For years, digital agencies have strived to distinguish themselves from traditional advertising agencies that practice digital with the claim that they build platforms – applications and utility that delivery functionality and integrate into people’s lives – while ad agencies come up with digital gimmicks. In fact it was in the news today. As the argument goes, the latter may generate awareness and buzz, but like all offline advertising campaign, they quickly lose their impact when the media buy comes to an end, calling for yet another campaign and then another.
This is true. It was true of Subservient Chicken, true of the Cadbury Gorilla, and true, inevitably, of Old Spice’s recent social media frenzy. In fact, once these campaigns end the only people who tend to remember them are agency types scrambling to replicate their temporary success while making it look as if they didn’t copy the idea.
Meanwhile platforms like Garmin Connect (bet you never even heard of it unless you’re a road cyclist and a Garmin user) and iPhone apps like Stylebook, Zipcar and Timberland Expeditions (one of ours) continue to attract users, generate downloads, and provide the kind of functionality that earns both loyalty and repeat business.
The fact is brands and marketers need both. Without awareness and buzz, the kind of utility that makes a brand indispensable (if that’s possible) never gets embraced. Nike Plus would be invisible if it weren’t for the brand equity built up with years of advertising.
However, the challenge now is more complicated than what’s implied by the debate between idea and platform. The new frontier is the ecosystem. (Yes I know that term gets used to mean a lot of things; but for this purpose it means the interdependency of a brand’s multiple digital properties.) Think about it. Most brands have an advertising campaign. They probably have a website that offers more than brochure-ware and delivers something of genuine use — either applications, commerce, customized user-experiences, community or how-to videos.
But with the proliferation of social media, chances are good that a brand also has a Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and at least one if not three iPhone apps. (I recently had a prospect tell me, “We need apps, lots of apps. It’s important for you to know that we’re app happy around here, so whatever you do bring us apps.”) And since the pre iPhone craze was “build me a micro-site,” chances are good it also has half a dozen of those.
Years ago, John Wanamaker said he knew that half his advertising worked, he just wasn’t sure which half. Today, with all the metrics and analytics baked into everything we do there’s little doubt that we know which stuff works. But do you know whether it all works together?
My suggestion is that if digital agencies and traditional agencies continue fighting over the idea versus the platform they’re wasting words and energy. The new frontier will be the brand’s overall digital ecosystem and figuring out how to get advertising, platforms, social media, conversation strategy and a brand’s existing community of customers to reinforce each other in a way that generates awareness, allows prospects to enter a relationship on their own terms (whether they want to learn, connect, join, transact, share or simply watch) and then holds onto them, ideally turning them into advocates.