, there is better data, but no one --particularly on the client side -- really wants to rock the boat and demand more accurate answers. Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves or be the first one to move things forward.
We need a lot fewer Mad Men and a lot more Math Men (and women) today if we're going to get things right. The most critical attributes of the Internet and the new digital economy are not only the speed, immediacy and low cost of the network; it's the heightened direct access to Individuals, the ability to accurately measure their engagement and their resultant actions, and the remarkable degree of accountability that results. We can discover and measure reach, resonance and reaction in real time in ways that simply were never previously available. But none of this capability matters if the people in charge of spending the money don't care. Or worse, they might theoretically care, but they're not willing to ferret out the actual answers.
A few smart people are starting to figure this stuff out. They're totally focusing on performance-based marketing, not wishful thinking or last year's news -- and they are going to change the competitive game. And when they do, they're not gonna spend any time educating the rest of us. They have realized that the people with the deepest pockets don't really want to hear what they have to say. As a result, what we're seeing-- and what the digital economy now enables and can deliver-- are more and more cases where the smartest customers are becoming their own media buyers and building their own tools to get the job done. They've figured out that this new competency isn't just a competitive necessity; it's a sustainable competitive advantage.
So what can you do for your own business to make sure that you don't get left behind or foolishly spend your scarce resources with people still using broad gauge, shotgun strategies --"spray and pray" style-- that are remnants of the old TV network game instead the new price- and value-based discovery tools available to help you reach the right digital audiences for your message? If no one is listening, it doesn't really matter what you're trying to say.
Here's the bottom line: only bozos buy eyeballs. It's not about volume or tonnage anymore; it's about smart reach. See "To Sell More, Your Marketing Must Embrace 'Smart Reach.' " Ask your people and your vendors the tough questions. Are you engaging real people or robots? How do those consumers react and respond? Are they clicking through and buying something from you? Can you invest more dollars (in viable and actual inventory) and improve your results based on what's working for you? And can you do this in real time before the moment passes? Can you be there when the buyer is ready to buy?
To win today, you need to do three things:
(1) Your entire ad spend will need to make economic sense for your business and provide real measurable metrics (and demonstrable results), which are now available if you know where to look and who to ask;
(2) Your agencies and other vendors will need to justify their recommendations and rationalize the dollars they are asking you to commit. Not on the come, or based on the distant past, but based on concrete and current data; and
(3) You'll need to develop or acquire the right tools (or the right partners) to permit you to monitor and adjust your ad and marketing spends in real time so you can be proactive rather than simply reactive-- feeding your winning initiatives and shutting down the losers as soon as possible.
Nothing in the digital economy is "set it and forget it" anymore. We live in a "real time, right now" world and no one has the luxury to ignore these changes or to wish them away-- certainly not anyone who intends to keep a startup alive.