Ours is a business that thrives on self-analysis. Compared to say retail or manufacturing, we spend more time on the metaphorical couch trying to get at the “essence of who we are and what we do” than any other industry. Not surprising – we’re trained to constantly challenge assumptions and reject complacency in our daily work (clients after all seek our services to avoid a flat graph-line, not perpetuate it). Add to that the mega-trends that have been shifting the ground underneath us (:30 TV spot endangered, user-generated content, media-saturation, etc.) and it’s obvious why all the soul-searching of what our industry can and should be.
Alan Schulman recently penned a short article about this, and he has some clearly-presented ideas for how agencies should reinvent themselves. We’ve seen the same evidence Alan’s seen and have been moving in this direction for a while, but the article did inspire the question “So what exactly should the new marketing reality look like?”
When many of us were first baptized in the industry it was at a big Madison Ave. Ad firm in the early 90s. We were taught by everyone around us – bosses, clients, colleagues from other disciplines – that the marketing pecking order was organized largely around discipline, and went something like this:
- Advertising – the high-priests of brands, they supply “the big idea” from which all goodness and marketing communication flows
- Marketing – blue-collar types, they supply the myriad things like FSI’s and direct mail that attempt to translate “the big idea” into an actual sale
- Interactive – hmmmm, stick all the eager young types here and see what happens; worst comes to worst, animate a print ad as a banner and charge for hours
All that feels like a century ago now, but it is striking that there is no commonly-held new structure to take its place. What would such a thing look like in an age where “the big idea” must be bigger than a TV spot and three print ads?
For a brand to have relevance now, it must connect with all of it’s audiences — consumers, employees, partners, etc. – from a consistently-presented truth (the brand story) that is reinforced by every brand interaction (“saw a billboard”, “went to the web site”, “watched an ad”, “called an 800#”, etc.). But how should the industry – clients, agencies, individuals – set themselves up to work in this new marketing reality?
We think the question itself is more important than the answer – it’ll probably be a good decade or more before we settle down to a commonly held structure. But for discussion’s sake, here’s our new pecking order, organized around function:
- Marketing Strategy – responsible for crafting and interpreting the strategic direction of the brand, and ensuring that all brand stake-holders adopt and invest in the direction
- Messaging – responsible for crafting and disseminating the Brand Message across all appropriate media, utilizing the resources and skills of specialists
- Brand Operations/Support – everyone from technology to the call center staff who answer the phones/respond to the chats, this is where the marketing relationship meets reality
Key to making this kind of function-oriented model work is a collaboration and ongoing dialog between all areas: after all, without knowing what the Brand Support people are experiencing, how can the Marketing Strategy folks know their work is productive? That, as we all know, can be messy in a way the old model wasn’t. But the old model was a relatively unsophisticated system that designed to deliver a logo and tag line well, but didn’t concern itself with much after that. These days, as Mr. Schulman points out, the business of marketing is entwined in almost every aspect of the business itself.