ad:tech SF: In Pursuit of Something Shiny
It turns out discussing the internet economy is a lot like discussing the US economy. Conversation goes in circles, common frets are repeated to a fever pitch, and the most influential players tread shallow water.
The panelists were painfully polite. They took turns answering questions and for the most part always agreed. It certainly didn't help that moderator Imran Khan was like a kid in a candy shop - he had special questions ready for each, and deployed them to the experts by name.
None of the questions were especially good. I winced, for example, when he asked (to Yogan Dalal specifically), "What's the next big thing?"
"Widgets," opined the venerated Dalal. Instead of clicking through to where they need to go, widgets bring users what they want. "Widgets have fundamentally changed the way in which a user interacts with the web."
Elizabeth Ross, the only woman on the panel, had a more critical perspective. She joked that The Next Big Thing! should really be dubbed The Next Shiny Thing. "The reality is, for different brands, there's a lot of stuff that makes sense. Step back and think about the consumer."
But it's hard to resist the call of Facebook or Twitter. Realistically, you shouldn't. Ross suggested marketers dedicate a small percentage of campaign budget to exploring The Next Shiny Thing. Even if those investments fail to convert, you won't have thrown a perfectly good multi-media campaign out with the bathwater.
Ross also thinks marketers' big push in the direction of digital is not unlike the pursuit of The next Shiny Thing. "The real question is, what is the role of any vehicle [including digital]?" Digital doesn't make sense for every product.
And Dave Morgan expressed skepticism about businesses that focus too heavily on ad dollars - a business model beloved of serial entrepreneurs. What changes our industry will not be a new ad unit; it'll be a new business model, he stressed.
Later Khan asked the panelists how they think a Microsoft/Yahoo merger would change the industry. I just loved this quote by Jason Rapp: "It's a landscape-changing deal broadly ... depends on where you stand, depends on where you sit."
Depends on where you stand, depends on where you sit. Way to say anything without saying anything at all.
Here is where Dalal shined. When the big cats are busy, small mavericks can find what Dalal calls a "chink" in their armor. "Venture capital loves to see big acquisitions [like MicroHoo] happen. It slows down the giants" and gives quick-footed entrepreneurs an opportunity to dance.
"I expect to see some great companies started in the next couple of years that nobody will ever hear about until 4 years from now, when they break the surface."
I like a man who knows how to say I expect instead of I hope. My ears got hot. I could practically hear the East Bay startup junkies rubbing their dry palms together.
"Great time to keep your head under the radar and go solve a very hard problem. Very hard to do," Dalal concluded.
Long story short: watch the floor for overlooked opportunities. Start a company. And try - try hard - not to whore your brand out to every hype that comes a-calling.