This winter has kept many of us, especially those east of the Mississippi, out of malls and instead hunkered down in our homes. The weather is not the brutal part, though. I have been exposed to a lot more commercials in my hibernation (in part because Hulu doesn’t let you skip them), and I can honestly say that, as a marketing analyst, the link between the agency pitch, the production, and the delivery leaves a lot missing along the way.
There are, of course, those ads that put a lump in your throat and use those heartstrings to cause you to act (or at least put it on your wish list). These ads that relay a strong emotional bond, leading you to act, are typically more aware of you than you realize. But then there are the ads that you shake your head at. “What were they thinking?” you may ask as you scratch your head after a Geico “Portraits Gallery: George Washington” commercial or GoDaddy “Bodybuilder” ad. Sure they may be clever, but are they useful? Do they really get the register to ring?
The agency world is going through a teething stage, as agencies mature from the cooing softness of being social or mobile specialists, nurtured by large adoptive holding-company parents, and develop into more complex and thoughtful entities. I recently wrote a report (see the blog post about it here) that lays out the ways in which digital agencies, creative and media agencies, and large technology developers will align. Now I am on the hunt for an insightful, analytical, and objective opinion leader to take on the role of establishing, analyzing, and evangelizing the role of agencies as they evolve in this new era.
The role, like other Forrester analyst roles, is one-part analysis, one-part writing, and one-part speaking. The person who fills this slot at Forrester will be able to engage the CMO of a large CPG firm, the CEO of a large agency, and the leadership team of large integration firms, without skipping a beat. You’ll need to be a great writer to get your story clear and distributable and be able to assess the core elements of what makes an agency and a client work well together.
If you like to think deeply, write clearly, and then roll up your story into an executive discussion, send me your resume, or apply here.
Next month will mark the (gulp) 20th year of my tenure in "digital strategy." I started working on projects back in 1994 using Mozilla, Usenet, and WebCrawler as my guides. The World (its 2006 website is still live at www.std.com) was my ISP. We were still more attentive to CD-ROMs than graphical websites. Hair was still on my head, my dogs were not yet born, and my career was still developing. It was also 20 years ago, in 1994, that the first web design agencies — what became USWeb, Agency.com, and others — started to emerge.
I mention this anniversary, because, like other industries that evolve quickly, the concept of a "digital agency" has become somewhat of an anachronism, if not categorized properly. Specialized agencies that deliver digital capabilities are common, as are the digital or interactive practices within tradition creative, media, and consulting firms. Because of this new and more complicated mix of participants, marketers have shifted their agency relationships to more project based work, at more types of agencies, and with less long term commitment to any one firm.
Recently I have invested a fair amount of time with CMOs and agency executives, working through the challenges that marketing faces, especially as shiny new objects like social and mobile develop some patina and digital gets categorized as a mature channel. In a past post on Forbes I called the era we now live in a “post-digital” world for marketers, because the strategies that matter most are those that don’t start with the channel (i.e. mobile-first or digital-first). Marketers need to put themselves in their customers’ seat and define the marketing activities they take on from a customer-first perspective.
Two years ago, Josh Bernoff and I answered the question of where competitive success would come from in the future. In that research, we defined the era we now live in, the age of the customer (see report, client access required). We just updated that report. Since we expect that era to continue for the next 20 years, you need to know what has changed. The age of the customer is defined by a number of undeniable trends:
Customers are empowered. From multitab browsers to mobile devices, most people hold the power of information in their hands. How often do you hear from agencies, reporters, and your own customers reinforcing that message?
The penned merger of equals between Publicis and Omnicom takes two large networks of agencies and folds them into one behemoth holding company significantly larger than WPP, which would fall into second place. To gain strength in building a future, Publicis has been aggregating large digital shops to complement its traditional creative agencies; at the same time, Omnicom has been amassing a large contingent of small shops that grew quickly under its Diversified Agency Services (DAS) umbrella of digital firms in the race to lead the "new" thing.
Why merge now? The ad agency world and the technology world are on a collision course, centered on how well companies manage their business or consumer customer. I first mentioned this in a post about change management in my Forbes blog almost exactly one year ago. As agencies find themselves up against tech services giants like IBM, Accenture, Sapient and Deloitte, they are being asked to deliver:
Marketing and business strategy based on deep data. No marketing strategy is competitive today without the strength of managing and interpreting data. Both firms have invested in disparate platforms to build insight into the planning process. Agencies like Rosetta and RAPP use data to inform the strategy to build customer engagement, getting ad efforts closer to Moneyball-like results.
