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Fragmentation of media across all digital disciplines such as display, search, social, mobile and video is changing the way that people view, purchase and manage their media budgets.

This has positive and negative ramifications for buyers, suppliers, agencies and specialists in field. It also sparks an age old specialist v generalist debate on how we select media and technology vendors and utilise human capital within digital organisations.

For those of you who are familiar with the Lumascape infographic/visuals of the digital landscapes it is clear that all digital markets are becoming increasingly more crowded and increasingly more complex.

The Lumascapes started by highlighting one of the most complex markets of all: display. More have been added for search, social, mobile and video. All highlight the fact that the journey from advertiser to audience is getting longer.

Does this call for consolidation of agencies, technologies and digital skill sets?

For many a marketer, and sales person, a fragmented market place is a great opportunity to pitch a simple solution. Regardless of the digital discipline you occupy, fragmentation is an issue that cannot be ignored.

However, whether fragmentation is a good or bad thing depends upon the market in which you operate and encourages us to revisit the age-old Specialist v Generalist debate.

The general response to fragmentation has resulted in a charge to consolidate search, display, social, mobile and video media disciplines. However, in order to do this successfully, the role of the specialist becomes ever so much more important.

Should all agencies, vendors, and solution providers rush to ‘join the dots’ and merge? Should advertisers look for one stop shop digital solutions?

The Specialist v Generalist…..and now the Technologist

Convergence of search, social and display is happening at a rapid pace. Taking mobile, video and the rest of the digital marketing world with it.

In previous posts I explained how the growth of display (including Facebook) and the adoption of search centric techniques and real-time bidding has enabled this.

Convergence has been driven by advancements in technology – management, attribution, tracking. In many ways technology companies in this space are becoming the new agencies of the future.

Agencies and technology providers are racing to integrate. In some cases the integration solutions produced can be staggeringly effective. In other cases the results are detrimental. This is mainly down to a rushed and incoherent mish-mash of technologies, poorly executed organizational structure, and over-priced mergers and acquisitions.

There is an argument that so much change in fragmented landscapes causes unrest and conflicts. This is especially true as agencies, providers, and vendors look to restructure and adapt. This can lead to a dilution of human capital potential and HR churn rate issues.

Fragmentation is not always a bad thing

Specialist fields search as SEO and social media embrace fragmentation. Last week I spoke to Rishi Lakhani, a leading consultant on this subject and in the SEO space in particular.

Rishi states:

Most tools on the market get their data from similar sets of tools. However, no one tool does the same thing well. In my opinion fragmentation isn’t a bad thing. It means the development of sub disciplines, which is sorely needed - "sub specialists".

In SEO for example, you don’t expect a strategist to be the best link builder or vice versa. The more sub specialists you have, the better the end result. To service each speciality, you need tools that reflect their requirements.

SEO specialists will always be SEO specialists and as the social space fragments rapidly we are almost at the stage where we can call some social media practitioners experts, without the need to feel squeamish.

Social media is not just Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The scope and breadth of vertical product development and sub specialist disciplines is immense and overlaps with multiple disciplines from mobile to video.

It is one of the most fragmented market places you can find. If you don’t have specialists and sub-specialists in social media then, pardon the pun, you could be going around in circles.

More so…when people talk about the convergence of search and display and the growth of real-time bidding on multiple exchanges many fail to realise that it’s just as important to ensure people in their specific fields of discipline (human capital) is utilised.

It’s easy to see how search influences display. However, there is a high level of complexity in bidding across multiple ad exchanges and gaining knowledge of individual publishers, not to mention learning and enhancing creative skills.

This could cause problems as many organizations build ‘biddable media’ departments. You have two disciplines being morphed into one.

There is a need for the specialist in both areas. It is not just a case of moving people to the same office, changing business titles and stating that you are integrated.

Utilising specialist human capital and specialist technology in different disciplines can work in a ‘sub silos’. If different technologies can talk to each other and ROI can be attributed between channels (and hence specialist vendors) and allocated correctly then maybe one stop shop solutions may not be essential?

Enter the ‘special ones’.

If you are an agency or provider in a niche market then maybe sticking to that niche could be the way forward. If everyone offers an integrated solution then who are the real specialists?.. Niches such as SEO, social media, and pureplay search have much room for vertical integration and innovation.

Maybe in a few years the market will be just as fragmented – the only difference being that you have a fragmented choice of ‘holistic’ solution providers and a new fragmentation threshold.

I am a big believer in the integration of media service and technology services. However, it is not for everyone and few people tend to highlight this fact.

Is it inconceivable that advertisers should look at reducing the number of outsourced suppliers from five to three rather than from five to one?

