I was recently asked eight pretty good questions for an upcoming conference on advertising and innovation. They cover everything from ad industry trends, to innovation, to new sources of revenue – all topics that agency leaders have to be thinking about given the relentless change that continues to challenge if not confound us.
Thought I’d share my answers here and am hoping you might do the same. Would be interesting to see if we agree or differ and if we can learn from each other.
What’s on the horizon – are there two or three future trends, issues or opportunities you believe will significantly change or impact our business?
This is obviously the richest area. I see three areas where we can expect significant effects on our business.
The changing audience and consumer
Peer to peer information exchange: This will become an even more important means of influence. Witness things like Google+ circles, the recently introduced Trippy (app to help travelers get info from friends) and Springpad’s new social service. (Note I’m on the board.) All of these will let us better source our friends’ likes as we seek reliable sources of content and information from people we trust.
Collaborative consumption: What we are seeing with Hubway, AirBNB and Zip Car will not only continue to change how we consume, but also how we create and sell our own services (to employers) as well. Crowdsourcing and expert sourcing will be of value to both buyers and sellers.
As a result, the influence of the individual, everything from Klout scores to Quora status will increase. This might change how brands think about distributing messages and getting the word out.
In short we will see an even greater increase in the power of the consumer.
Recruitment, hiring and talent
We now compete with software companies and startups, not just agencies. This will have a huge impact on how we recruit, where we find talent and how we re-structure environments and teams.
A new generation of recent grads with tech experience will want more responsibility faster and have a better understanding of how the market works from a tech and utility perspective than their older counterparts. This will be disruptive. We’ll have to learn to manage it.
What we make
As agencies make more and more utility (AR, SoMe, engagement, apps, etc.) they will have to learn more about how to be agile and embrace lean startup techniques. Linear processes will slowly give way to newer, faster means of creative and production.
There’s a lot of talk recently about leveraging agency talent to invent products and services using a new approach to R&D that starts with the consumer, moves to an idea and prototype, and ends with a brand solution. That, too, will require a new way of thinking.
In today’s economy we constantly hear about the role of “creating value” and “delivering innovation” as strategic brand necessities – are agencies contributing to this equation. If so, how and how can we do more?
One, start with identifying problems to be solved, not messages to be conveyed. Example: Timberland’s customers can’t buy boots if they are out of work. So create a service to help them find jobs. Zappos customers can’t shop off of a print ad, so create an app that interacts with print (still a fashion influence) and lets them shop off of a print ad via a smart phone.
Two, concentrate on the bottom of the funnel (inverted), not the top. What are we doing to turn customers into advocates, make them part of the brand and involve them in the creation of communications? What kinds of tools are we giving them to do that? How are we making them feel vested in the brand and its community. Think Burberry’s Art of the Trench, Uniqlo’s Twitter campaigns and Garmin’s Connect.
Organizational dynamics is a rich arena for communications firms – our industry is evolving, but are our institutions moving forward with the marketplace requirements? How is your agency organized? Is it working and what needs to change?
First, you have to live in beta, constantly evolving and staying flexible enough to solve whatever challenges are front and center. But beyond that you need new teams of T-shaped people: folks who have a deep expertise but can think and interact across disciplines. Getting developers, CT, UX, creative, social, strategy to work together is essential. Finally, on that front, we also have to re-organize ourselves into much flatter organizations with smaller, autonomous, integrated teams that have the authority to make decisions.
Where is the wellspring of future profits and what are the current service areas that are diminishing…where are the stars and cash cows? Where are you investing and where are you harvesting?
Great agencies will always know how to make brands relevant, if not with messages then with utility. They will also know how to conceive and execute creative ideas. Once we made campaigns, in the future it will be platforms. If we are great at that we will always demand a premium. Today, my own agency, Mullen, is developing services in the social space, generating new kinds of content, pioneering mobile services and introducing clients to responsive web design and more. You have to be doing that.
Secondly, there is no shortage of content, but there’s an awful lot of bad content. If an agency creates the right environment and attracts the most talented people, its content, be it TV, web, social, video, games, apps or even blogs, will be better, more effective and worth paying for.
And finally more and more agencies are experimenting with their own IP. At Mullen, for example, that includes a crowdsourced Gen Y online magazine TNGG, now appearing in Boston.com, to a soon-to-be-launched The Pulse – a new integrated content, social, analytics platform that we are building to gather sports fans and news junkies around specific topics.
How would you answer these questions? What are you doing different or better that you’d like to share?
Next: Part Two: Questions about agency differentiation, the new leaders, winning in the new age of competition and what happens five years from now. Not that anyone has a good answer to the last one. Thanks for reading.