Why Brands Don’t Need an Advertising Agency in 2015
Today, anyone working in marketing, whether it’s for a big global brand, a mid-sized regional company or a small up-and-coming local brand is trying to create connections with their audience – or build experiences. So if they are looking for a marketing partner, they will probably call a pitch for an advertising agency. It’s what is seen as the safe thing to do, after all, advertising agencies are the “experts in brand building”. But what if that marketer also needs a PR agency, a digital agency, an event agency, tech provider, CRM, media or analytics, or a combination of these? Or maybe they just need help to sort things out? The truth is, that since the game has changed, the game plan needs to change to something more comprehensive, more integrated and completely media neutral and technology agnostic. And maybe a traditional ad agency isn’t the right place for that? Sure, the agency networks will say that they can provide full service. What that really means is that they have a number of different agencies with their own P&Ls, their own staff and their own specialties. Each of these agencies will be great, mediocre or bad, but there is no guarantee that they all will be great. And to be completely truthful, most of them struggle to collaborate. But even if they could, having separate entities based on channels is the wrong approach. Today, what one really needs is a convergence agency – a hybrid company that can be a business partner no matter what the needs are. Someone who doesn’t care what the output is, only what the input is – and what the desired outcomes are. Unfortunately, most traditional networks won’t provide that. It just doesn’t fit with their business model.
So in this day and age a marketer should find someone who gets not only the brand and the target audience, but who understands the technologies the consumers use and how to integrate the communication efforts in a way that helps the brand connect with them. Brands need a partner that can look at everything they do, work out a combined business and brand strategy, that has implications for everything they do – not just for communications, but in all your consumer facing activities. The focus should be on selecting fewer partners who understand more. That partner needs to understand the new playing field – meaning, they have to come from a digital centric starting point. A convergence agency like this, without any vested interest in platforms, is more interested in understanding brands, people and cultures than worrying about their own internal challenges. Clearly, those type of companies aren’t abundant, and it’s fair to ask if an operation like that becomes too generic to get the job done. The only way it will work, is that you have a multi-skilled team with enough experience to understand the implications of the new landscape we are working in. You can’t rely on people with only traditional advertising skills, or just digital skills. Or PR, event, design, media skills. They have to have a mix of experiences, and they need to be able to link in specific expertise whenever needed. Finding the right partner requires you to ask the right questions. That’s why brands shouldn’t ask for a creative pitch, but ask the agencies “if you become our partner, how will you help impact the way we communicate, the way we interact and the way we run our business?” If they answer with ads, or digital platforms or god forbid a viral video, it’s probably not the right move. It’s better to find someone who will engage with the business strategy, and who suggests to develop a comprehensive platform that is not just about hitting the consumer over the head, but takes them seriously and engages with them over time – not through campaigns, which are a relic from the 20th century. Campaign approach is the main reason why brands waste millions and millions of dollars today, because their focus is to launch a campaign, then when the campaign is over, they move on to the next. Even if it’s all based on the same strategy, but campaigns aren’t great at connecting with the consumers and doesn’t build on the success of the previous efforts. Sure there will be moments where there is a need to communicate products and benefits – but it all works more effectively when the consumer trust is in place. We need to start building ongoing customer connections that work across media, across audiences and that overcome the narrow-minded definitions of the last century. That requires a different approach from the start – on the agency side, as well as the client side.
This end-to-end approach, or what we at Acoustic like to call Infinite Loop Marketing, has to be front and centre. CRM agencies have for a long time understood the importance of communicating consistently over time, and some data driven marketing companies also get that side of it. But unless it’s put into the entire marketing ecosystem that includes PR, media, content, CRM, digital, event, advertising, service design etc., it’s not possible to reap the benefits in the most effective way. This requires more than just communications strategy, creativity and execution; it requires business strategy, integrated technology platforms and media-neutrality as well. We strongly encourage brands to start viewing their communication and business strategy in a holistic and fully integrated way. It will deliver benefits outside of ROI, it will inspire the entire company, make agencies perform better and help brands yield greater sales and brand affinity over time. And the best part is that we can start doing this today.