A new year has started and if 2012 was hard to predict, 2013 may be even harder.
One of the major shifts happening right now is the movement from social media to social business. I think there are at least two good reasons why this is happening. The major players in the social media space have been focused on building their platforms and adding users (Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook etc.). Now they’re all looking for ways to make money. Secondly, brands are looking for ways to use the channels as more than just media, but as platforms for direct or indirect revenue streams.
It’s a natural maturing, but it’s also a consequence of the way many brands think. I have met many CMOs who have grown tired of being presented with yet another social media activity, just because it’s something everybody else is doing. Instead, they’re looking for social ideas that tie in with the company’s business goals.
Personally I’m a bit reluctant to only think about how social channels can add to the bottom line. My gut feeling tells me that if there’s too much business and not enough value for people, it can reduce the attractiveness of the platforms, which will obviously backfire on both the platform owners and the brands using them – a social suicide. Not to say that the brands shouldn’t think business, just that they should make sure that what they do makes sense for their brand and offers value to consumers/fans and potential customers. And by value I mean things like entertainment and utility as well as attractive offers.
I still think social media has a lot to offer in terms of branding. As social creatures, we love those stories about truly caring brands (and employees) reacting to complaints or making up for the misfortune of a loyal customer. One of my favourites right now came from one of our clients, LEGO. To me ,that shows the potential of social and also supports the strong belief we have at Advance that a company’s people are the key to building stronger relationships with customers. Employees are the brand.
I’m also hoping to see more relevant CSR in 2013. Since it’s something a lot of companies have already experimented with, it’s much harder to have an impact from CSR – basically because people are sceptical thanks to the “green washing” that has taken place. Fortunately, there are still examples of brands getting the credit they deserve simply because it’s in their heritage to do the right thing, or because of the passion of the owners.
It’s my hope that the right CSR initiatives will keep having an impact, not because they are marketed, but because they spread. Advance supports cancer initiatives and has done so for many years because our founder and several great employees have died from the disease. We have never really marketed our support because that’s not why we do it and never will be. But maybe it will spread and tell a story about the agency. And if it doesn’t, well I still think we’re doing the right thing.
Whatever 2013 will bring, you’ll be able to follow our progress on different channels. So give us a like on Facebook, follow us on LinkedIn, have a look at some of our work on YouTube or, better yet, drop by and meet us in person. We reckon we have the best agency coffee in town.
In the second of our occasional series of intra-agency dialogues, Concept Developer Chris and Insight and Strategy Developer Monika discuss the challenges agencies face when seeking to move clients into the realm of digital product development.
Chris: Hi Monika, I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot recently, especially in light of some of our ambitions as an agency. We’re all familiar with new products and services that augment a company’s existing product line such as the Nike Fuelband, the ‘Help, I’ve cut myself and I want to save a life’ kit and the Life Of George as well as initiatives of our own such as WheelMate – all dreamt up by creative agencies. The question is, is the traditional agency/client relationship conducive to these type of projects? Can we shift this relationship and should we even expect to?
Monika: For me, the examples you mention indicate that marketing is changing its shape and form. I think it comes down to the fact that consumers perceive branded content differently today. Rather than being seduced by brands, people want something that is relevant for them – whether it’s entertainment, convenience, knowledge, social status, etc. These new products (and just to give a few lesser-known examples – Heineken Star Player app, Red Tomato VIP fridge magnet, Nowness by Louis Voutton, and Gothenburg’s Tram Sightseing app) provide companies with an opportunity to connect with customers in more lasting, meaningful ways. And what makes them successful is that they are usually based on human insights.
As advertising agencies, it has always been our job to create demand for products by understanding what consumers want. And if consumers want relevance and personalization, perhaps advertising agencies need to extend their thinking and expand their offering to clients. Imagine, if Kodak’s advertising agency had come up with an idea to develop something like Instagram, maybe Kodak wouldn’t have gone bankrupt today.
Chris: I think you’re definitely onto something when you mention the idea of insight. This is a part of the process that advertising agencies are already well configured to provide and the kind of input that clients are used to receiving. The question remains, then, how do we encourage this kind of thinking? Is it merely a question of providing case evidence to our clients in the hope that they will see that a change of organisation is in order, or is there a way to take a gradual approach where their risk is diminished? One method could be to spend spare agency time solving what we interpret the client’s business problems to be and then present this work ‘on spec’ in the hope that they’ll see the light. I know this is something that has been discussed at Advance recently. But how far do we go and how much time should we spend on doing this? Perhaps it’s a case of picking our battles and trying to demonstrate the need for this kind of work by showing our successes.
