If ‘advertising’ is your middle name, your surveys will always suggest the solution is …

But who is going to bell the cat?

I have a theory that goes something like this: If the name of your organization is Interactive Advertising Bureau, any study of the needs of internet marketers is going to suggest that “advertising” is the solution. According to my theory, such a study will focus on how media companies should involve getting a salesforce of “category experts” and interactive marketing gurus who can help develop more “engaging options and formats.”

So, having this theory, I’m not in the least bit surprised that a new study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Bain & Company suggests the following:

*Online ad formats and creative have not evolved to meet marketers’ needs

*Media companies lack category expertise when they sell to brand marketers and engage with them too late in the media planning process

*Marketers want integrated campaigns instead of platform-specific media programs

*While marketers see high value in online advertising and believe that it could be effective at all stages of the purchase funnel, current industry practices inhibit greater investment of brand ad dollars

*Marketers express needs for differentiated services for their brands and believe that media companies and agencies have to meet those differentiated needs for online advertising to grow.

Nor am I surprised that the study recommends “media companies” need to take six steps, based on the needs expressed by marketers:

*Create segmented offerings to meet the separate needs of advertisers who are focused on building brands and those who are looking for direct response

*Make brand-focused marketers a priority by building a sales force of category experts who respond directly to those marketers’ specific needs

*Develop a full range of solutions with more engaging options and formats, including social networks, video and other rich media

*Offer deeper service and support customized to vertical industries, to help advertisers plan, create and measure the brand impact of online ads

*Optimize the ways that ad inventories are sold, with a range of approaches from full-service to self-service to partnership with ad networks and resellers

*Enhance organizational effectiveness by setting the right priorities, clarifying internal roles and accountability and investing in sales staff skills and incentives

Wow. I wonder how much the IAB paid Bain for that? Here’s the reality — free from me having to convince marketers that “advertising” is the solution — as “Rex” is my middle name, not “advertising”:

*If you’re a media company, chances are, you don’t think of yourself as a marketing services firm, so therefore the solutions you will develop will be programs to utilize the media properties you own. If you’re a media company, you have a certain DNA that prevents you from suggesting that even a portion of the clients’ “advertising” budget goes to the competition’s URLs, even if its in the best “branding” interest of the client. Perhaps Bain and the IAB can come up with a commission structure for selling the competitor’s URL’s inventory. Maybe there will be talk about such, but push-comes-to-shove, whose property are you going to suggest — the one that serves the marketers branding needs best, or the one that serves your shareholders and personal bank-account’s best? This reality is why the entire institution of “marketing agency” exists. As much as traditional media companies want to be in the marketing services business, the “brand” they market best is their own.

*That “the thing formerly known as advertising” doesn’t fit neatly into formats — or, at least, a set of formats that can ever be standardized

*That “marketers” who create awful advertising in all the current formats will create awful advertising in any new format.

*That coming up with recommendations like the IAB/Bain’s is akin to the Aesop fable about the National Mouse Association who commissioned Bain to do a survey of mice recently eaten by a cat. (Short version: Bain survey suggests putting a bell around the cat’s neck to serve as early warning signal that the cat’s around. In the parable, a mouse blogger then asks, “But who’s going to ‘bell the cat'”?)

With my own “bell the cat” suggestion, here is all that marketers need to do to succeed in using advertising or un-advertising, no matter what the format or who’s selling it:

*Create great products and services that a specific group of people believe are great.

*Talk constantly with those people

*Find where those people are talking with one-another, join in

*Find where those people are talking with people who haven’t yet discovered your product

*Spend your marketing budget supporting those places: Providing great sponsored content, hosting events, underwriting whatever you can, paying for free wifi at airports for those people. Make those people think you are everywhere, because you are everywhere they are. Oh, and buy lots of banner ads in those places, also.

*Wake up each morning and go to bed each night reminding yourself this: The passion for my product and service is bigger than any one URL

*Fill your own URL with great content that supports those people’s use of your product or service. Give them how-to support and finger-tip access to any question they could ever dream of having about your product or service. And did I mention that such content should be filled with words and terms that people use when searching for information about your product or service?

*Find ways to enable them to share knowledge about how to use your product or service better than you could ever tell them — you just make it, they’re the ones using it all day.

*And always remember, advertising is not just a format.

*Get a clue

(Cross-posted on the site of Hammock Inc., a content marketing and custom media company filled with people who understand un-advertising.)