Thursday, 4 April 2013

Call in the Professionals

There have been a lot of articles and discussions recently in the digital services industry about the continued increase of non-professionals / experts claiming they have the ability to achieve a certain outcome or communication task when in fact they don't, or certainly not for the budget and timescales they initially propose, and certainly not to the professional standards expected. This is best summarised by an image floating around Linkedin which simply says:

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur."

I couldn't agree more. Nothing I've seen in digital has ever lead me to witness the "cheap" or the "easy" option working well. It just needs to be the best value option (i.e. cost vs. ROI) and the effort needs to be exactly what is required to achieve it (i.e. neither easy or difficult).

I think there are some explanations for the continued proliferation of the amateur in digital when really it's a job for the professional, and here's my top 5 reasons:

  1. It's an accessible medium, people can figure things out as they go, there's lots of information around and everything seems possible. So it's easy to say "yeah, we can do that for you.", and by implication also suggest it's therefore appropriate and possible to do it without forethought or reason. It all falls down when you don't do your homework and you find it is possible, but only on your computer and not on the actual Internet, or that people haven't a good reason to interact with it or use it in the way it's presented to them etc.
  2. Budgets are still disproportionately low in digital. Often organisations still aren't investing the majority of their marketing and service development budget into the digital bit (odd given for most markets and audiences it's the highest consumed media and the place they want to 'do business'). This means that things are relatively tight and we often have to do a lot with a little, and the person who says they can do it on the cheap is therefore always going to get a look in. Again, value and appropriate levels of investment are key to success.
  3. Media platforms are now in the conversation more than ever, and when partnered by a digital professional or organisation they are massively helpful to the whole process. However it all gets a bit difficult when these entities are understandably selling their solutions to the problem with little thought about the bigger picture, overall strategic context or in fact the knock on implications of these technologies or services. This one is easy to overcome but it does fuel the misconception of "it's easy, I've got it here already!", or set the budget and timescales bar unfeasibly low when only one organisational factor is taken into consideration. The sell in price is always highly attractive!
  4. There's always new things in digital, so the professionals can't always claim any more understanding than the amateur who has potentially got some experience of a new and exciting technology or platform. The reality is 'there is no substitute for experience', and whilst in theory it might be brand new, in reality it will share a number of important characteristics with a lot of other things. It will therefore need the same approach taken with other things to ensure it is fit for purpose and implemented in the best possible way.
  5. Someone else is doing it already. Once it's been used by another business the perceptual barriers to adoption are of course reduced. This doesn't make it any less attractive if it seems like the right thing to be doing, but it does make it harder to accept that often adoption in digital isn't a 'just make it like this' exercise (trans-creation is getting there though). The effort required to assess the opportunity (feasibility and viability), make sure it will deliver for this different purpose / brand / consumer etc. and then to build it is often similar to the green-field route taken when doing something original. And therefore just because it's being done already doesn't mean the amateur should get a look in.

It's understandable that we continue to see the non-professional as a viable option, and there are times when this is true, but these times are the exception and not the rule. The answer perhaps lies with professionals, who need to be clearer on their reasons for working in a particular way to achieve a goal. And I certainly believe we need to be spending more time in digital selling value as opposed to the digital thing we'd like to make / do.

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