Monika: Isn’t it a little bit of both? As Made By Many co-founder William Owen puts it, the future of advertising is not advertising. Consumer media habits have shifted so there’s no doubt agencies have to make an extra effort to pinpoint the areas where they can create additional value. For the most part, I believe we should stop treating a client brief as a starting point, but dig deeper and get to the core of their needs.
There are already plenty of examples that can be used as inspiration or a starting point to encourage this type of thinking. Marketing-as-a-product (or service) thinking is no longer a groundbreaking trend. Nevertheless, it is a bit unrealistic to anticipate that clients will dive straight into product development. As with other changes, the companies that are early adopters will lead the field, the others will need more convincing and a more gradual approach. The question is, however, how to deal with a marketing budget that is intended to be spent on advertising? Will we largely fail because our point of contact with the client is their marketing department?
Chris: Well, I think one way in – one place where we can legitimately talk about services in a context within which the clients are expecting to hear from us – is with social media. All brands say they “know they need to be involved in social media” but they’re either nervous about the ROI, don’t have the resources or simply don’t understand what’s involved. The agency has a clear role in helping with this and a huge part of social media is monitoring and responding to consumer feedback which actually is a product – it’s customer service. This a product that we can help them develop, it’s one where they’d expect our help and, in terms of starting conversations about projects that don’t fit into campaign cycles/budgets, it’s ideal. So, is social the starting point for a strategy to get a foot in the door for broader, product related conversations? Perhaps it’s also the world of apps which clients view in a very similar way – they all want one, but they don’t know why. It’s product and, as a tool, it shouldn’t be constrained by a campaign-based ecosystem.
Monika: Being where your customers are and listening to them is always a good place to start, especially since customers do expect a response from companies on these platforms. Social media is particularly useful when it comes to helping companies gather insights about their products and services, which could potentially lead to product development. For example, American Express has created Open forum for small business owners, where they can exchange insights, get advice from experts and build connections. They then took that thought further and created Small Business Saturday to support small businesses all over the country. Even though, it’s not a product in itself, it ties in many additional products that AmEx can offer to its clients.
So yes, a social media presence can be the right way in, but only if done in a proper way. I am not convinced that campaign-based thinking is entirely over – marketing budgets are still largely structured around campaigns, whereas product development (be it customer service or a mobile app) not only requires long-term commitment, but also financial back-up. Taking that first step is necessary, but it’s not enough and it is an ad agency’s responsibility to make sure that our clients understand what it takes to be a part of this new kind of marketing.
Chris: Which maybe brings us onto a topic for another conversation – is it even marketing?!
In his first column, CEO Jens Krog ponders ways agencies can adjust their set-ups to best meet the demands of a world moving at breakneck speed.
These days most agencies are considering their organizational set-up. The number of potential solutions to clients’ problems is exploding: is the answer a new product, Marketing as a Service (MaaS), events, new distribution, partnerships, social media initiatives, a TV campaign? This raises important questions for management: how do we organize the creative process and what skills do we need?
If you agree that it requires new and more competences (compared to the traditional ad agency set-up) to deliver contemporary solutions, the next question is: should you have all (or most) competences within the organization or create a network of collaborative companies/freelancers?
Small doesn’t always equal efficient
These days it is natural to think ”small” – and to aspire to be fast and flexible. But when you are already ”big” (by Danish standards at least) you don’t become small overnight. There are also some obstacles in ”small” that need addressing.
Without the constant presence of practitioners of emerging disciplines (UX, community management etc) in your organization you risk missing opportunities and delivering substandard work. From a business perspective that is obviously not optimal and from a process perspective you run the risk of not being able to deliver in time and on budget.
On the other hand, a full service set-up leads to a significantly higher cost burden. It either requires a substantial (and steady or growing) client portfolio, or the willingness to accept any project just to keep people busy. That’s not optimal either.
Another challenge, and one that we have experienced ourselves, is that the complexity of the organization often grows with size. Suddenly you find yourself focusing on roles and responsibilities, resource planning, handover between departments etc. The biggest downside here is that the energy levels tend to dip when you need them to go up. It’s definitely management’s job to define the right structures and formalise roles but increasingly we find the most important attribute we’re looking for is an optimistic ”can do” attitude.
Flexibility is key
Maybe there is no clear answer to the question ”big or small”. It depends. Becoming world champions in handling a network is definitely an aspiration while I think you also need to accept that a crucial area of expertise for any agency is the handling of creative processes to ensure the right mix of people for any task. Flexibility is key.
Finally, here at Advance we’ve decided to keep fuelling more knowledge into our existing organization. In this way we build on the crucial understanding of our clients’ businesses and customers that our employees have built up for years. And we accept the fact that we have an ongoing need to adjust our freelance set-up to have the right competences close to hand. There may well be some things we need to understand but which might not necessitate full-time staffing.
In such a shifting, challenging environment we’ve found ourselves in a permanent BETA structure – very demanding for a 35-year-old company! Welcome to the ”can do” era.
