Ripples and Waves

There's an old Balkan proverb that speaks to the inevitability and consistency of change in the face of man's emotional keening and hand-wringing: "The dogs bark, but the caravan rolls on."

I've thought about that saying many times in recent months - and especially this week - when the subject turns to economic conditions and the outlook for digital advertising and marketing. The sky may not exactly be falling, but Chicken Little sports a worried look.

Take a deep breath. Now out through the nose. Good.

The continued ascent of digital advertising and marketing is a hard trend, one of those uber-forces that subsume or override short term market and social fluctuations. In 1994 I was one of the early employees - the first on the East Coast - at Wired Magazine and Hot Wired, the very first website to carry advertising. Back then the talk was not so much about the web (which had been invented a little more than two years prior) as about the Digital Revolution. In a much ridiculed moment of literary grandeur, our publisher Louis Rossetto wrote that "the digital revolution is whipping through our lives like a Bengali Typhoon" Folks, he may have been wild-eyed, but he was also right. And he still is. I feel fortunate to see these last 15 years for what they really were: the early phase of the digitization and democratization of media, communication and culture. The genie is very much out of the bottle.

OK, so let's get back to your projections for next year. "But Doug, I remember the internet bubble of 2000 when digital advertising budgets got slaughtered!" Different act, different cast. In 2000 marketing and advertising were still run by people weaned on mass media and one-way communication. The intervening years have seen the maturation and rise of a whole generation of brand managers, agency leaders and media execs who grew up with e-mail, file sharing, digital downloads and streaming. They hold the levers of power today, and there's no going back for this generation of leaders. Despite the receding ripples of the current economy, the massive waves of digital reallocation are still rolling in.

But that's not to say that everybody gets wet. Yes, overall digital marketing allocation will continue to grow by double digits. But spending will consolidate among those who can deliver big audiences and process efficiency. I like how media companies are adapting (See"The Webbyness of Things") and how clients are beginning to think big about the web as an audience vehicle. Failure in this environment will come not from lack of opportunity, but rather from a lack of vision. My advice?

• Get Real. If you're still defining opportunity by the number of people you move to your own website (traffic) or to someone else's (click through) please stop. It's all about distributed opportunity, syndicated content, widgets, powerful point-of-impact advertising, communities and more.

• Get Big. Start thinking about scale. The big money is looking for big audiences and big deals. Stop dithering about 'the role of networks.' Use them intelligently as a revenue channel and then get busy creating your own. As I've said many times, no site will stand alone anymore. Yours will be part of many different solar systems; in some it will be the sun, in others a distant planet.

• Get Going. The only singularly unproductive things you can do today are worry and wait. Take action. Innovate. Adopt a bold sales strategy. In strong economies, you take profit. In weak economies you take share. I predict this next two years will be a renaissance period for digital advertising and marketing, a time where we creatively and economically come into our own. It's a time of self-determination, a time for the strong and the willing.

The dogs bark, but the caravan rolls on.

Reader Comments on "The Webbyness of Things"

"Just a quick note from Sydney Australia - to say how much I get from the info on your site and newsletter. I am very involved in the digital market here and we are facing very similar issues (of course). Thank you for a wonderful resource."

"Very reflective of moves we are already making as a company."