I’ve been working in and around the digital marketing landscape since its inception—as part of a digital and data-focused agency within an agency at Foote Cone & Belding when marketing and the internet first started to form a symbiotic relationship and later in 2004 as the co-manager of a digital group at JWT Chicago.

Oddly enough, much has changed—and much hasn’t really changed at all.

The Subject Line: The Point of No Return

The idea of digital marketing first seemed to take hold in my career around the poor and lonesome subject we call “email marketing.” At the time, it wasn’t very creative and it didn’t secure giant marketing budgets. Email was and still is a message sent to desired addresses, accompanied by a quick summary or subject line. The message could be short or long and include or not include an attachment for reference if necessary. Not seemingly exciting.

However, email changed communication in so many ways—and we’ve taken these changes for granted since its inception. With the advent of email, we began to replace any number of communications that had previously stood the test of time, like the memo, the letter, the personal note, the phone call and even the conversation. Texting gets a lot of blame today, but realistically, it’s only a continuation of the damage email catalyzed. Email singlehandedly destroyed a wide variety of business and personal communication rituals.

All of a sudden, marketers had to incorporate email campaigns into their quivers. Soon, several people and companies began to establish themselves as experts and leaders in this channel. We could now reach people with our brilliant marketing messages at a fraction of the cost to create and send. So we jumped on the bandwagon and made email a priority. How could we not? Its efficiency was tempting, and its low-cost ROI was tough to beat.

However, what we failed to see and fully understand at the time was that email was more than a cheap opportunity to “blast” our messages to prospects and customers alike. In retrospect, the dawn of email marketing actually represented a clear shift in how people were beginning to use technology as part of their everyday lives as consumers and business professionals. This fledgling digital technology had now become a hub of our activity. It allowed marketers into our daily world, digitally intersecting our personal and professional lives. It began to clutter messages from people and companies we wanted to hear from with those we didn’t.

Email set the pathway for people to juggle increasingly large amounts of varying messages to quickly scan and reply. It ostensibly ushered in the “always on” mode that yesterday’s Blackberry blinking light amplified even further by making those emails available to us anywhere and anytime we needed them.

That relationship soon became mutual, by the way. While emails are at the touch of our fingertips, we’re just as close to them. The flipside of constant availability is a constant obligation to check, read and reply to those emails we may want to ignore. Emails have mandated a sense of responsibility in us to always be present digitally—at work, at home and even in the car. Has any other form of messaging required you to check all attachments before asking the question “where is it?”

So, What’s Next in Digital Marketing?

It’s tough to pinpoint any one innovation right now in digital marketing that has the influence email did back in the day. Nowadays, change is so constant that today’s shiny object may be tarnished as quickly as next month (or even next week). Some say the future lies in virtual or augmented reality. We’ve certainly explored that and tried some of the coolest new prototypes from Microsoft and Google that truly create an immersive virtual experience unlike anything most people have seen.

But the music between the noise for us isn’t necessarily quite as glamourous. It’s a bit more hard working. We hear that music as the confluence of data and technology allowing for greater targeting and more relevance than ever before. For instance, the expansion of programmatic media has allowed us to deliver more efficient and effectively targeted digital media, while allowing us to optimize in real time based on that data.

From display to video and audio opportunities, programmatic media has a real upside. Working together, SPM’s insight, creative and media teams are creating a new approach to strategic and informed programmatic media planning and buying that does more than just deliver impressions. Leveraging our proprietary Consumer Healthcare Decision Journey, our teams create and target messages and media that are most relevant and emotionally compelling based on the consumer’s emotional state of mind along their Healthcare Journey. 

Although still in its early stages, programmatic TV is bringing this same combination of data and technology to what is generally considered a “traditional media channel.” Programmatic TV delivers the ability to simultaneously coordinate targeted message across your television, mobile phone and/or tablet. And as we know that 90% of adults use multiple screens for everyday activities, this ability to reach them simultaneously takes media targeting to a whole new level of personalization and one-to-one marketing. But of course, like any digital media, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome to make the potential a reality and to ensure true and deliverable KPIs.

Our approach is to build a smarter TV schedule by harnessing the power of the DSP platform to achieve greater addressability of our audience data and premium inventory placements to more precisely reach the target audience. This approach allows us to increase efficiencies, reduce waste, and increase our accountability with back-end reporting through our SPM-vetted DSPs.

So while to some, it may not seem as interesting as virtual reality, we find data and technology to be the common denominator in driving marketing breakthroughs of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Email opened the doors to an exciting generation of fast messaging with sharp tactics. Its undeniable impact is hard to match, but programmatic media’s capabilities have the potential to carry on email’s “always on” legacy in exciting new ways for consumers and businesses. We believe that turning attention to these opportunities extends the healthcare marketing landscape onward and upward.

By staying focused on What’s Next while grounding ourselves in our clients’ business goals and sound insights, we stay aggressive and strategic. We’d love to talk to you about how to take your marketing and media to the What’s Next level.

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Bill Tourlas

Bill Tourlas

SVP, Innovation & Engagement at SPM Marketing & Communications
With 30 years of experience, Bill is a recent addition to SPM’s ever-growing firepower. As a member of the leadership team, he drives the agency’s efforts to consistently reach new levels of innovation and engagement and to bring the full power of our ideas to life across traditional and new media channels. In his role, Bill collaborates with strategy, creative, and media teams for existing clients and is an active participant in new business efforts.
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