All the posts Chris Calvert has been tagged in.
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?!
Every now and then, a project comes along that provides both client and agency with a chance to work together to make a meaningful difference. At Advance, the most recent of these opportunities has reached fruition in the form of WheelMate – a digital platform commissioned by our client Coloplast to help wheelchair users find accessible toilets and parking spaces.
And so begins the last day of SXSW and despite the mist of my first hangover of the convention, the inspiration of yesterday’s sessions can still be felt. Although most of what I saw wasn’t strictly relevant to the agency, the foresight and depth of knowledge of Ray Kurzweil was staggering. You may not know this guy, but you will certainly have been effected by at least one of the technologies he’s responsible for. From inventing the flatbed scanner right through to the development of voice and text recognition software. When asked about his opinion of Apple’s Siri, he replied “well, first of all I’m very proud, since the technology behind it was originally developed by my company before being sold to Apple”.
Chris, clearly fit as a fiddle once more, sends another update from SxSW:
What a difference a day makes.
The sun came out yesterday afternoon and immediately SxSW kicked into overdrive. Suddenly all of the ad hoc activities surrounding the conference centres flourished. Foursquare’s real game of ‘foursquare’ (apparently it’s a playground ball game too) made more sense in the sunshine and beer flowed from every corporate outpost.
Chris, ‘sick as a dog’ but soldiering on, sends word from SXSW Interactive:
Greetings from sunny Texas! Apparently, Austin has just experienced a dry spell lasting some months, resulting in severe brush fires, so unsurprisingly, the locals seem rather pleased with the torrential rain we’ve been having. Nevertheless, the festival spirit remains strong at SXSW. The really amazing thing about this event is the sheer size and scope of the thing. Yesterday you could get down and dirty with HTML 5 and responsive design or listen to Frank Abagnale, of Catch Me If You Can fame, talk about his barely believable life.