Goodbye digital marketing, hello marketing in a digital world

Even Forrester is getting in on the act. Mind you, they were in it from the beginning.

A chicken and egg argument over the future of agencies

A chicken and egg argument over the future of agencies

Edward Boches has weighed in on this stuff on his blog

And his comments echo mine, that none of this is really news to anyone evolving the agency model, and perhaps the answer is really simple after all. Stop talking about agencies, and start talking about how brands need ideas to get closer to consumers, in way people can a) remember and b) believe in.

Engagement still matters here, as the product of everyone’s effort. And consumer participation remains fundamental to every engaging experience.

Which is all the more important when you consider the limited trust in advertising a recent research study you can reach here implies. As low as 1 in 3 trust ads in America. Now is that because so many ads are rubbish? Or because the average citizen is exposed to so many it’s a miracle he remembers anything at all? You decide.

The world does need a new way of doing all this agency stuff.

Week two, weekend nil.

Bloody hell, a month goes by and no posts here. So here’s one, on the day that China and Google split up. If you think about it, that particular debate centres on how national governments interfere with cyber communities for their own, possibly nefarious, ends. That isn’t new, and censorship is creeping back in many Western countries as well as being sort of expected in what we rudely describe as the ‘less democratic’ world.

One of the outputs from the Digital Britain report published in the summer is the formation of bills to go through parliament to address the issues of copyright, open access, digital inclusion, that a digitally literate economy needs to get right. In the first and possibly last effort before the election, not everyone thinks that the government has got it right.  Here’s Cory Doctorow on boingboing describing the assault on freedom that locking down your ISP account presents. And here’s Rebecca McKinnon in the Guardian touching upon the French efforts to reject the Satan of Music Downloading, in the context of Google’s legal battles with China, France, Italy, etc. Mind you, Johnny Halliday isn’t exactly going to be troubling my MP3 collection in the near future, but I’m lucky to live in a country where you can say stuff like that and you aren’t marked down by the authorities as a travel risk.

Good news today – the government is tabling a series of amendments that appear to curtail the most iniquitous clauses in the bill, including the one that gives a (currently unelected) minister the right to decide on who and how to crack down on copyright infringement without recourse to any other parliamentary process. Whether they do or not remains to be seen.

What’s this got to do with marketing? The dripping irony here is that in the world of brand communication, we’re almost desperate for consumers to download our brand content for free and share it with each other. We want our viral messages to go viral, and for our amateur enthusiasts to make their own versions of our slick commercials. We want to show that consumers care enough about the brand to bother. Which makes it surprising (to me, anyway) that there weren’t more agency people involved in evaluating whether this new law is a blocker to innovation. It’s not just about digital innovation, but innovation in all forms of communication. At CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, most of the new technology devices being showcased have social technologies built in to them. This means that people will be able to, if they can be arsed, link to each other, recommend where they are, tell people where they are going and where they’ve been through pretty much any device. If you think of Twitter as “what are you doing?” think of the next wave of social tech as “Where are you?” Hmm.

And this brings me back to the slow post movement on participation marketing, and the kind comments I’ve received on Twitter and Facebook about the past month’s pm abstinence. The answer is I’ve been busy. We’re working on a pitch. And will be at the weekend too no doubt. Plus ca change :-)

New crowdsourcing agencies are all the rage.

Recent events in the idea crowdsourcing world herald a new business model for agencies. As the person responsible for putting Peperami on the internet in the first place (peperami.com 1996 for the historians amongst you) I’m well placed to comment on the recent move to find ideas using the internet. And as Jon Winsor and other (about to be ex-Crispin Porter) colleagues have announced in the early hours of this morning, it’s time for a new model that takes crowdsourcing to the next level. And that involves asking you, the creatives out there working for other agencies, to contribute to their briefs. Transparently. And at your risk.

Are you up for it? Is it the end of the agency model as we know it? Everyone seems to agree that there is an enormous challenge in the agency group mentality of silo and sausage factory. We make our money in the wrong way, from downstream process transaction rather than from upstream advisory. We fight with each other constantly over budgets. We don’t have enough people to handle the workload when we’re busy. Or we have plenty of the wrong people who can’t handle the workload because the work has changed.

Is the problem about size? The bigger an agency gets, it moves from selling ideas to selling meetings. This seemed fine, as clients have diverse needs and there are a myriad of ways to find service levels for those needs. The creativity of agencies moved into describing cross selling. to build scale and business relationships. And the creativity that clients actually want from them, ideas for better ways to engage consumers to sell more of their products and services tended to be a delegated and downstream service. Ideas became lone wolves that had to be ‘fought for’ by the creative department, instead of exciting ‘cool’ product developments that galvanise everybody involved.

Now there’s an answer. A new model where brands owners can publicly describe their problem, and can garner public responses. There’s been a few start ups that endeavour to capture this trend – idea bounty and so on, about which the naysayers claim they can’t make money, they are estate agents for ideas, isn’t it just like freelancing and so on. Well it does reflect all those things, accusations very easily levelled at any agency by the way, but the difference is that the ability to share and re-share briefs and answers quickly though the internet brings agility where previously there was treacle.

