What Would Gretzky Do?

This is no time for the digital marketing business to rest on its ever-accumulating laurels. With brand dollars flowing into digital, and consumers constantly adding new reasons and devices to be online, this business must continue to innovate with urgency. If we rely on short-term decisions, we are left with short-term returns. More than ever, it’s time to heed the sage advice of Wayne Gretzky.

It was Gretzky who said that he never skated to the puck but, rather, “to where the puck will be.” If you aim for where your customer, or a market need, is right now, by the time you get there, she will have moved on. But if you predict her direction, you can reach her while your competitors are still on the bench.

In the same spirit, we have too many companies that skate with the pack. Any company
can bend to pick up a shiny penny, plying some new and improved trick that it’s seen in
a dynamic presentation somewhere. True innovation ensures you are not too far ahead of the curve. That’s precisely where the digital marketing business needs to be right now. We can’t take a direct path to the puck or over-skate it — to do so means failure, for us and more critically, for our clients.

Such critical paths remind me of 2003. This was the year that launched behavioral targeting, and the original targeting solutions had already faded. Publishers had to be educated about what audience targeting was and why they needed it. Agencies had to be convinced that this wasn’t just a way to sell “glorified run of site.” As brands were just coming up to speed on the basics of online media, the idea of being able to find audiences with such precision was way too advanced. We correctly knew where the industry was going but, in some ways, were a few years ahead of the curve.

Or consider back in 2007 when the idea of an agency trading desk and demand-side
platforms was still either very young or not even in existence. Getting agencies to
understand the concept of taking control of their data was hard for them to wrap their heads around. Again, technology companies that offered these management services might have been ahead of the curve, but now this mindset is being taken up by advertisers at a rapid pace.

It’s here that I recall the second Gretzky quote: “Always respect your opponents and your teammates.” I have always found (and continue to believe) that it’s critical to tie in a core group of visionary clients to the development of an idea and then build the solution around the idea that most benefits those clients. It’s crucial to always have that core base of engaged client partners, which we call champions, that can be a sounding board. It takes time to develop these relationships, but they pay off in a big way as you continually adjust your trajectory and angles to become proactive and predictive in digital marketing campaigns.

Jeremy Mason is vp, strategic accounts at AudienceScience.

Image via Shutterstock

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