We all know that the road from the world of print and broadcast to a new place where digital, social and mobile reign, is littered with once prominent agencies and individuals who got left behind. Those of us who are still around have managed, in one way or another, to transform ourselves. We’ve learned new skills. Hired different kinds of talent. Changed how we work. Re-structured our work spaces. And learned to live in beta, knowing that whatever we have working today probably won’t be good enough six months or a year from now.
Inside ad agencies, we continue to see disruption. People, roles and skills change constantly. Planners become digital strategists. PR people master social media. Creative teams scramble to understand APIs and HTML5. And account folks, at the minimum, learn the timing, resources and costs of creating digital content. The changes have spawned an entire re-education industry. The 4As runs transformation sessions. BDW fills up workshops. Hyper Island charges a fortune for its digital therapy. Google and Facebook spend a small fortune educating agencies on how to best use their platforms.
But I’m guessing this is still just the beginning. The emergence of new social networks, platforms for collaboration, and the importance of reaching and acquiring users without relying on paid media and traditional advertising will call for us to learn even more. Throwing up a Facebook page, tweeting about our new product, or targeting influential bloggers won’t be good enough.
If you need evidence, check out the argument put forth in this enlightening post by Andrew Chen, a Silicon Valley blogger, entrepreneur and angel investor.
Chen suggests that the future head of marketing will have to be what’s called a growth hacker. The term is new, but gaining traction in Silicon Valley where most new companies are all about generating users for a digital product or service. His argument is that marketers now need the technical chops to integrate platforms, leverage their existing communities, and invent new ways to generate reach and visibility, using tactics and techniques foreign to most traditional marketers.
The case study he describes shows how Airbnb wrote a script to scrape Craigslist and interact with its forms thus leveraging Craigslist’s huge user base despite the ad platform having no API. (Note this is mostly over my head, so you’re better off getting the explanation from Chen.) After reverse engineering Airbnb’s “Post to Craigslist,” Chen writes:
No traditional marketer would have figured this out
Let’s be honest, a traditional marketer would not even be close to imagining the integration above – there’s too many technical details needed for it to happen. As a result, it could only have come out of the mind of an engineer tasked with the problem of acquiring more users from Craigslist. Who knows how much value Airbnb is getting from this integration, but in my book, it’s damn impressive. It taps into a low-competition, huge-volume marketing channel, and builds a marketing function deeply into the product. Best of all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – both the people renting out their places by tapping into pre-built demand, and for renters, who see much nicer listings with better photos and descriptions.
While Chen is referring specifically to the need of startups, looking for users on its way to being the next Instagram, one could argue that all brands will be making, and all agencies marketing, digital products — apps, experiences, communities, digital services.
What will this mean for the future account manager? Or strategist? Or creative team? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can virtually guarantee you that one thing is certain. Whatever we’ve managed to learn in the last few years won’t be enough to get us through the next few.
Shout out to my student Maurice Rahmey for turning me onto Andrew Chen’s post.