Strategic Thinking 3.0

Next year will undoubtedly be full of further surprises for the world’s marketers, with changes in political leadership both in the U.S. and other world markets creating challenging environments for businesses of all sizes. Given the scale of damage to our financial institutions, marketers must also continue to adapt to rapidly changing consumer behavior while being more empathetic to their customers’ more prudent mentality. It will be interesting to see how financial services companies approach the combined challenge of sustaining brand relevance while rebuilding consumer trust.

My predictions for 2009:

1. Digital media enables easier marketing access.

We’ll witness an explosion of smaller advertisers increasing expenditures more rapidly than established advertisers who, in turn, will shift more resources to broader forms of marketing activities. We’ll see the continued leverage of search marketing while seeing greater application of Web 2.0 to better target, optimize and measure marketing messages and user experiences.

2. Marketing means selling.

Advertisers will demand that their agency partners improve the effectiveness of their individual activities, as well as better protect their overall marketing investments. With a sharper eye towards actual performance, business outcomes will become more critical than media outputs.

3. Collaboration drives integration.

The endless debate about better integration through changed operating structures will give way to greater discipline collaboration, resulting in better architecture of integrated marketing activities. The focus on agency collaboration, culturally and commercially, will center on carefully constructed teams, including key clients and proactive consumers who may or may not be brand champions. Holding companies will demonstrate greater flexibility to accommodate customized solutions.

4. Data drives decision making.

2009 will the year of the “data” dragon — and it will be tamed. We’ll sit atop a mountain of real-time metrics from set-top boxes and addressable media platforms while having direct access to peer-to-peer conversations. However, data is useless unless converted into actionable insight. As the range of data increases, enterprise-level business-intelligence software and analytic services will become increasingly important.

5. New players bring new perspectives.

We’ll see more innovation around Web analytics, e-commerce design, online customer-loyalty programs and e-CRM, with players such as Omniture, Huge Inc. and Microsoft’s enterprise services increasingly prominent. Strategic alliances with addressable advertising companies will help us better understand superior consumer targeting and media work flow. Microsoft and Google will merge the science of technology with the art of creativity.

6. Social networks enable better listening.

Social networks will become engines for truly unique and raw, unbiased consumer insight. Additionally, monitoring services (e.g., BzzAgent, SocialVibe, Radian6) will revolutionize our procedures to listen and learn. We will be surrounded by meaningful user conversations, giving us the opportunity to optimize and customize activities in real time.

7. Mobility matters.

Mobile devices will command center stage. By 2009, penetration worldwide will be approximately 50 percent. The obsession with mobile devices will have dramatic impact on the quality of content we deliver and the user experiences we can create. The opportunities to better fuse brand advertising and promotional marketing will create engaging experiences at the point of purchase.

Even with all the economic pressures, the world continues to move at warp speed.

As 2009 approaches, it’s imperative for us to challenge all conventional approaches and any sacred cows. Marketers will look to us to deliver new marketing solutions with a greater level of accountability and efficiency. We’ll need to help find the best suspects to turn into real prospects-people who ultimately could become their best and most influential buyers.

Without doubt, media agencies will continue to evolve their marketing skills, harnessing digital media and technological innovation in impressive time frames. The best media agencies will offer greater strategic and creative capabilities without sacrificing their skills of mastering media complexity.

How to succeed in this challenging year ahead? We must continue to invest in hiring and training the most talented people, supporting them with state-of-the-art technology and tools while reinventing all the conventional business processes of the traditional agency business model.

2009 will bring an even greater pace of change, enabling the media agency sector to continue to prove its real value in raising the professional standards of modern-day marketing.

Nick Brien is president and CEO of Mediabrands. He can be reached at nick.brien@mediabrandsww.com.