The Expanding Pie

The conventional mass media investment model is well known. Produce great creative, develop a media plan, spend the vast majority of your budget on media and hope for the best.
In the world of digital media 2.0, the audience engages the media, passing it along to friends and colleagues, ostensibly obliterating the need for big media budgets. Thus, there’s the potential for marketing budgets to shrink as advertisers spend less on media and more on content that will engage users.
R/GA CEO Bob Greenberg and evp Barry Wacksman highlighted this shifting media model in an insightful Adweek opinion piece titled “The Shrinking Pie.” But while the new “owned and earned” user-generated media referenced by Greenberg and Wacksman will change the mix of one’s marketing portfolio, I don’t feel it’s likely to kill mass media budgets.
In fact, if managed appropriately, all these media types can and should co-exist to enable an expanding, not shrinking, marketing pie. Here’s why.
Depending on users to spread a marketing message is risky business. Yes, there are examples of wonderful campaigns that have caught fire and reached a mass audience, but these successes are hard to replicate. The audience is fickle, there’s massive competition for their attention, no proven path to success and the impact can be fleeting. Moreover, widespread viral awareness may not meet your ultimate sales goal.
Which leads me to the second and most critical reason why traditional mass media is not dead: It works. But it could work better.
The ultimate goal of marketing is to drive sales. Whether an advertiser is using mass media to drive awareness at the top of the marketing funnel, developing content they hope will engage users in the middle or running performance marketing programs that enable them to pay for actions close to sales at the bottom, the goal is to invest in marketing that has a demonstrable ROI. Online performance marketing provides marketers with a variety of opportunities to generate definitive and measurable marketing returns. Pay-per-click search, search engine optimization, data acquisition, etc., can all be measured and optimized to provide advertisers proven returns.
Online performance marketing is about engagement and efficiency. It involves a continuous process of measurement and improvement spanning multiple channels. When positive ROI flows back from a campaign, marketers can reinvest these earnings to drive additional growth of sales and profits, ignoring traditional budget constraints.
To illustrate this point, let’s say I offer to sell you $10 bills for $5 each. Would you buy as many as you could or would you budget your spend? What if someone else was also willing to sell you $10 bills for $6 each? The majority of those given this opportunity would choose to blow the budget and buy as many $10 bills as both providers had to sell.
Of course, this illustration is an oversimplification, but the premise is sound. If marketers can build programs of continuous improvement, where the return on marketing investments is reliable and repeatable, the marketing pie, including mass media, should expand, not shrink.
Where mass media falls short is in the advertiser’s ability to measure and optimize campaigns. At present, conventional advertisers seem reluctant to learn from digital optimization best practices. As Greenberg and Wacksman correctly pointed out, this apparent unwillingness to adapt has left traditional mass media on shaky ground.

As media models evolve, advertisers will shift investments to marketing they believe is cost-effective. If the value of traditional mass media cannot be reliably measured, it will suffer in comparison to highly quantifiable online performance marketing and sexy new formats such as YouTube and Twitter with limited investment requirements.
While a recent State of Marketing survey published by the Chief Marketing Officers Council found that senior marketing experts are anticipating a significant shift away from traditional toward digital advertising, we should not dismiss conventional media too quickly. The right answer is not one media model versus the other, but careful integration of the various media opportunities that maximizes sales.
For all the gloom and doom, the traditional marketing powers-that-be seem to slowly be heeding the warning bells. Recently, for instance, Wheat Thins teamed up with Twitter for a series of TV spots that promoted the brand while integrating consumer tweets, an interesting spin on user engagement.

If more traditional advertising embraced the measurement and optimization practices of digital, conventional media campaigns would be seen as an important part of a media portfolio, integrating and optimizing mass media, online performance marketing and emerging user engagement models.
More importantly, by quantifying the results of these integrated efforts and demonstrating positive returns on the marketing investment, mass media and marketing budgets in general would grow. As long as it is generating visible results, the marketing pie should expand.
The marketing winners of tomorrow will be the organizations that can measure and optimize the results of all their advertising, mass media, user-engaged content and performance marketing. By creating demonstrable positive returns on all their media investments, winning marketers will expand the marketing pie and likely capture an increasing slice of market share.

Jonathan Shapiro is CEO of MediaWhiz.