There is no shortage of discussion these days about the future of marketing, communications and advertising agencies. Claims and predictions abound. Outbound marketing is dead. The age of interruption is over. Mobile is all that matters.
We have ad agencies becoming digital, digital shops striving to become agencies of record, production companies going direct to client. And everyone pondering whether or not the new model is utility-based platforms, as opposed to short-term, message based campaigns.
Brands and marketers, under severe economic pressure, are keenly observing what smaller more nimble companies are doing with inbound marketing and are anxious to experiment with social media, crowdsourcing and conversation marketing. CMOs are hiring five agencies instead of one, raising the question of whether specialization is better than integration.
It would appear the old model of pouring thousands of dollars into discovering a single insight and millions of dollars into one campaign just doesn’t make sense anymore. It takes too long. It costs too much. And besides, consumers want customization anyway, whether it’s the RSS feeds to which they subscribe, the apps they install on their iPhone, or the jewelry they can now design and price in real time by doing it online.
Yet old habits refuse to die. The majority of retailers insist on spending most of their marketing dollars on a medium (newspaper circulars) they agree doesn’t work anymore. Meanwhile their customers are relying on Google, Twitter and personal networks to research every single purchase, from low-cost light bulbs to multi-thousand dollar appliances. Given that they’re also bringing that new habit with them to the store, retailers and their agencies might be better off putting the money into search, digital apps and intelligent point-of-purchase.
Contradictions abound. Chris Anderson tells us that content and information wants to be free — even though we’re willing to pay billions of dollars for virtual goods — right at the time when media margins are shrinking along with client budgets. Combine that with consumers’ intolerance for advertising and it doesn’t bode well for new models like Hulu.
Then there are the new social consumers. Determined to take things into their own hands – conversing, commenting, criticizing, creating — they feel no qualms about bringing a brand down, celebrating the products they love, or becoming brands themselves, capable of building their own multi-million dollar companies with little more than a digital camera, a folding table and a knack for leveraging a community.
A lot of people in our business are petrified by these changes. They sense their skills are obsolete. They see the market for what they do and the products they make continuing to shrink. And in the rearview mirror they can glimpse the new generation — fearless, digital, connected — rapidly gaining ground.
So what should you do? You can read Razorfish’s new Feed 2009 report and learn that digital may offer all the answers, creating opportunities for the deep engagement that builds brands and preference. You can wait for Forrester’s Sean Corcoran to complete his interviews and research and give you the collective view on where things are going. Or you can take things into your own hands.
Here’s my suggestion for what it’s worth. Four steps to making sure you’re here for the future.
Unlearn the old.
Embrace the new.
Experiment like mad.
Do that and you might be the one who solves the puzzle and figures out the answer.
Oh, and if you have better ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments.