This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3. With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.
In October this year I attended the Adforum Summit in NYC, along with more than 30 other agency search and selection consultants from around the world. During the week we met with agency holding companies, agency networks, media agencies, independent agencies, branded content companies and digital specialists.
Here is my take on the the trends and changes in the agency and marketing landscape.
The Internationalist: The increased responsibilities of 21st century marketers are not only exceedingly complex, but carry far greater levels of accountability in our new era of “big data” and social transparency. The agency landscape, too, has become more complicated. With the growth of micro-networks, the emergence of digital and social media specialists, and the unbundling of so many core agency services, it’s a challenge for any marketer to keep up-to-date, especially on a global basis.
The Internationalist: How do you see the future of the agency? Or what do you anticipate for the continuing evolution of the agency business?
Darren Woolley: One of the hallmarks of the advertising agency is the ability to adapt to the needs of their clients, the markets. We are seeing this constantly with the increasing emergence of the purpose built agencies by some of the holding companies, along with the continued emergence of interesting and innovative independents and the success of the micro-networks, who shrug off the burden of bricks and mortar presence in every market to service clients across regions.
The one thing that is clear is that one solution no longer suits all. The complexity and diversity in the market is driving diversity in the marketing strategies of clients and this is driving diversity in the solutions. The idea of best practice is largely out-dated as marketers are needing to find solutions that suit their brands, their strategies and their markets.
The Internationalist: What are the key areas that clients now seek consulting advice on agency issues? For example, is it agency remuneration or how to better collaborate with other agencies? Are there new areas or trends you haven’t seen before?
Darren Woolley: We are increasingly involved in assisting marketers and procurement to create ‘alignment’ from the marketing and communications strategy to the marketing and supplier structure and processes to deliver that strategy.
This also includes insuring that there are suitable metrics to measure both efficiency in the system outputs and effectiveness in the system outcomes. We see this increasingly as the role of Marketing Management Consultants.
The Internationalist: What specific recommendations do you have for agencies as they aim to “future proof” their business to meet changing demands and deliver more solutions for their clients?
Darren Woolley: The danger for agencies is trying to be everything to everyone because they invariably end up being nothing to anyone. This is driving the commoditisation of the agency category. It is important for agencies to be distinctive rather than different to provide a clear sense of choice.
With an oversupply of agencies in almost all markets it is almost impossible to be different, but the most successful agencies are usually distinctive, either by accident or design. Distinction can be found in capabilities, speciality, location, philosophy, process… in fact any number of areas of agency operation.
The Internationalist: As the media and technology landscape continues to rapidly transform, how do you view the need for an agency’s digital integration v. digital specialization?
Darren Woolley: Everything is digital, so an agency that does not get digital does not get marketing communications. But this does not mean that there is no place for digital specialists. It just means that digital specialists need the true depth of technology capabilities.
Digital ideas can come from anywhere. The receptionist can come up with an idea for a mobile app or the CEO a Facebook idea. But it is in how these are integrated into the technology strategy within the company and executed across the technology platform that is increasingly important.
Too many agencies who say they get digital still develop and execute in campaign fashion, with the technology largely disposable. But true technology strategies understand that within the digital platform, ideally everything is interlinked and builds on what is there.
The Internationalist: What are your recommendations for advertisers as they work with an increasing number of agencies?
Darren Woolley: There is a lot of talk about collaboration, but the fact is that most relationships between marketers and agencies are not collaborative. In 2011, the Economist Intelligence Unit produced an excellent paper on the importance of trust in developing collaborative relationships. In this paper they provided an excellent distinction between collaboration, cooperation and coordination, and what was required to deliver each.
The first step for marketers when working with multiple agencies is to identify where they require each of these relationships and then work to align those relationships to each type.
The Internationalist: If not complex enough, how do global solutions complicate the agency mix? How can you help clients navigate globally or at least multi-nationally?
Darren Woolley: It is very easy to see the world in a homogenous way. Technology and the internet has made the global village a reality, but there are and continue to be significant differences across global markets, especially in Asia and specifically China.
The idea of global campaigns or global brand frameworks needs a significant level of flexibility to maximise the potential in each market. This does not mean you need a different positioning or a different agency or a different campaign in each market, but it does mean you need to be aware of the differences.
The starting point is always what are your objectives, then what is the best strategy to deliver those objectives across markets and regions and then what is the best structure and process to deliver those results. Objectives – Strategy – Structure – Process – Results.
The Internationalist: Are there any other comments or points you’d like to address?
Darren Woolley: It is true that the world is becoming more complex. One of the biggest challenges is how we react to and deal with this complexity. The Cynefin Framework developed by IBM in the last 1990s provides us with an understanding and a way of dealing with complexity. It identifies that in complex systems it is impossible to identify cause and effect.
Therefore the concept of best practice is no longer relevant as practices evolve to the changing market. Instead it promotes the idea of testing and learning and testing again. This approach is seen in the move from the traditional military style of campaigns to the always on engagement we see in social and digital marketing where we are learning to respond to the complexity and learn from the results.
The Internationalist: Thank you.
What do you see as the main trends and changes in the marketing landscape? Leave a comment with your thoughts.