Advertising Agencies at the CrossroadsRelevance and accountability in the age of disruptionBy Tod Frincke, February, 2011It’s tough to be an ad person in 2011. Not only do clients demand far greater accountability of theirmarketing investment’s impact on the bottom line than in the past, but advertisers mustdemonstrate these results in ever more fragmented and constantly evolving venues, with distractedand finicky consumers, and amid a tremendous din of commercial messaging. In this world, whocould possibly hope to build meaningful brands and effective campaigns, consistently and withdemonstrable results?A big part of the answer is as it ever was: knowing the consumer and being relevant to him or her.This was always an industry best practice, and a brand message that lacks relevance is still amarketing investment poured down the drain. Achieving and maintaining relevance is no easy tasktoday, but with an eye on the ball and a bit of talent, it can be done.But relevance and breakthrough aren’t enough. Today, resonance and engagement are king and queen, and successful ideas are experiential and social, not static In today’s world of or one-directional. A static idea, if it resonates at all, will not bedistraction, successful transformational: there’s simply too much distraction about.ideas are experiential Experiential ideas engage consumers in their own groups and activities. Experiential ideas seek to foster a conversation with and social, not static the consumer, as opposed to disrupting the conversation.Experiential ideas are not limited to digital, but digital is usually at their heart. Experiential ideasare intimate en masse, one consumer conversation at a time. Experiential ideas create anengaging platform for consumer action, growth, bonding, or sharing.And finally, while it’s great to deliver experiential work that engages the consumer, we are still leftwith the question “does it serve the needs of the brand?” Brand values that resonate profoundlywith the consumer are winners only if they also position the brand for commercial success. Buildingbrand awareness or favorability is only as important as the roleof those metrics toward the brand’s business goals. And an Successful advertisersexperiential idea that attracts and activates a million Facebook and brand marketers infans is only as valuable as the customer loyalty and sharing today’s world are, ingenerated from it. effect, facilitators whoIn the past, some traditional advertisers would have taken find the common groundexception to all of this, and the supposed co-opting of thecreative process. But the successful ones never did. They and shared interests ofembraced their commercial role, and the best creative and brands and consumers.
planning talent in advertising has always been squarely focused on their clients’ needs.And advertisers should embrace client accountability and experiential planning for another reason: its simply more meaningful, more creatively challenging, and more fun to create an effectivedialogue between the consumer and the brand than it is to create an eye-catching ad that garnersshort-lived attention but doesn’t address the customers’ and clients’ respective needs. Successfuladvertisers and brand marketers in today’s world are, in effect, facilitators who find the commonground and shared interests of brands and their consumers.So ideas and creative output in the age of distraction have a higher bar to cross: they must berelevant and impactful as always, they must be experiential and transformational, and they mustclearly serve the needs of the brand. Challenging, yes, but for advertisers who take pride in theircreative chops, the challenge should be a welcome one. But how?Experiential Ideas and the Consumer Behavior PathThe primacy of experiential ideas and of marketing an agency that has theaccountability marks a crossroads for the advertisingindustry, and woe to the agency that does not reinvent organizational will toitself specifically for the task. But an agency that has the reorient itself to the taskorganizational will to reorient itself can build winning, high can build winningimpact experiential ideas, repeatedly and effectively, byfocusing on clear goals, on consumer behavior, and on rapid experiential ideas,collaboration centered on the consumer’s behavior and repeatedly and effectivelyexperience. A Framework for Accountable, Experiential Ideas Focus on the customer-brand relationship and behavioral journey Map out the path taken by a consumer with regard to the brand or its category, and use that path as the contextual and experiential template for the idea. Rally the team around the goal at hand Clearly define brand success, and then align the work around the behavioral and attitudinal metrics that ladder to that ultimate brand success. The #1 question at hand is: “what is the behavior or attitudinal transformation that we’re trying to accomplish?” Produce ideas via iterative collaboration around customer experience Joining creative expression, customer experience and communications planning, build and manage experiences that are relevant to the transformational goal and to the context around it.
