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When marketing services turn into a commodity

March 19, 2008

For want of a better descriptor, Web 2.0 sites are useful tools. You can thank the Google Adwords network for this. Because if someone makes a useful tool, then word will spread and people will adopt it.

Google is an excellent example of this. It’s an excellent tool that not only didn’t advertise, but turned marketing on it’s ear with PPC. Google offered companies a cheap and useful tool to go after search terms instead of target markets. And that’s just the beginning.

There is a tool for just about every marketing service, including media buying. It’s called Balihoo. And it’s:

“…a suite of media planning software and service tools designed to make the lives of professional media buyers and media sellers easier. Balihoo streamlines the media research, selection and request-for-proposal processes, and then aggregates all that information into one easy-to-use location that’s sharable across your media organization.”

This tool is free to use for 30 days, then costs money. But I think the bigger question is this: is Balihoo really a do it yourself media buying tool? There already exists “cheap TV spots”. I’ll bet you can find a person in their parent’s garage who can get you a website for $100. There’s DIY radio, print, PPC.

The digital age is like the desktop computer age times about 100. Back when desktops (when Photoshop and Quark hit the market) every Tom, Dick and Harry with a desktop computer could create a client’s brochure (or newsletter) for peanuts. Desktop computers made the newsletter a commodity.
The digital age will continue to see more tools that make it easier for clients to find people who do what we do for a lot less. Marketing will become a commodity unless we can convince clients that we add value.

Luckily though, it’s not a hard argument. It goes back to brand. Brand building isn’t something that will ever be a commodity, because it takes careful planning. Smaller brands might be inclined to wander through the tools to craft their own marketing plans, opting for the dirt cheap options. They’ll look to Google — a textbook example of a brand that was built without advertising — and try to copy it.

Some might, most won’t. And the bigger brands will appreciate agencies that value their client’s brand. But we’ll have to stay on top of clients to point out why we should be the stewards of their brands. Because if they ever decide to go for the low price, we’re in trouble.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2008 2:00 pm

    Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

  2. March 19, 2008 2:32 pm

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    Tina Russell

  3. March 19, 2008 3:48 pm

    Shane Vaughan here, VP of marketing for Balihoo. I just wanted to make a point here regarding Balihoo – we’re designed to be used by “Professional Media Buyers”. That means individuals who do that as their primary function in an organization. That can be within an advertiser, but more likely it’s within an advertising agency or media buying agency. Our typical clients are very large (think top-10) media buying organizations.

    I think the point of your article gets down to the basic question – are marketing services a commodity?

    From our perspective, the media buying angle, the answer is a resounding no – however with a caveat. We believe that the industry has done a poor job of implementing process and technology to streamline the “easy” parts of media buying – the administrative work and the rote tasks. These components should be commoditized, but the industry has not allowed them to be, which means we end up with a lot of expensive man hours spent dealing with administrative issues. Our belief is that if we can operationalize that transfer of information, it frees the media buyer up to focus on the true value they bring to the process – the strategy behind the buy. And in today’s media environment, one that is in chaos, it’s critical to have that thoughtful application of strategy. This is the component that cannon and should not be commoditized, and we believe it’s the forward-thinking agencies that will realize this and focus their efforts on wringing work out of the system to allow their employees to focus on the big-picture strategy issues for their clients.

  4. March 19, 2008 6:47 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your input. Just so you know, I forwarded your product to our media buyer. We’re a mid-sized agency with about 200 people, and our media department is stretched. It did occur to me for a split second that your product probably didn’t fit into the category I was talking about, but it felt like a good jumping off point. This blog is more a collection of my thoughts than a place I expect people to come, so I went with it.

    But thanks for the clarification. Our agency doesn’t want anything to be a commodity. Including our talented strategic media people.

  5. March 20, 2008 2:15 am

    And good brands begin with upfront marketing research to get a clear idea of who is involved in the buying decision, what information they require, how they want to receive it and where they seek it out. Once you can answer these questions, you can give develop services–and messaging–that address prospective customers buying criteria from every perspective. In doing so, you’ll add value that will clearly distinguish you from the competition and command a premium that those who merely invest in polished prose or clean design can only envy. But, when you tie it all together…..

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