No sooner had I posted a blog on the issues of digital myopia than I got on a call to learn that Adobe Systems acquired Neolane, under the auspices of the fact that digital is part of marketing, not that digital is the only thing in marketing. This is a very interesting deal (full disclosure, Suresh Vittal, the chief product officer, was a peer of mine at Forrester until December of last year) for a number of reasons:
It continues to place Adobe in the crosshairs of IBM, salesforce.com, Oracle, and SAP. Adobe continues to invest in areas that much larger companies have set their sights on — in this case, with the recent acquisitions of Eloqua by Oracle, ExactTarget by salesforce.com, ongoing acquisitions at IBM, and so on (see Forrester commentary by Mark Grannan here and by Shar VanBoskirk here). With Adobe now firmly in this mix, it will be going up against enterprise-level suppliers, not just marketing department deployments.
As a trend spotter for most of my career, one of the things I look for is the announcement of “newly created roles” at companies and agencies. The latest of this to hit my radar is “VP, content creation,” “VP, digital content,” or even “editor” for a brand marketer. It's part of a series of interesting comments made by brands and their agencies about building newsrooms to contribute content as frequently and as tactically as media properties would. And like those media, this content includes text and video, long and short form for both, as well as a desire for that content to be readily shared with friends and other acquaintances.
As my colleague Tracy Stokes pointed out in a recent blog post, the interest in branded content is based on the realization that old-school push communications have lost impact with consumers. And we’re not just talking TV and print here. Forrester’s Technographics® data shows that digital ads such as banner ads, text, and mobile apps are the least trusted form of advertising communications; only 10% of US online adults trust banner ads on websites. With multiple connected devices at their fingertips, today’s perpetually connected consumers can opt in or out of content on a whim, behavior that is exacerbated by those whose mind shift is such that their mobile device is the core of all digital activity. Branded content offers an opportunity to truly engage with consumers in a way that marketers have never done before.
Major events — political, natural, or economic — create a lot of eyeballs on a select set of media and stories. But as friends chimed in on Facebook, Twitter, and texts, they shared stories of who stood by them during the crisis. My colleague Christine Overby and I were discussing what marketers did and should do during a crisis. Do your customers need to hear from you during Hurricane Sandy? We’ve seen a few best practices from companies that are handling communications in a helpful and dignified way. We hope they are useful to our readers in charge of customer communications, both this week and in general.
USAA's mobile app reduces angst. The USAA Mobile App allows customers to report a property or auto claim, submit photos, and view claims status. Storm-related tweets featured a link to the app so that customers knew how to find it and submit a claim. One friend of mine was able to submit a claim, including photos, in about 2 minutes, allowing him to focus on cleaning up the debris. Its relative ubiquity — available for the iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry — means that any USAA customer with a smartphone can take advantage of these game-changing and life-managing services.
Citi Cards and American Express send emails to offer personal assistance. In a service message to customers today, Citi Card anticipates their needs and offers relevant services like access to cash, fee waivers, and general instructions for getting help. Similarly, American Express offered affected customers help with emergency financial, travel, or medical services. The message from both is targeted, helpful, and intentionally brief — creating the right tone and value in the middle of a crisis.
The ever-insightful Mike Glantz has picked up on something strange in the water for video (TV and online) advertising these days. After conducting a great panel at the Forrester Marketing Leadership Forum in Los Angeles last week, here's his take:
Online video is certainly rising fast as a medium and an ad vehicle. Just this week, comScore announced that Americans watched more than 8 billion video ad impressions in March alone, setting an all-time record. Audiences in the US are embracing online video across a wide variety of devices and show no signs of slowing down. To capitalize on this explosive growth, many of the big online publishers like AOL, Hulu, and Yahoo are hosting their own "New Fronts," with the hope of emulating TV and attracting bigger advertisers with deeper pockets and larger commitments to purchase the more valuable online ad space in advance.
Last week, Forrester got about 700 of our friends together (ok, conference attendees) to figure out what is cool and what is critical in marketing today as well as what is likely to cross from the former to the latter. We had amazing presentations from major consumer goods, retail, insurance, and technology brands tackling these different issues.
Below, I have included the graphic illustrations of these presentations (courtesy of Kate Dwyer at Collective Next), highlighting the key takeaways from each. In them, you can see the stories and concepts that our speakers revealed to help the audience progress in this complex marketing world we now live in.
Branding is cool again, according to Chris Stutzman. He studied the relationship expressed by consumers between things like brand pride and brand uniqueness and how they influence premium prices and willingness to recommend. His insight: 21st century brands will be built on different foundations than 20th century brands, especially as they relate to what leads the marketing effort. Product-led brands will suffer as experience-led brands thrive (Note: His report will be coming out soon, but here is preview from Advertising Age).