The consumer behavior path is elevated to such a fundamental role in this model because it serveseffectively as a linchpin between business accountability, customer needs & attitudes, andbehavioral & experiential context. It positions specific customer behaviors and attitudinal shifts tobe the master of the insights, the strategy, and the ideas. And it frames marketing opportunitiesin a way that advertising and all types of marketing communications can address them:experientially, dynamically, and effectively.This is so because the wants, needs, and behavior of the consumer evolve as he or she progressesthrough a long-term relationship with the brand. This evolving dialogue and set of needsprogresses from initial awareness, to various phases of consideration and shopping, through amore intimate customer experience, and ultimately (whenthings go very well) to loyalty and advocacy. The experiential ideas areexperiential and social context also evolves, as the consumer formed integrally, withbecomes more willing to engage and to share. the context, the creativeThese moments in a consumer dialogue, and the shifting expression, and theneeds and context, become the focus of the collaborativeeffort to create experiential ideas relevant to the experiential and socialconversation. This is not a traditional creative challenge, design all joining forceswhere the idea is formed in a tissue session and is then to bring the idea to lifescaled to suit the scope of work. Instead, experiential ideasare formed integrally, with the context, the creativeexpression, and the experiential and social design all joining forces to bring the idea to life. Thismust be so: lacking any of those components, the idea is fundamentally incomplete.And what about the Brand Itself?The brand itself, of course, must live above this fray of the fleeting whims of a given moment or agiven customer experience, and to some extent branding may exempt from the revolutionaryexperiential and contextual changes that are emphasized in this paper. But the brand mustsupport all of them; the brand must represent the sum of the client’s side of the dialogue with thecustomer. The brand and its core values are its character, and they are the persona thatrepresents the client through the long experiential dialogue with the consumer. So brand plannersand creatives must ask themselves, "what is this persona, and what are the core values that wewant to bring to the customer conversation and experience?"
Putting it into Practice: Changing the way Agencies Approach ProblemsAt a high level, the process for taking on this complex task is simple. Advertisers can turn theoryinto practice via four easily measurable steps. 1. Choose the Moments What are moments in the customer lifecycle dialogue that are the keys to building brand success? 2. Identify the North Star What behaviors, and what attitudinal shifts, do we want to produce at those moments? 3. Discover what Matters What matters to the consumer at these moments? What barriers, motivators, wants and needs are the keys? What’s the behavioral and experiential context? 4. Craft the message & the experience What is the creative expression and the set of customer experiences that will most effectively address what matters, and impact the desired behavioral and attitudinal shifts for the benefit of the brand?Again, if an organization aligns itself properly, this is not an impossible process by any means. Butthe devil, of course, is in the execution, which requires a deep embrace of change within anagency, accompanied by fundamental cultural shifts. To thrive in this new world, and to execute aprocess that engages consumers and influences them to the benefit of the brand, both agencyleadership and every discipline must actively divorce itself from traditional, linear advertisingprocesses. Account teams and agency leadership must be The devil is in the execution,champions of the new approach, and take ownership which requires a deepof facilitating the required collaboration. embrace of change withinPlanners and creatives must engage in a holisticconversation with experiential and contextual an agency, accompanied byplanners. The brief is no longer a creative brief. It’s a fundamental cultural shifts.customer dialogue and experience brief.Digital strategy, experiential design & digital production must be grown and embedded in theagency such that digital experience is integral to every step of the process. A “digital department”
is doomed to failure, and the term “digital agency” will soon become an anachronism. There willbe agencies that successfully rebuild themselves around digital, and there will be failed agencies.Media and communications planning must embrace a more strategic role, and must be a corecontributor to the experiential dialogue strategy from its inception.Research and measurement, similar to key digital roles, must become deeply embedded andactively involved, developing the measurement framework to connect the experiential design withthe context and the brand’s goals. In a nutshell: effective measurement doesn’t constrain winningexperiential ideas, it makes them possible.As discussed before, the model for interaction and collaboration must similarly change. Onemodel used effectively for Facebook initiatives is essentially a publishing model, with dailyintelligence briefings and content reviews. There are many such models for interaction, but theyshare one common trait: they are laser focused on the nurturing of consumer behavior andexperience with the brand.These are difficult and often painful changes for any agency, and particularly for those with deeplyingrained legacy cultures. But they are also essential to every agency’s survival, because in 2011we are at the crossroads marking the end of the early digital age. Moving forward, it’s simply notenough to be smart. It’s not enough to have a brilliant consumer insight. It’s not enough to have agreat idea. And it’s no longer about a creative or a communications strategy.It’s about a customer-brand dialogue. It’s about producing effective ideas that engage andtransform. It’s about connecting the needs of the brand and the consumer.And it’s about the agency having the will and the wisdom to embrace change. Change thatempowers great ideas.