“The giving of love is an education in itself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt Be Sociable, Share! Tweet
A story posted today by @TanzinaVega of the NYTimes about the merger of agency giants Omnicom and Publicis made the case that agencies’ futures are tied to Big Data. In the article, Ms. Vega points out that agencies own a wealth of online data that they use to help clients analyze online behaviors, attitudes and trends, which then inform future marketing campaigns.
Ms. Vega also asserts that clients – such as Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. are bringing these functions in-house because they can do what agencies do … the assumption being better, or for a cheaper price.
I’d like to argue that while technically correct, her article, with the exception of a quote by David Droga of Droga5, largely misses the point of the kind of strategic expertise agencies can provide. David Droga is quoted as saying, “Technology is the greatest enabler and the greatest canvas, but you still need the thinkers, you still need the storytellers,”.
I’ll take his quote one step further …agency partners’ strategic outside perspective allows clients to see the larger shifts in human behaviors, human needs and technology capabilities that enables them to be game-changers.
Just as we need conversations that challenge us in a constructive way in order to learn and grow, so do companies – not just to stay ahead of the competition, but to create expanded relevancy in consumer’s lives as each new generation puts their imprint on society.
It’s not that clients aren’t trying to do this on their own – many of ones I’ve worked with do their best to win both in the long-term and short-term. But while clients can largely analyze their own data, and generate their own observations of what their customers are and aren’t doing – there’s typically a few things they can’t do…largely because on the client-side, employees have to “keep the lights on” – managing day-to-day operations of the business, deal with the budget limitations given to them by finance, as well as socializing/ reporting up and down the chain of command on the results they are seeing.
And as David points out – they’re often not trained storytellers.
This was a nuance I missed while working for large companies. In business, you’re trained to promote the company and achieve business goals – at my old company, we called this line of thought “tower think”. The presumption was that you ‘influence your customer to do something’ based on your (company’s) actions to acheive business results.
In the agency world, it’s not about ‘getting’ someone to do anything – it’s about understanding what humans do, what drives them, understanding where a client sits relative to its competitors and other companies with similar economics/ target consumers and then understanding where brands can intersect with the set of consumers who are most apt to respond to the brands’ messages.
Which is where story-telling comes into play. 1. There’s the story you tell and sell to the client – to get them to change their mindset about how to go to market. And – 2. There’s the story you can put out in the world that breaks through the clutter consumers are hearing, and hopefully, respond to you in some positive, brand-building way. Both are used to set the foundation for innovative brand, product/ service, communications or operations plays.
Admittedly, what I’ve wrote is probably common sense to most in the marketing world. Though the art of creating the story from human needs, of uncovering big ideas where before there were none is not a simple task. It’s not done overnight. It’s not replaceable with large reams of data.
Yes, data informs observations which in turn informs insights. But transformational, game-changing insights come from amalgamating not just behavioral data, but real life observations, real life attitudinal trends; and from understanding the past, being intelligently grounded in the present, and making well-informed educated guesses about the future.
Combine that with creative execution that sparks new conversations, hashtags, memes, videos and whatnot – that’s the real value agencies provide.
[Full disclosure: For the past year, I've been working at Wunderman NY, so even if I'm a bit biased by nature of where my paycheck comes from, I'm also someone with over a decade's worth of experience on the client side of the business- having seen marketing/ agency capabilities from both sides of the equation.]
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