As Stuart Elliot put in in the New York Times – agencies should stop worrying about selling the status quo and start being a force for change. A ‘catalyst of record’, not an ‘agency of record’ Love that. And believe that too. I worked on a pitch last year where the client invited five agencies to test drive their cars and pitch for their business. It was an expensive and overwrought process, on everybody’s part. As we were hanging around having coffee, I said to one or two of the opposition – you know what, this is silly. They should just hire you, me, her and him. Each from a different agency – a ‘dream team’ as they say, as between us we’d provide the best answers, the best work, and it would be a laugh. Everyone agreed that it would be, but went home to prepare for the pitch battle in their own P&Ls.

I wish Jon and crew luck with their new venture. Watch that space!

Branding Utility is the answer. Seriously.

“An extraordinary, almost unimaginable sequence of events” says Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England commenting on the past weeks’ goings on in the global financial markets. Which do you prefer – the culture of blame, or the culture of coping? Weaker managers immediately point the finger at others, stronger managers move on and work out how to make things work, develop products people want, and build genuine underlying performance in their businesses.

In the FT today, the question is asked – is the MBA culture responsible? From the country that has chosen Sarah Palin as a legitimate candidate for president in waiting, one might question the decision making processes that got her there, and it’s too easy to look at the overt complexity built into the debt instruments that have brought the world’s capital markets to a state of chaos. A common characteristic of disaster management is taking things at face value. By ‘branding’ toxic assets as ‘debt instruments’ it’s easy not to look under the skin, do the due diligence, and frankly bullshit past the next quarter’s earnings to worry about the next crisis.

What can we learn from all this?  One point of view about branding is that it is only meaningful if supported by a set of values that a brand is credible in, performs to, stands for and stands by. For lots of products and services, this is hard to achieve, if the product doesn’t work, for example, or the service promise isn’t delivered. One enormous impact of the internet is enabling consumers to share issues about brands. These can be both negative and positive vibes. Brand owners now have to develop strategy and process internally and externally to manage this. And they are challenging their support networks (of branding consultants, PR people, agencies and technology partners) to help.

Ad people talk about campaigns, hitting the message home and how to unravel the narrative in linear way. Consumers don’t think about this at all. They tend to see ads in passing, remember some of them, and if the ad is strong enough, may even remember the name of the brand. This works well enough, but if the brand doesn’t have a set of values to stand for, by and for consumers to believe in, they won’t necessarily hand over cash for the stuff.

Everyone now likes the idea of branded utilities – virtual test driving, travel advice, holiday planners, Christmas planners and so on – as the necessary adjunct for consumers to build everyday experience of a brand in some way (beyond running in the shoes or actually eating the chocolate.)  If you’ve worked in the world of the web for a while, creating interactive experience and regular customer interaction, you might say – hang on, that’s what we’ve been doing for years, but suddenly it’s become branded.
That’s what happens when the ad people get involved. If we give it a name it’s easier to believe in. I sympathise with both sides, if sides is the right term to use. Having run both ad agency and web agency organisations, one gets privileged insight. The fact remains though, that unless there is genuine usefulness (either from entertainment value or information value) the measurement of such things will remain in the world of wooly. In the old world, if the brand doesn’t stand for anything, (or indeed, as much more likely in the regulatory environment we now operate in, can’t), the advertising itself had to deliver the substantiation. Think glamorous cigarette ads from the 80s. Ads for Fags on YouTube

In the branded utility world, you can’t just make it up. There has to be genuine interaction and exchange for consumers to see a benefit of spending, rather than wasting, time with the brand. This is where our creative and tech brains should be focused. If we get it right, and know how to get it done, there’s a new participation marketing nirvana to be had.

ad:tech London update

Well done everyone who came to Ad Tech to hear the panel sessions. MRM Worldwide Session One – “can brands be friends” – with a great panel discussing some pretty hairy topics around where advertising is going, and how the always on consumer leads us to need always on brand communication strategies. Can brands be friends? Probably not, said the panel, but we concluded that they can be friendly. This event was one of the most highly attended at Ad Tech this year, so kudos to the panel.

Thanks as well to Simon from Intel and Rob from Microsoft for doing the follow up MRM Worldwide Session Two ‘the workshop’, were we got into the detail of some of the work we’ve been doing here at MRM Worldwide with those brands. We turned around a cynical (though tiny) audience of social media experts who begrudgingly admitted everyone was doing a pretty good job.

the agency of the future

The agency of the future

And today, the Japanese delegation and the early risers got to see the full flow of the networks versus the micronetworks versus the independent in the agency of the future debate, MRM Worldwide Session Three – hosted by Nigel Morris from Isobar. Will agencies exist in the future? Probably, but not like they are today. This debate was really good fun. Jason Goodman showed the Skype Nomad thing, Marc from GT talked about xbox and Neil from Avenue A Razorfish talked about how complicated it was all becoming, and I talked about the different competitive advantages agencies have and how the business needs of brand owners varies so dramatically.

Excellent stuff. At least the Japanese seemed to think so.