Your Cheatin' Heart.

"At times of uncertainty, marketers become polygamous." ~ Rishad Tobaccowala, 10/29/13

When our keynote speaker dropped this little nugget at Tuesday's Upstream Seller Forum in New York, it was like a face full of ice water after a hard night. It's clear, simple, powerful. And so, so true.

Think about the long periods - decades, eras - when the marketer's world was relatively stable and, if not predictable, at least based on regular cycles. Perhaps I'm influenced by the hazy recollection of simpler times, but agency relationships were once longer and more durable; commitments to channels and media partners were less capricious and disposable; and ROI was measured across years, not milliseconds. It would be easy to long for these simpler, more monogamous times and wish for them to come back. It would also be foolish. Welcome to the age of permanent asymmetry.

This week's Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic. With PubMatic's platform, publishers have the ability to offer their inventory to over 400 global Demand Partners - ad networks, demand side platforms, ad exchanges, and agency trading desks - and have on demand access to all the software, tools and services they need to realize the full potential of their digital assets.

Over the 19 years that I've been part of the digital marketing world - and in the dozen years before that - I've watched many companies and executive try to bring stability and structure - monogamy -- back to their relationships with marketers. But those marketers remain unsure, hesitant - polygamous. Whether you're an agency, a media company, a technology provider or a measurement company, your marketer clients are never again going to settle down. Things are never going to be simple again. Get over it. And then get in front of it. How?

  • Ditch the command and control models. If you insist on exclusivity and contractual obligation to define the parameters of your customer relationship, you're going to lose more and more often.
  • Be the network. In an open, uncertain environment, we value those who most quickly connect us to the people and resources we need, not those who simply lock us into that which they control.
  • Lead with a Point of View. In an open, uncertain environment, polygamous clients are drawn to a strong POV as moths are to an open flame. Those who try to conform and contort themselves to what they think the client wants to hear are just delaying the inevitable rejection and marginalization. Those prepared to tell the customer what he needs to hear will get to the destination faster.

In the movie "Heartburn," Meryl Streep is looking for a comforting word from her father in the wake of learning that her hubby has been seeing others. But the old man cuts to the chase: "You want monogamy? Marry a Swan." Among marketers, there are very few swans left. To some, that represents a declining market. For others, a new beginning.