Ricky Liversidge
Jan 18, 2016

Marketing is becoming like a performance sport; let’s change that

Pressure on marketers is building, but no one has 10,000 hours to 'practice'. Time to change the game.

Ricky Liversidge
Ricky Liversidge

In David Epstein’s terrific 2013 book, The Sports Gene, he argues against the theory that you must log 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at your game. It’s a fascinating book that examines the roots of athletic prowess. 

A Sports Illustrated journalist, Epstein, wonders if other factors come into play, such as whether the best athletes possess a special sports gene. After interviewing athletes across an array of sports, Epstein found that the 10,000-hour rule is an average and the actual range of hours needed for different athletes to master a skill is fairly wide.

I was fascinated by this debate because I believe that the pressure to perform like Usain Bolt or Lionel Messi has become almost impossible if you’re a digital marketer today. I don’t know whether a special marketing gene exists, but the Epstein thesis got me thinking about the pace of digital change in our industry.

Nobody in the digital media or ad-tech world has time to notch up 10,000 hours of ‘practice’. We live and work in a climate that demands immediate action and success on a daily basis. In short, marketing is becoming like a performance sport.

Advertisers want answers and solutions now, or yesterday. However, I’m more than convinced now that we can never reach the peak unless we change the game.

The industry is constantly seeking to conquer new solutions, platforms, channels and devices. We have more screens, more data and more technology than ever before and business in every sector is becoming more competitive. Throw in rapidly changing consumer behaviour, and it sometimes seems impossible to try and solve all the new marketing challenges created by such a dynamic industry.

The pressure seems to be building in every corner of digital advertising. We need a new approach to marketing, and it must enable people to perform better. Marketers need to take control, and get the best out of their own people. For that to happen, the marketer’s technology stack needs to be better constructed than it is today. The many moving parts and point solutions have to interlock seamlessly, and be easier to use, so humans don't have to spend hundreds of hours mastering each component or separate technology. 

We must efficiently bring together four cornerstones of digital advertising: mobile, video, programmatic and data. That is a big challenge, but not insurmountable. We must unify these pillars to allow advertisers, publishers, agencies and trading desks to keep up with the rapid pace of change in consumer behaviour and become more effective and efficient.

The blunt truth is that advancements in digital advertising technology should mean less time is spent grinding away at your desk. Automation frees up more time for creative, strategic thinking that can’t be done by a machine. We need fewer point solutions that only end up making ad-tech a more complex and incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle. 

Point solutions are often driven by the venture-capital market. They are more focused on creating an outcome (like an exit) than on solving client problems. On the other hand, large media owner-tech consolidators are generally focused on selling other parts of their own business, so it’s in their best interest to create an environment in which clients actually think less about their options and just accept the ‘templated stack’ the consolidator is giving them. Their 'data-in, nothing-out' model is one that savvy marketers cannot afford to routinely accept.

To move forward we must strip away the complexity that exists in this digital landscape. The current ad-tech stack consists of several moving pieces from campaign management and media buying to data collection, measurement and analytic. The confusion and difficulty in expertly managing digital campaigns has also been exacerbated by the pressures of making data work harder and smarter – including collection, activation, portability and aggregation. As an industry, we’re struggling to activate data, yet that is our lifeblood.

The best approach is to work with an open ad tech stack that integrates with leading players within the ecosystem, giving marketers the freedom to choose any solution or vendor that they want to work with—all managed from one single platform. Let technology focus on the science of marketing so people spend more time on the art; bringing creative brand experiences to life regardless of the screen or device on which it’s displayed. 

I think marketing is a great sport, but the players need to be equipped with the best conditions and tools to perform and compete at championship level. In marketing we chase the shiny new object far too often. The question should be, what do we want marketing to become? I want my colleagues, peers, industry partners and customers to excel at what they do, and the 10, 000  hour notion should not apply. They should be excited about new technology coming into the market and be flexible enough to adapt to new ways of working.

Constant change is the one thing we can all be certain about, and for many, that’s a reason they love this space. Having unifying technology in place that allows marketers to take back control and make marketing more measurable and accountable is how we will win. But we must pursue this approach together, and not get mired in complexity.

Ricky Liversidge is CMO at Sizmek


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