Mar 28 2009
I spent part of past Wednesday at the the New York Googleplex with some fellow digital marketers and agency people as part of Google’s Global Advisory Council. I consider the content and conversations as unbloggable/off-the-record, but wanted to share one excellent line from Scott McLaren at General Motors, who in the course of presenting how GM was able to centralize search marketing said:
“Centralize the science and localize the art.”
That brilliant insight goes into my collection of business koans along with McKinsey’s Dick Foster’s line: “Loosen control without losing control” and that anonymous jazzman who told another musician “If you don’t know what to do, then don’t do anything.”
What Scott summarized in that one-liner, is probably familiar to anyone in a global digital marketing role who has tried to evangelize a unified (credit to Carol Kruse at Coca-Cola for recommending “unified” over “centralized”) approach to planning, spending and executing a marketing discipline across many oceans and borders.
Decentralization is the rule in a massive global organization, a throw-back to the Roman Empire when the edges of the empire were too far away from the center of power in Rome and the Emperor had to divide c0ntrol between four Caesars. When I was at International Data Group in 2005 I felt the 1970s edict by owner and founder Pat McGovern that decentralization was the way the company would be organized and run was out of date and a worn out necessity born from a pre-fax/pre-email era, one that ignored the economies of scale of consolidating 300 websites onto a unified analytics and content management system.
Information Technology tends to consolidate and unify. The oldest story in the IT playbook is the hub, the router, the server, the data center. All discussions of mesh architectures and complex matrixed “edge” computing models have been speculative structures, but in the end, the men in white coats want the users to be on dumb diskless workstations, working in unity off of one central processor. But – IT aside — money likes to be decentralized. If you want “feet on the street” to take accountability for sales targets, then you have to push fiscal responsibility down to the regional and country level — otherwise there will be no accountability or insights into local markets.
Back to McLaren’s statement and why I think search engine marketing must be centralized.
- The auction model punishes organizations that have two or more people bidding on the same brand terms. This is classic Three Stooges behavior. Search bids are science. Not art.
- Analytical conformity. What’s the dashboard by which activities are going to be measured? How do you value search interactions and analyze search against other media in market? Can you compare the effects of a television campaign to searches? The answer is yes …. if you have a well controlled environment and are reasonably assured that your results are not being skewed by dealers, channel partners, or affiliates bidding on your branded terms against you. Analytics are science — not art.
- Expertise. Most, if not all major search budgets are managed by search speciality agencies. They have to. Search campaigns are complex, rigorous organisms that require deep, repeatable expertise. An agency accustomed to running complex global search for multiple clients will generally beat the efforts of a single internal operator or team of search operators. Dispersing SEM expertise regionally makes utterly no sense.
What else can be centralized in global digital marketing?
- Display advertising, for the most part, can be negotiated, bought, trafficked, executed and measured centrally.
- Display advertising should have a 15 or 20% set aside for local sites and local trafficking. There is art to display media plans, and local teams have the best insight into what local sites have local readership. That said — supporting many countries with many display media agencies is insane as non-working dollars explode and working dollars decline.
What can’t be centralized?
- Display creative needs to be locally verified. Holiday promotions tend to drive ecommerce discounting and only a local team can declare St. Patrick’s Day over Golden Week.
- Social media relations. Bloggers, forums, high profile users — all should be related to on a local, face to face basis. Local meetups and in-person relations are vital to any community efforts.
More later, but it was good to hear two very global, very capable marketers confirm the issues I’ve seen the past three years. Digital marketing needs to be unified around IT, analytics, and discounted volume negotiations but localized around creative and customer/blogger relations.