The Evolution of The Regional Marketplace

When I was asked to write my take on how the Regional Digital Marketplace has evolved over the last 15 years, I didn't know where to start! I appreciate that I have been around a 15 year old industry for just over 12 years and I am proud of being involved in an industry that has dramatically altered media consumption and equally as proud to have worked for companies that have aggressively tried to change the World! It's a bold statement, but one I believe and one thing is for sure it has not been easy! I remember the episode of Friends where everyone found out that Chandler worked in Advertising, and the running joke was that even after that episode, the "Friends" still didn't know what he did! 

That has been my life for about 11 of my last 13 years! Constantly educating and justifying every penny of budget. Wrestling with Press Buyers that hold the purse strings for space on the Media Plan, and trying to explain that Email Issues and fixing the Printer are not part of my job description, I work in "New Media", not IT!

But maybe that's my first point, New Media...well; it's not that new anymore!!

We have all seen the stats about the number of advertising messages we see each and every day as we go about our increasingly busy lives and it seems that as a Society we have all become a bit blasé about marketing these days, but I for one still love it! From the Market Traders screaming for attention, to the latest developments in Audience Segmentation, it's all fascinating! To use those two examples, a Market Trader shouts to all within earshot (creative execution), to attract the right people to his stall (target audience), ensuring the best possible chance of success (a Sale), and the more popular this is, the greater the reward (ROI). In this situation, the best route to market is 'shouting at the top of your voice from the market stall.' Just because the latest ways of Advertising use Nectar Card Information, internet cookies and recorded touch-points across millions of data variants to indicate products we may be interested in, the fundamental principles are the same!   

Since the dawn of commerce, there have been two distinct but interlinked disciplines, namely: creative and media. The number one rule always being that there is little benefit in making brilliant ads which your target audience does not see, and there is no point in getting in front of the right potential customers and conveying a message they won't engage with, or relate to.
Digital media has been around for about 15 years and in that time, we have seen many trends come and go, but they have had to as the medium has evolved incredibly quickly. It has evolved from moving what we already did offline - onto an online platform, to a point where we started to do things that were never possible offline, and are developing into a stage we are at now, where we just don't know what is possible in the future.

At the turn of this Century, it was all about display. Largely
due to the fact that nothing else was really possible! I remember the first booking I made was for a well known Finance Company, on AOL (when it was a walled garden) for £110 CPM (per thousand impressions). The creative was a flat digital image, containing a logo and a line of text as a call to action. It was just like a mini poster, but if you were interested in it, you could click on it and go through to another website for more information - it was mind-blowing at the time!  Although we had a new medium, we used it in an old way.

Something needs to move this thing forward, and it came in the shape of that simple search engine with the plain white page! They moved the goalposts, and changed the World forever. 
After AltaVista, Google filled the breach. They picked up the ball and ran with it - Forrest Gump style! By 2009, £6.50 of every £10 spent on digital advertising went to Google. Search became the starting point of most people's web experience, and has become a verb in its own right! A true barometer of success!
As site traffic increased, search algorithms changed to improve relevance. As a result websites content and quality improved marketers started to realise that as an interactive medium, the advertising could become well, interactive, actually engaging with audiences.
Social Media has had a meteoric rise in recent years, the prices recently paid for the likes of Instagram, the rise overnight success of sites like Pinterest indicate that it's not going away. Advertisers need to understand that Social Media strategy is not about the sales you make today, it's about the sales you will make in 5, 10, 15 year's time! The archetypal long game!

Since around 2001, every year has been touted 'the year of the mobile' and we are still just nearly there! The advent of the IPhone sped things up a little, and while there is no denying the m-commerce age is upon us, until all the networks work together, in addition to the technology capabilities of the handset manufacturers, we will only see the tip of the mobile-potential iceberg!
In my first role within Digital Media (the early days), we had to persuade clients to build websites! Once that had been achieved and we had shown the benefits of a Digital Media strategy, came a tipping point where we had to beg them to stop building bad ones. Evolution is constant in media and as such we shouldn't be tied to any specific strand of the digital landscape. Within the Regions today as a Community we are producing some of the best creative work and nurturing some of the most exceptional talent in the country. We are extremely active within and influencing digital display, mobile, social media and video, and tomorrow - we will be at the forefront of connected TV, location-based services for mobiles/tablets, and whatever else comes up that might not already be on the horizon, and nothing proves that more than the investment into MediaCity, and Project Digital.
In truth, every media evolves. In many cases Digital Media has forced Offline mediums to change, however Digital Media has evolved quicker, more times, and to a greater extent than any other medium - and all in around 15 years, and it will continue to do so.  

As marketers, we must understand: Where is our audience? Why are they there, and how can we keep our clients brands relevant? I may be biased, but in my opinion there is no better place to do that than the Regional Marketplace. Entry Level staff members get the same training, exposure to the day-to-day running of an Agency earlier, and have more stability due to the continuity as a result of less churn than their London based counterparts, and due to their smaller numbers of personnel regional agencies are able to adapt quicker to Client /Industry needs! They may not have the budgets, but that doesn't make the clients less demanding!

Within the Regional Digital Marketplace, we are aware that if we don't evolve continuously, we will cease to be relevant, but we already house some of the best search and SEO Thought Leaders in the UK, are developing some of the best response based DSP/Exchange Management talent; and are geared up for the "year of mobile", and as a collective group we won't rest on our laurels. If Mark Zuckerberg says that their Facebook journey is only one per cent complete. I think he may be being a little pessimistic.

Martin Roberts has worked at a variety of digital organisations throughout his career to date and continues to fly the digital flag in the UK's digital hub, Manchester for Tribal Fusion. Thanks for your contribution - we're as keen to see how it all pans out as you are Martin!