Customers are making decisions in new ways today. They are players, taking control of how they engage with brands, wherever and whenever it is convenient. In this new environment of customer-managed relationships (CMR), customers are also demanding that the information be relevant. They expect messages to be specifically targeted to them, through "opt-in" and local online advertising, or they will simply ignore them, especially with information overload becoming such a problem. This is not just a one-to-one story but a many-to-many story about targeting consumers who have similar interests and leveraging the attributes of viral marketing.
With access to more information through the Web and mobile applications, consumers have unprecedented tools for making purchase decisions through comparison shopping, detailed online content, etc. These user-centered programs enable people to find the right information at the right time, while moving through the purchase cycle.
As customers exert greater influence in the marketplace and consideration plays a larger role, media consumption will change. Through the use of broadband, PVRs and wireless, consumers are able to obtain information and engage in interactive experiences such as games, on devices as small as a mobile phone or as large as outdoor digital signs. Over the next year, new agencies with expertise in emerging media will begin to take shape and utilize these and other tools to convey customized and personalized brand messaging.
There are some key drivers that will ultimately influence the design of the new agency model. Since customers are playing a more pivotal role in the marketplace that influences agency dynamics, successful agencies will focus on behavior-based marketing that is data-driven and accountable, rather than on the attitudinal side of marketing, which is rapidly eroding with the demise of mass media. Behavior leads to data acquisition, and data drives accountability. With advances in technology, new advertising outlets are emerging—including digital signage, robust online campaigns and enhanced television (integration of data, 3-D computer graphics and live linear television)—that are all measurable. This is what clients have been waiting for: real numbers that reveal real results.
To create these integrated programs, a new agency model is needed that is designed around a core team. Currently, agencies are divided into silos based on expertise. The result is that there is relatively little collaboration, and often the "wrong" people are making decisions. To correct this, a new "groupware" structure must be built. The "groupware" construct is grounded in collaboration, based on sharing information and facilitated by integrated software that is networked together, allowing for teams to work more efficiently through computers or mobile devices. Pulling from traditional agencies, the new team would include an account manager, a creative director or art director, a copywriter and an account planner (strategy).
Joining them are positions generally found in interactive agencies, including an interaction designer (information architect or experience designer), the custodian of the customer experience, and a technology lead. These two members are critical, since so many of the marketing programs today and in the future will entail technology-based applications that utilize databases and demand an understanding of how and what customers need. Most traditional agencies lack expertise in both these areas, because until recently these roles have been marginalized or outsourced, along with the best practices and knowledge gained through experience. But going forward, their contributions are essential.
To round out the team, there needs to be a media planner (from media, with both traditional and interactive knowledge) and a data analyst (from direct, with direct and interactive experience). The new eight- person team would work collaboratively through the development cycle, from the initial briefing through testing and learning and finally to release. This common-knowledge base is augmented by the team being situated in a common area, with the advantage of being able to collaborate with other agencies on an as-needed basis.
The new model reintegrates creative and media into the core team. Long ago decoupled, these two disciplines are reunited to create more effective campaigns, ensuring successful roll-outs across multiple channels that support the brand. With the addition of strategy, channel-agnostic programs can be designed that travel well across different media platforms.
By combining the "right" people and various methodologies used by traditional and interactive agencies into one model, the campaign executions will now be able to surround the consumer during every life stage in the purchase cycle, beginning with awareness and ending with retention and evangelism. This is done by uniting outbound, campaign-based marketing, based on the best practices from direct marketing, with bidirectional, user-experience-based marketing derived from interactive.
There are two other critical components that are added to the mix for the new agency model. First, with advances in technology, a more efficient production model has emerged that is based on a digital format. If the concepts are originated digitally, whether for commercials, outdoor signage, Web sites, print campaigns or direct marketing, the result is that the assets can be re-used and repurposed for other aspects of the campaign. Through the creation of a digital archive, the same images can be shared among other agencies. The ultimate outcome is that there is consistent branding, lower costs for clients and a library of assets for future use.
The second component is accountability. What makes this unique is that programs can now be targeted and tracked and the results leveraged through the use of data analysis to create smarter targeting along with more relevant messaging. Through the use of interactive tools, dialogues can now be created between customers and the brands, instead of clients just talking at their customers. This is a tremendous leap forward.
It is the emergence of these dialogues and the potential to make them more robust over time that offers the most alluring opportunities. Herein lies the vision of the future. Due to technology advances, work can now be created that is experiential, with 3-D virtual product demonstrations, entertainment-based multiplayer games that engage customers and personalization tools that allow for unique customized designs. These new tools, coupled with pervasive capabilities, create new venues for streaming messages to consumers. Tack on the rise of peer-to-peer networks and the role of viral marketing, and there becomes a plethora of distribution points. These communities present ways to reach new audiences and open the door to creating a more direct conversation with the most elusive consumers that brands are desperately trying to reach.
In the end, we all want to understand our customers better by gaining insight into how they make pivotal decisions and providing them with the information they are looking for close to the time they need it most. Building these relationships is taking a new turn. What I'm looking forward to doing this year is creating the first fully integrated new agency model designed specifically around emerging technology that can work collaboratively with general agencies above and below the line. It is a new model for communications in the Information Age. What could be more exciting than creating innovative experiences and dialogues with your clients and their customers that help them make the transition into this new era?