Subscibe to DEAL OF THE DAY

March 13, 2019

Walking the Talk: Count on Yourself

by: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: August 15, 2009)

"It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who can deny that the present economic environment presents challenges? There are many expositions of the problems but few tangible suggestions on how to get through the current down times.

Getting here was easy. Nurtured by the fertile soil of venture-backed dollars, online publishers, ad networks, agencies and clients all reaped a bountiful harvest. Life was good, and we grew complacent. We took our good fortune for granted and let our fields go fallow.

But as cowboy poet, Waddie Mitchell said, "During tough times, our attitude is often the key to whether we'll thrive or merely survive."

We are all faced with decisions. There is one entire category of the online industry, the sector I call "quants" (for those who tout the latest quantitative analysis), that operates under what mathematician Schoenfeld coined "the glorious misconception". For the quants among us, "glorious misconception" is the entrenched belief that algorithmic reduction can trump randomness in human affairs.

Unfortunately, their sheer strength in numbers (no pun intended) allows the quants to dictate how business is done online. They are so invested in their own mathematical voodoo, and so disinclined to narrative, that they've effectively shut down any real dialogue toward what could and/or should be. As a result, marketing alliances are fragile and shallow by design, doomed to failure at the hands of a "glorious misconception" that compromises rather than satisfies.

And the closer we look, the worse it gets. The ensuing cause and effect propels us straight backwards. As mathematical models are pushed ever higher, response rates retreat ever lower. As response rates decline, so does revenue per thousand impressions. The more we throw at the equation, the less we know about what works and the further we stray from the answer. But shhh, don't say that too loudly.

The entire online ecosystem is convulsing under the weight of this "glorious misconception". Each day brings a new announcement of industry layoffs. But there is a way out. Emerson pointed the way when he said, "The secret of fortune is joy in our hands."

Moving from the 19th century philosopher Emerson to the 20th century military historian, John Boyd, we see the concept of self-reliance rearing its head. Boyd believed that alliances were inherently unstable and compromising and that self-reliance was the key to strong self-defense capabilities.

Think about this for a minute. Alliances are good when interests are aligned. But when interests diverge, you have a problem. Saddam Hussein was our cherished friend when he was killing Iranians in his war. But the alliance went south when he wanted to become the next Saladin of the Middle East. As I said, alliances are unstable.

What does self reliance mean for media owners?

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GadgetsFirst of all, you need to recognize the need to take more control of your own destiny. Once you do, you must focus your weight of effort, your schwerpunkt, on ways to manufacture and utilize your OWN AD INVENTORY. This means developing proprietary databases and exclusive e-commerce initiatives that leverage the new opportunities you create from within.

Being more self reliant does not mean that you stop selling advertising. Quite the contrary, the more control you exert over your own domain, the more your own inventory will increase in value. You'll finally be able to establish pricing parameters that have a basis in logic instead of specious algorithm.

That is exactly what we did with Vidsense. We have an e-commerce division that generates millions of dollars in sales utilizing only our own media. If we never sell another ad, we will manage quite nicely, thank you. Interestingly enough though, we find the more self-reliant we become, the more strong alliances we engender.

Despite our fierce sense of independence (or perhaps because of it), we've managed to attract numerous blue-chip advertisers who share our passion for proven performance. Household names like Conde Nast, Hot Jobs, Playtex, Just For Men,, all have benefitted by our strict attention to our own needs first and foremost. And though advertisers may come and go, our brand equity in our own product is forever. We made the decision to become self reliant a long time ago. Emerson said it best again, "Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world."

But media owners represent only one side of the coin. How do you become self-reliant if you are a marketer or advertiser?

It starts with a genuine commitment to change; one that requires outright rejection of the "glorious misconception". To wit yet another aphorism from Emerson: "Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times."

The online explosion has made it possible for virtually every advertiser and/or marketer to now own their own media. This is a far cry from merely renting eyeballs on someone else's site. It's a way to control the branding environment soup to nuts. It's also the only way to ensure the quality of your own communication.

Once again, this is not an idle theory. We began as a strictly e-commerce company. We bought media and lots of it. But then we resolved to create our own e-zines. We wanted to own the relationship instead of just renting or buying a fleeting impression.

Between Vidsense and our e-zines, we now own enough impressions that we are self reliant from both ends of the equation. Each side informs and determines what we do with the other side. Our fate is completely in our own hands.

Yes, self reliance has become our guiding business principle. Then again, given the alternatives, did we really have a choice? We rejected the "glorious misconception" and adopted self reliance long ago when we realized that all we ever wanted -- or needed -- was simple peace of mind. Emerson said it best:

"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."

Original Article: Walking the Talk: Count on Yourself