The Current, Current Thing

spanfeller-sell-siderThe Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO at Spanfeller Media Group.

At the end of the last century Michael Lewis penned the insightful and educational story of Jim Clark’s efforts to change the health industry.

Clark’s efforts eventually led to the creation of WebMD, albeit with a vastly different model than the one under which the company presently operates. The book was titled “The New, New Thing” and turned out to be instructional not only in what Jim Clark was up to but was in fact extremely insightful around all things Web…and in part most things disruptive (although to borrow from Joseph Schumpeter, “creative destruction” has been a part of the economic landscape since the 1950s).

That “The New, New Thing” was written before 2000 seems crazy to me. The fundamental concepts are as real today as they were then. And within those concepts is a certain amount of skepticism around how, well, new some things actually are. This is a thesis that holds true today, that the digital ecosystem is in love with the idea of “new.” That there is almost nothing that is new enough, if you follow me.

This is not hard to understand. We have become addicted to “new” like a junkie falls prey to a drug. The very idea is intoxicating by its excitement and by its promise of new riches for those of us lucky enough to be a part of the group that ushers in the meme of the moment.

And in many ways this fascination has been a core aspect of why digital disruption has been so profound. By continuing to look for new and better ways to do things we have in fact developed a marketplace that has enjoyed continued profound innovation. But there has been a dark side to this as well.

Our obsession with the new thing has created an almost complete disregard for the “old” thing. Woe to the business owner who finds their company labeled “Web 1.0,” a moniker which, in and of itself, has the power to lay waste to even the largest and most successful early digital leaders.

At this point I am sure there are group of readers who are experiencing a slight upturn at the corner of their mouths as they quietly think to themselves that “this is as it should be.” That perhaps Web 2.0 is closing or has closed (I have to admit, I am not all that sure what Web 2.0 actually is) and a whole new class is getting ready to push the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon aside. Look out, here comes…

But there are a few core needs that this process misses — needs at the core of producing real customer involvement and enterprise value. Two in particular deserve some attention but are all too often swept to the side, the first perhaps less then the second.

1) Scale. For real business to happen, scale is needed. It’s a sign of maturity for any new idea, company, platform or industry. It was true for search and social and it will be true for whatever comes next. Yet as soon as scale is reached or perhaps shortly afterwards we almost certainly will begin to talk of what is right around the corner that will unseat the newly crowned incumbent.

It is hard to debate that this has happened now in many instances, but there are exceptions. Yahoo, with all its flaws, is still one of the biggest and most successful companies in the industry.

2) Consumer need. With advancements on so many fronts, few of the core needs our solutions are fulfilling have changed. We are simply finding better ways to fulfill those needs. People still want information, they still want to be entertained and they still want to make their lives easier.

My point is not to suggest we stop evolving…hell no. Rather I am proposing that, while continuing to innovate, we also celebrate what we have. We need to realize that while our industry has many incredibly smart people, the folks who really call the shots are the masses that adopt our solutions or don’t.

At times I worry that we suffer a bit of self-hatred. The very idea of success means it is time for the new, new thing. There are clear examples of this. Content for a time was considered passé – no one was going to make money with professionally created content.

We now know that was a red herring. If we stopped to think about it at the time we should have always known it. Professionally created content answers a core consumer need. It has trust and authority to inform and entertain.

On another front this notion that the banner is dead is almost comical. The need here is twofold.

First and foremost it allows advertisers (certainly an important consumer in our ecosystem) to communicate with current and prospective customers by sharing their attention around the customers pursuit of a core need. Secondly it provides another source of information for consumers to learn and make decisions from. At the end of the day that is what a banner does. Banners come in all sizes and have been called many names (like TV commercials and four-color pages).

I love the excitement of the new thing as much as the next person. I don’t for a minute want to see our pace of innovation slacken. But I do think that we have built some enduring new models, and more than a few great companies that will be around for a long time to come. So the next time you get all hot and bothered about the new, new thing, think of the current, current thing too and perhaps give a doff of the hat to some of those as well. By doing so, you’ll help create a stronger industry.

Follow Jim Spanfeller (@JimSpanfeller) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Great quality content is still “King” but CONTENT IS NOT A DESTINATION anymore. The old best practice was this… create content curated by gods of media and the audience will find that content. If you build it, they will come. If it is really good, the audience will build habits around your content. We called it “appointment TV” back in the day.

    Now, DISTRIBUTION is the critical best practice. Content needs to find its audience. New media ideas like VEVO and BuzzFeed have big websites but the website is just a platform for pushing content out through every device and with every social networking strategy possible. The distribution strategy is amplified by the members of the audience who find a particular slice of the content to be worth sharing. Viral is now critical to scale.

    Even TV shows now rely less on the old best practice and they are developed with eye towards many disparate forms of distribution that will kick in quickly after the first-run on a network.

    And, that means that the “gods” of media content – people like Walter Cronkite, Lorne Michaels and Arthur Sulzberger have been replaced. The new god of content is the individual member of the audience who has infinite choice, on-demand, for free. That’s the new god of media and if you think great content is still measured by awards, instead of engagement, you’ve probably got awesome content but you are out of business.