Interview by Kevin Ohashi of Ohashi Media
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Brian Gramer is the Founder and CEO of Avenue Right. He studied at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. Brian currently gives back to the university by sitting on the business school’s advisory board. Brian has also taught a course at Notre Dame on marketing automation and guest lectured at MIT. He has spoken at multiple marketing conferences including the Direct Marketing Association’s Annual Conference.
Avenue Right is a media marketplace. It provides a real-time market for local media purchasing and selling. The software is targeted towards small-medium sized agencies to help them more efficiently purchase media for their clients across multiple channels. The rest of Avenue Right is built around this concept and provides tools to help the media buying process: research, planning, purchasing, analyzing and management. They help their clients go through the entire media purchasing process and make it as simple and effective as possible.
Avenue Right targets small-medium sized ad agencies with the tools to help them compete with the million dollar agencies that used to be the only ones with access to such resources. What technology/changes in society have made it possible for Avenue Right to target these SMBs and provide the same level of service?
Avenue Right serves SMB agencies and DIYers (Do-It-Yourself) because this market has been so far underserved. Traditional industry software doesn’t serve this market, and DIYers don’t use ad agencies to buy their media. Furthermore the large agencies don’t take on clients with less than $5 million in budget for their media buying. SMBs are an underserved market, definitely, in terms of access to the software and data. They have to rely only on information from media salespeople from which to make their purchasing decisions.
Delivering our software over the internet allows for a near-real time flow of information between buyer and seller, automating the business transactions involved in the media buying process. The media space—especially traditional media—is one of the last industries to take advantage of this technology. Think of what Craigslist did to classified advertising, what eBay.com did to auctions. Automation allows for a more pure marketplace based on facts and results, rather than imperfect relationships and biased information.
What are the functional differences between your product and your competitors targeting the larger agencies? Do you intend to go after the larger agencies as well? If so, how do you position yourself in the market?
The difference is the process of buying a smaller amount of media in local geographies versus massive amounts of media for national and international buys. This makes for different functionality requirements.
Our product allows users to access up-to-date information on the offline and online media properties in a local marketplace, the target demographic they reach, available inventory, and who to contact—all accessible at that moment. That’s a vastly different product than what’s needed for larger buys and agencies representing large clients like national brands.
These SMB agencies take a very strategic approach to media buying because they don’t have enough budget to simply saturate a marketplace with ads. They need to collect information rapidly and inexpensively to make decisions efficiently with their limited dollars.
Avenue Right helps these agencies canvass the marketplace for the best possible advertising opportunities at the lowest cost to reach the largest percentage of the target audience.
Your company is directly tied to the clash between old and new media. What are the major changes you’ve noticed since starting Avenue Right on both sides? What changes can we expect in both old and new in the next few years?
I see some major changes happening. For one thing new media has caused old media to become more responsive to measurement and reporting, forcing old media to become more quantifiable in terms of value.
New media is also changing the way we consume traditional content. Push-pull marketing isn’t the only method to use anymore—it’s about building community, getting fans, and spreading word of mouth. It’s as important to market to your current customers as it is to market to prospective customers. Old media drives awareness, and new media builds community.
Consumer marketers need both online and offline media in their mix. Traditional media is not going away. It will continue to change and morph. New media will become more competitive with different ways to advertise online. Social platforms are just another media property. The question, then, becomes how to use both to target an audience most effectively.
You taught a course about marketing automation at Notre Dame. Could you give us a quick brief about what sort of marketing activities can/are being automated? What are the implications for practitioners and academics?
The entire marketing process can be automated—from building awareness to lead capture to distribution and management, knowing which leads became a customer and not just a name. Measuring and reporting, content personalization, distributing content.
I recently read an article speculating that something like 90% of the jobs that will exist when this year’s Kindergartners enter the workforce do not exist today. Most future jobs will be around creative and abstract thinking to put inputs into these products so we get the right outputs.
We will always need people to provide the inputs into these automation systems. This is where practitioners and the next-generation workforce will have to adapt. We’ll need more people to do the strategy, thinking, and planning than we have in the workforce today—more and more people to provide the inputs.
The products, services, and technologies that we create in the future haven’t even been thought of yet. We make change through this creativity, not in our administrative tasks.
But change management takes time. If practitioners are behind, the academic curriculum is even further behind. And it’s not enough to have tools. You have to have strategy, too.
We see a plethora of tools being developed in virtually every field to help make things easier or open the door to complex things that were simply impossible before. Do you think these tools level the playing field for everyone? Do you think that they hinder overall innovation/creativity if everyone gets used to simply using the tools? Will we be left with a few architects and a bunch of automatons?
We as humans have the ability to create amazing things, which will never be hindered by automation. It’s a process change that results in more time to think and be creative, which is what advances civilization.
I just read a book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. It was study of why some societies advance more than others. One finding there was that those who created agricultural communities became more powerful, able to feed armies, which allowed for another social class made up of thinkers, politicians, inventors, religious leaders. The advantage they had is that they were able to think and create faster than other societies that were just focused on surviving, and it’s an advantage that still exists today.
The human mind is the real advantage. Most people can learn to create and think abstractly to solve problems. Practitioners and educators need to continue to teach people how to think this way.
The notion that automation is negative, that it creates hardship through loss of jobs does have its merit, but it’s a temporary condition as the resource shift occurs within the marketplace. Ultimately these automation technologies create more jobs for future growth because they allow thinkers to create new things. Educational programs should be in place to teach skilled labor instead of manual labor.
We’ll never be left with just an architect and an automaton. The amount of things left to explore and create is infinite. We have barely explored space or even the ocean for that matter.
To go further people need to continue to learn how to think more creatively and abstractly in order to enable these advancements in science and technology, which will in turn create many highly skilled jobs in the future.
I believe in people. To think they could be made obsolete is a rather pessimistic view of humans, their creativity, and their ingenuity. They can think, create, and adapt. People have the capacity to use more of their brain than what they’re using right now.
You recommend reading a wide range of material. Can you elaborate on why you would recommend this approach? Are there any business related authors that you would recommend? What are the crucial lessons missing in business literature?
It’s important to read as much as you possibly can, and not just business books—whether it’s fiction that makes you think through things differently, or autobiographies of leaders and famous people, or histories. A few of my favorites are Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell; Shackleton’s Way, about the great Antarctic explorer and his leadership skills against all odds; All Marketers are Liars, by Seth Godin; and Founding Fathers, on leaders of the American Revolution. And all of Vince Flynn’s books.
What’s missing from a lot of business books is that there’s no free lunch, and you’re going to have to work your ass off to get there. The idea that you can write a 3-5 year business plan and never deviate from it—and that everything will happen according to plan—is not a reality. Changing people’s behavior—the way they buy products and services or execute business processes—is not easy. Continually changing and adapting is how a business thrives.
Even with a wide range of business knowledge and the experience to back it up, three attributes are critical to success as an entrepreneur:
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