Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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There is a great story about people’s resistance to change.  The phrase “holding the horses” is from the introduction to an essay entitled “Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation.” By Elting E. Morison.

The story (a bit paraphrased) goes as follows.

In the early days of World War I, the British were using artillery guns from the Boer war.  Now these guns were deployed by trucks along the coast of England.  A time-motion expert was asked to find ways to increase the firing rate and saw some puzzling patterns among the 5 men crews.  He noticed in the films that a moment before firing, two of the soldiers ceased all activity and came to attention for a 3 second interval that extended through the firing.  He was puzzled and asked a veteran colonel for his interpretation.  At first he was puzzled too and then he realized, “ah, they are holding the horses!” (In the Boer war these guns were horse-drawn and the horses would bolt when the guns fired.)  Morison commented that when faced with change, humans cushion the shock by hanging onto old methods, no matter how incongruous.

So I ask, in our emerging real time, on-demand, hyper-targeted media world, IN WHAT WAYS are we holding the horses?  We know we’re doing it…it’s human nature… but how?

Here are some ways I think we are holding the horses.

  1. Still using the click as a key metric.  Comscore has proven that the click is a small portion of the sales impact that display advertising can have, because guess what…advertising has branding effects too!  The old DR model of internet advertising needs to give way.
  2. Moving to real time ad serving but using research to assess ROI where results come 6-8 weeks later.  Google believes that 50% of ad serving will be based on real time exchanges in the not too distant future.  However, the standard marketing research approaches for determining digital display ROI still come weeks or even months later.    We must find real time metrics, preferably ones that are unobtrusive to the advertising and audience, so we can adjust and optimize as we go.
  3. The media world still is thinking mass media CPM when buying hyper-targeted addressable advertising. I simply don’t think we have figured out how to price hyper-targeted advertising yet.   In the traditional mass media world, we knew that the great majority of impressions were wasted but the CPMs were so affordable that the economics worked out.  That’s the world of demographic targeting. Imagine when hyper-targeting allows you to deliver a message to a behaviorally defined audience of people where there is little waste!  Examples of these are Catalina who serves coupons and messages at checkout based on shopper records and ShareThis who can serve advertising to people who are so interested in a topic that they share content and become influencers.  If the media world uses CPMs for mass media as a starting point, they are holding the horses.
  4. Not understanding the full impact of digitalization.  When I see ads on my DVR that are current to my needs rather than the ones attached to the show when I originally recorded it two years ago, I will know that television gets digitalization.

Let me close with one more story about how humans resist change.  This one comes from the noted civil war historian, Shelby Foote:

“Muzzle-loading weapons…were a new kind of infantry rifle that were deadly at 200 yards…[but] the tactics were based on the old musket, which was accurate at about 60 feet. And they lined up shoulder to shoulder and moved against a position, and got blown down [even]…Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant followed the old tactics against these modern weapons. “

The first keiretsu of advertisers, media, and agencies to see this new real time, hyper-addressable media world will be way ahead at achieving marketing efficiency and effectiveness while others are still marching shoulder to shoulder.

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2 Responses to “New media, old ways”

    • w.r.t. resistance to change, a wise person once said something like:

      “Never underestimate your power to change yourself.

      Never overestimate your power to change others.”