The finiteness of the global advertising market

In this excellent post on social media companies, Aswath Damodaran articulates something I’ve long wondered – about the finiteness of the global advertising market. Given the number of companies that come up with new mechanisms to match advertisers with consumers, one can be forgiven for believing that the market for advertising is infinite. That the more avenues you create for serving advertisements to people, the more the advertising that will flow, and there won’t be a let up anywhere.

This picture here is from Damodaran’s blog (which I recommend you subscribe to, since every single post is worth reading). Based on the numbers that Damodaran presents here, the overall growth of the worldwide advertising market seems rather low.

Source: Aswath Damodaran (http://aswathdamodaran.blogspot.in/2014/11/twitters-bar-mitzvah-is-social-media.html). All numbers in billions of dollars

The number to take away for me from this calculation is the shrinking pie of non-digital advertising. Based on these numbers, the total non-digital advertising market in 2008 was $468 billion. In 2014, going by the same numbers this is down to $400 billion. This de-growth is significant and holds important lessons for other sectors that are dependent on advertising.

So far, the flow of advertising capital has been taken for granted and the number of business plans made (in both old and new economies) with an assumption on advertising growth is endless. If you want your local bus utility to make more money, you rent out advertising space on buses. If a low-cost airline wants to make more money, they put advertisements on the back of seats (a very good idea since it gets undivided attention for the duration of the flight). It is a surprise that insides of toilet stall doors (which again get undivided attention) haven’t fallen prey to advertisements yet.

The point here is that while it is all well and good to plan businesses based on advertising income, what we need to keep in mind is that the advertising pie in the long term grows at the same rate as the global economy. Sooner or later the waters will recede to the natural level, and then we will know who is swimming naked!

 

Marketing

I’m in a conversation with a friend on marketing my consulting services and he gave me a most genius piece of advice

You can say you do supervised learning instead of saying regressions.

Last month I was at this big data conference. Everyone I met said they were into big data or analytics or some such. The follow up question would always be “and what exactly do you do?” Followed by a laugh about how these are much abused terms.

Countercyclical business

I realize being a freelance management consultant is countercyclical business. For two years in succession, I’ve had a light March – both years I’ve ended up finishing projects in Jan/Feb. With March being the end of the Indian financial year, most companies are loathe to commit additional spending in March, and it is a bad time to start new projects!

This is counter-cyclical because most other businesses end up having a bumper March, since they have end-of-year targets, and with a short sales cycle, they push their salespersons hard to achieve this target in March!

Missed opportunities in cross-selling

Talk to any analytics or “business intelligence” provider – be it a large commoditized outsourcing firm or a rather niche consultant – and one thing they all claim to advise their clients on is strategies for “cross sell”. However, my personal experience suggests that implementation of cross-sell strategies among retailers I encounter is extremely poor. I will illustrate two such examples in this post here.

Jet Airways and American Express together have come up with this “Jet Airways American Express Platinum Credit Card”. Like any other co-branded credit card, it offers you additional benefits on Jet Airways flights booked with this card (in terms of higher points) as well as some other benefits such as lounge access for economy travel. Given that I’m a consultant and travel frequently, this is something I think is good to have, and have attempted to purchase it a few times. And got discouraged by the purchase process each time and backed out.

Now, I’m a customer of both Jet Airways and American Express. I hold an American Express Gold Card (perhaps one of the few people to have an individual AmEx card), and have a Jet Privilege account. Yet, neither Jet or Amex seems remotely interested in selling to me. I once remember applying for this card through the Amex call centre. The person at the other end of the line wanted me to fill up the entire form once again – despite me being already a cardholder. This I would ascribe to messed up incentive structures where the salesperson at the other end gets higher benefits for acquiring a new customer rather than upgrading an existing one. I’ve mentioned I want this card to the Amex call centre several times, yet no one has called me back.

However, these are not the missed cross-sell opportunities I’m talking about in this post. Three times in the last three months (maybe more, but I cannot recollect) I’ve booked an air ticket to fly on Jet airways from the Jet Airways website having logged into my Jet Privilege account and paying with my American Express card. Each time I’ve waited hopefully that some system at either the Jet or the Amex end will make the connection and offer me this Platinum card, but so far there has been response. It is perhaps the case that for some reason they do not want to upgrade existing customers to this card (in which case the entire discussion is moot) but not offering me a card here is simply a case of a blatant missed opportunity – in cricketing terms you can think of this as an easy dropped catch.

The other case has to do with banking. I’m in the process of purchasing a house, and over the last few months have been transferring large amounts of money to the seller in order to make my down payments (which I’m meeting through my savings). Now, I’ve had my account with Citibank for over seven years and have never withdrew such large amounts – except maybe to make some fixed deposits. One time, I got a call from the bank’s call centre, confirming if it was indeed I who had made the transfer. Why did the bank not think of finding out (in a discreet manner) why all of a sudden so much money had moved out of my account, and if I was up to purchasing something and if the bank could help? Of course, later, during a visit to the Citibank local branch recently I found I wouldn’t have got a loan from them anyway since they don’t finance apartments built by no-name builders that are still under construction (which fits the bill of the property I’m purchasing). Nevertheless – the large money transferred out of my account could have been for buying a property that the bank could have financed. Missed opportunity there?

My understanding of the situation is that in several “analytics” offerings there is a disconnect between the tech and the business sides. Somewhere along the chain of implementation there is one hand-off where one party knows only the business aspects and the other knows only technology, and thus the two are unable to converse, leading to suboptimal decisions. One kind of value I offer (hint! hint!!) is that I understand both tech and business, and I can ensure a much smoother hand-off between the technical and business aspects, thus leading to superior solution design.

Market makers and executionists

There are two kinds of people in the world – market makers and executionists. Market makers are great at spotting gaps in markets, and deriving business ideas out of them. They could also be great at finding and executing solutions, but their primary skill is in identifying the gaps in the market and framing the problem.

Executionists are great at execution and problem-solving. However, they need the problem to have been defined in the first place. Their ability to spot gaps in markets and thus lay out problem statements is questionable, though.

Executionists fall under different levels. It has to do with how much ambiguity they can handle. There are some for whom the problem must be defined as well as the method to solve the problem. “here is a problem. Do a logistic regression and solve it”, you need to tell them and they will use logistic regression (assuming they are trained in the subject) to solve the problem. At the next level you have people whom you can ask to find patterns in some data, but then they will figure out that the problem can be framed as a logistic regression problem and will then proceed to solve it. Further up, you just give them a business problem, and then they will figure out what data set can be used ot solve it, figure out that doing a logistic regression will solve the problem and then they will solve it. And so forth.

Then again, the first line of this blog post is wrong. There is no real barrier between market makers and executionists. There are people who are both (good for them) and those who are good at neither. However, you realize that if you are an executionist of levelĀ i, you will need the guidance of an executionist of levelĀ i+1 or above. And that if you are a highest level executionist you will need the guidance of a market maker.