Far from it. What happens if the one stop solution is not ready - in terms of technical integration and specialist service?. If that’s the case it will simply take the business and data, spin it around, and possibly hang the advertiser out to dry.

Structuring for the fragmented future

In many ways the technology providers in the search, display and social media space are becoming the agencies of the future.

Social Media centric agencies are also becoming popular. As Robin Grant of Wearesocial observed last year: 'the need for a ‘big idea’ is replaced by the ability to have an on-going conversation with different audiences in multiple different places'.

Digital Agencies of today are now viewed as ‘traditional’. Marketing around consumer needs will be central and pivotal in shaping agencies of the future. Specialists should be working with marketing and CEOs and leading strategy, not just implementing it.

Many agencies need to be platform agnostic. However, the lines between a digital agency and a technology provider are blurring. It will be interesting to see how agencies and technology providers compete and compare in six months’ time.

The role of specialist is essential whilst organisations adapt and integrate technology that is tried, tested, and backed up with supreme specialist talent in each discipline.

Sometimes I wonder if some (not all) agencies, vendors, and technology providers are really geared for integration.

Anyone remember the phrase ‘smoke and mirrors?. Offering holistic digital marketing solutions is only part of the answer to fragmentation. People, the transfer of skill sets, and sharing of knowledge are key factors.

Specialist organisations, technology, and consultants fill the gaps in knowledge provided by any technology led integration and company restructure.

As organisations adapt to numerous fragmentation challenges this becomes the ‘HR headache’ of the next few years. I predict a new talent war will erupt.

Conclusion

Fragmentation in its numerous guises - data, the digital landscape and an increasingly large matrix of vendors does give many a pretty compelling argument for pitching one stop solutions.

Rightly so, in a small minority of cases for the time being. However, integration of technology and service offerings requires more than just than just ‘joining the dots’ between agency led solutions, buying and selling companies, and hence offering a holistic solution. 

The key to success is the integration, utilisation, and development of skill sets across search, social, display and all other forms of digital media.

Many organisations will get this the wrong. The consequences could be disastrous if fragmentation solutions are executed incorrectly and they become ‘bubble bursters’.

The role of the specialist (as ridiculous as this sounds) often gets lost in a mist of media hype, about acquisition, consolidation, and ‘bigger picture’ strategists out of touch with digital media.

Some advertisers don't have a need for multi-product marketing strategies and technologies. It can also be that simple.

One thing is certain. The ‘special ones' who understand the client, audience, product, market and technology should stand up and shout out now.

It would be great to hear what the special ones think about fragmentation in their specific field of expertise.

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Published 14 July, 2011 by Andy Betts

Andy Betts is a digital marketing strategist working with agencies and direct advertisers. He blogs here, and can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn

16 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Ally Manock

My ADD-caused-by-too-much-multi-tasking-on-ther-internet was really trying to stop me from getting to the end of that long article....but I made it, and I'm glad I did.

Good observations about the agency landscape at the moment.

almost 5 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Fragmentation is surely just a fact of life? Managing the marketing mix of multiple media types is of course difficult.

From a planning and evaluation perspective you will want to find common metrics and concepts but they will always remain diverse in their specific attributes. I feel that this means that the role of attribution, tracking and analysis are key as a 'hub' for these many and diverse tactics.

If you have a common understanding of your customer journey the challenge in my mind is creating a measurement strategy that allows you to attribute the effects of all media.

My tuppence.

almost 5 years ago

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Simon Jarrett Williams - Carat Manchester

Really insightful blog. The key to success is indeed integration and through the education of staff in a holistic approach.

almost 5 years ago

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Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

Thanks Ally.

It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes and who will embrace fragementation - the winners and losers etc.

almost 5 years ago

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Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

Hi Rob,

Thanks the comments. I am a big believer in attribution. Attribution is key to success for advertisers and agencies - regardless as to whether you choose an integrated agency/tech approach or outsource to specialists.

almost 5 years ago

Chandler Nguyen

Chandler Nguyen, Consultant at Digital Marketing

great article i must say!
" Offering holistic digital marketing solutions is only part of the answer to fragmentation. People, the transfer of skill sets, and sharing of knowledge are key factors." Couldn't agree on this more. However, one issue remains with any "New" industry is human resource. This is particularly difficult in place like Vietnam i admit.

almost 5 years ago

Adam Palczewski

Adam Palczewski, Global Digital Operations Director at Mindshare / WPP

Good article Andy, thanks!

almost 5 years ago

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Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

Simon, Chandler, Adam

Thanks for the comments - much appreciated.

Sounds like we all agree that knowledge sharing and education is key to implementing (successful) holistic/integrated marketing solutions

almost 5 years ago

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