Don’t Panic: 2020 Is Not The Year We Stop Innovating

"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video. 

Today’s column is written by Lindsey Harju, co-founder at Blinc Digital Group.

The COVID-19 ramifications will not affect everyone in the advanced TV industry equally. Like every major shift in consumer and business behavior, there will be providers that weather the storm, those that find opportunity in the struggle and flourish, and those that don’t survive.

But it’s not just COVID-19 causing this shift. There is another dynamic that has been slowly bubbling up over the last couple years, nearly undetected. When combined with the pandemic, it could massively change what we do as an industry in 2020. That dynamic is “decision by committee.”

In recent years, the advanced TV industry has been asking for the walls to come down between buy-side TV and digital video-buying teams. This would lead to more effective cross-channel video targeting, measurement and optimization and a better omnichannel experience for consumers.

The good news is that we’re winning. Many large agencies and brands have begun to lower their walls and engage across teams to think about TV differently. They are looking at buys not just in their silos, but in terms of overall brand impact.

This is great for vendors that are truly providing value to a brand’s bottom line. That may include tried-and-true providers that were always included on a plan, but it could also introduce new blood, replacing those who were not pulling their weight. All good things!

Unfortunately for innovative new solutions, getting that “yes” from buyers may be more difficult than ever. The walls have been declining, but that has introduced a new problem: The dreaded “decision by committee.” Essentially, instead of giving all authority to one team or person to make TV decisions across screens, they have directed teams to work together across silos so they lose their individual decision-making and buying power.

The author Fletcher Knebel put it best, “Decision: Something a man makes when he cannot get anyone to serve on a committee.”

During an advanced TV panel conducted at RampUp earlier this month, one digital marketing leader at a leading financial institution expressed her frustration with the trend. She shared that while advanced TV sounds great, now she needs to coordinate with about 10 people across her organization, representing data, media channels and so on, to get it moving.

The current social distancing period caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has a much greater impact on any organization following this trend of “decision by committee.” It’s already difficult to get a committee aligned, but what if you can’t even get them in the same room?

China’s traditional work environments are being challenged to accommodate employees working from home. Brands with US campuses, perhaps with lots of modern “collaboration spaces,” may feel a similar pinch.

This period will not affect every TV provider in the same way. For example, OTT providers are experiencing fantastic volume since they are consumed remotely. Brands and agencies will continue to place media and data buys, the bread and butter of the advertising technology world. The products and vendors this will hurt most are the innovators ­– the ones truly thinking outside of the box, solving problems in new and creative ways.

Innovative solutions are often based on more than one idea or concept coming together. That includes traditional linear and digital video, media exposure data and consumer marketing data, or media spend and conversion data. These solutions are fantastic and allow for a much greater understanding of TV media, but also span multiple disciplines, setting that vendor up to visit “decision by committee” jail.

My hope is that during this time of turmoil, buy-side leaders make every effort to prioritize the health and safety of their employees first and foremost. But once the essentials are covered, I hope they also see the opportunity to leapfrog their competition. Like other means of investing (“buy low, sell high”), this is an opportunity to invest well now and reap the advantages later.

Smart brands will take their new working processes one step further. The nuts and bolts of telecommuting are simple enough. What is not so simple is how to reduce the negative aspects of decision by committee, especially when factoring in physical distance. The big question is, “How do I benefit from collaboration, without sacrificing speed?”

Many brands will allow their marketing innovation efforts and investments to slow to a crawl during this time. That can either mean we as an industry advance slower or, more distressingly, innovative startups will lose the momentum needed to survive. In terms of the advanced TV landscape, the most vulnerable players are the most innovative.

At the grocery store, I realized that the basics were gone, while the specialty ingredients were stocked. Meat, canned beans and bread shelves were bare, while the ice cream aisle was intact. When I think about how TV buyers are making decisions, combined with how long sales cycles can be, I had a concerning thought.

Is the industry going to emerge from the pandemic with the equivalent of a canned bean stockpile? Or are we going to continue buying the special ingredients that make everything just a bit better, smarter and faster? The leaders that keep their shopping lists diverse will emerge from 2020 as advanced TV winners.

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