On the front lines of the digital sales challenge

This is a popular topic of conversation in the media today:

From GigaOm: The chart that explains media’s addiction to print

And there’s an important point being missed by many here. Let’s imagine for a second that the leaders of the industry have a great epiphany over the weekend and come back on Monday will a brilliant silver-bullet to solve the advertising crisis newspapers face as they move from print to digital.

Assuming that, the real problem remains this: the people on both sides of the front lines, by and large, don’t really understand the tools they’d be working with.

Sure, that’s an over-generalized statement but it’s one that in my experience has rang true from company to company.

Specifically, you’ve got a staff on the media side of the business whose job it is to sell inventory. And over the last ten years, their inventory has changed dramatically. Yet we still hear words like ‘above the fold’ mentioned and we get obtrusive ads that push down pages, overlay over pages and all around disrupt the user experience. We have those ads because the people buying and selling digital ad space, in general, are not technologists*.

How is that a problem? It’s two sided, actually. A digital media person can show a sales team what a pre-roll ad is supposed to look like and how frequently it should run. That’s an education challenge that the industry must undertake. People selling digital space must be immersed in it. They must use it in their daily lives. They need to use Facebook. They need to read tech blogs. They need to be knowledgable enough to know which trends are fads and which trends are the future.

Fine, that’s an educational challenge. But what about the other side? When you move past the big media companies, when you focus on the areas of the media industry that are really struggling, you’re looking at regional media people selling ad space to regional business people. And that means small businesses.

So when a sales person for the Wherever Times-Tribune-Post-Star walks in to Bob’s Plumbing and asks to speak to Bob, these two people have to really sit down and decide on a digital media strategy? This stuff is going to take time. Sure Bob signed up for a Facebook account a few years ago and started using it to keep in touch with his three kids, but he’s still only getting online when he can. We need both Bob and the person selling Bob to look beyond the mistakes of the past and put themselves in the same seat they put themselves in to when they are driving down the road and see a billboard location on which they’d like to pay for space.

This is a generational challenge. ROI for online advertising is different. Brand building is different. And this will all take time.

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*This line about technologists requires further explanation: For one, if you’re an advertiser, why would you want to buy space from a company that is going to upset the audience you’re trying to reach? Digital advertising is in peril because people are still counting clicks and running ads that only get in the way. It’s time to look beyond click-throughs and conversion rates. Roadblock and pushdown ads have higher click-throughs than large rectangles because people accidentally click on things that pop up in their face in an effort swat them away like flies.

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