At the beginning of October, Jef attended the annual Golden Drum advertising festival in Slovenia, where he participated in a contest for young advertising professionals (that’s him in action above) and got inspired by campaigns from a region that’s geographically close but culturally still a long way away. Here’s his review.
“New Europe, New Thinking.” This year’s Golden Drum slogan got me interested. I can see 90% of what happens at the Cannes Creative Awards on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. So time for something new. Time to find out what’s happening in advertising on the edges of Europe.
Draw a line from Finland to Israel, then pull back to Austria, finish the triangle, and you’ll find Slovenia somewhere in the middle of ‘New Europe’. Did I get to see communist propaganda and Iron Curtain jokes? Not really. Some remnants maybe. Like a ‘save the babies’ campaign in Serbia, where the mortality rate for premature babies is around 60% due to the lack of modern incubators. But don’t get the wrong impression, ‘New Europe’ might have different issues to address but its communication approach isn’t so different from ours.
Our friends are totally on top of ‘new’ media, maybe even more than we are. With fewer established practices and less bad habits to unlearn, they’re working with a refreshing freedom and taking more risks than us jaded souls in the West. With both really good and really bad campaigns as a result.
But let’s stick with the good stuff. Remember Rom? Romania’s not-so-favorite candy bar got ‘Americanized’ last year. Stars and Stripes printed on the wrapper and so on. The result was uproar as people took to the streets to demand their Romanian Rom back. Now, one year later, Rom’s agency has done it again with a campaign that gave the Romanian people back their diginity:
The Rom case perfectly illustrates what sets New Europe apart from the West: different issues, more balls and often simple/low budget solutions which are attached to the national feeling and culture. Many campaigns were a variation on bad driving, drunk driving, insane driving or corruption. Even the conflict between Israel and Palestine led to award-winning work (see below).
Golden Drum was a week full of different perspectives. I met smart account managers from Bucharest and brilliant graphic designers from Skopje. Cheaper than Cannes, but still able to attract speakers from the likes of W+K, it should definitely be on your agenda next year.
Some of the campaigns that stuck with me:
Blood Relations – Israel
Your Last Journey – Romania
Make the Politicians Work – Russia
Welcome to the first in an occasional new series of in-depth book reviews. Here, Alex is drawn in by a narrative about a meta narrative.
Monoculture, by “deep generalist” F.S. Michaels is an attempt to tell, or retell, the story that defines our age. It’s a fiercely researched, forcefully stated and a frankly cynical deconstruction of the master story we’ve all become unwilling or, in the case of us advertising folk, willing characters in.
Stories are deeply ingrained and deeply rewarding aspects of our lives but it’s the master story, Michaels suggests, that defines our culture and gives rise to a monoculture. Plots of previous master stories included the religious monoculture of spiritual superstition followed by the scientific monoculture of the 17th Century as it gradually exorcised the demons of its predecessor with advances in science, mathematics and technology. Today’s monoculture, Michaels argues, is economic. Today’s master story is one of efficiency and mutually beneficial transaction and Michaels believes it’s profoundly influencing our work, our relationships with others and the environment, our community, our physical and spiritual health, our education and our creativity.
Monoculture is an attempt to articulate what we as a society perhaps already know but can’t voice ourselves. It’s an attempt to wrangle our inherent understanding and indescribable discontent onto the printed page then cover and bind it before it escapes again. This is its real triumph, it’s an honest and at times painful reminder of how the economic monoculture has changed everything, and when Michaels says “everything” she has 30 pages of endnotes and a 15-page bibliography to prove it.
There’s an irony in trying to suggest ways in which Monoculture could shape the advertising industry, but I’ll try. At first glance, the chapter Your Creativity is perhaps the most relevant (in fact it occasionally addresses us personally) as Michaels outlines the less than romantic and less than struggling artists of the economic monoculture and their place in the booming ‘creative industries’.
The Monoculture Effect is an equally important chapter as it touches on the risks of creativity and individual freedom in contrast to the risk averse nature of financial viability. But most importantly, the work in its entirety forces us to think about the world we live in; we’re perpetual consumers in a market relying on a lack of resources, or supply and demand. It’s the heightened awareness that Michaels offers that can be most powerful for brands as they begin conversations with equally enlightened and cynical consumers. Monoculture, in its final chapters, attempts the daunting task of emancipating us from the economic story we find ourselves in, and whether or not it succeeds might not matter, I doubt we’re ready for it anyway.
Monoculture succeeds in a way that transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau might in Walden. Both works (and many others) force us to reread the story we find ourselves in and maybe even think about rewriting it. Though on the topic, Walden is required reading, the research alone in Monoculture is enough to force you to think about the economic story we’re in and wonder what story might be next.