I have almost no idea what I do for a living anymore.
I have a job (and a really good one at that) and I'm always busy. I joke around with my kids that my job is to sit in front of a computer all day, pressing buttons (the trick, really, is to not only know which buttons to press, but in what order to press them!). I suppose that is reasonably accurate and it is what the space aliens observing our planet see from their orbiting battle station. But the underlying question is what is the specific thing I'm trying to achieve by pressing those buttons?
Not so many years ago, it was crystal clear: I was crafting strategies that would get people to want to buy products. There were lots of ways to do that, but that was pretty much the only goal. That was what me (and the agency) were measured against.
Today, that isn't so simple. In fact, I'm writing this from my desk right now and before me are some documents related to the projects that I'm currently working on. Here is a sample of what I'm doing:
Generally speaking, I like to think of what I do as advertising. It is a time-honored craft that has remained consistent at its core, if not in its practices. I find some comfort in thinking that what I do is advertising, but as I look at the stuff I need to work on, it is clear that we are in a totally different world where the line between the marketing and the product is massively blurred and the channels of communication have both fragmented as well as converged.
What a wonderful mess.
Virgin Airlines Blends, Well, Everything
A great example of this blend of marketing, advertising, and customer service came through yesterday, courtesy of Virgin Airlines. The airline is about to launch a remarkable new service that blends technology and the flying experience. Leveraging Salesforce's Chatter platform, Virgin will make the flying experience more customizable and more social. Maybe the biggest thing it realized is that technology enables the company to link a lot of its employees with its customers.
Watch the video, but the key line for me is when the dude in a cool suit with longish hair (he does work for Richard Branson after all) says, "This linear communication is no longer valid." That, ultimately, is what this is all about.
I know I set the Wayback Machine too often in this column, but indulge me once more. In the past, agencies waited patiently for a product to be finished before they launched into doing their work of talking about the product. People tend to believe that the shift in media has led us to a shift in the way we market. People had to choose to go to a website or click on a banner (as opposed to being interrupted by a commercial), so that meant we had to provide real value inside the communication.
That thinking is mistaken. Or rather, it is only looking at the surface issue. Yes, channels have changed. But more importantly, business has changed in ways that make individual sales far less important than building long-term relationships. Essentially, since product development cycles are so fast and the number of options is so large, brands need to focus on making many sales and building a reputation over the long term with a consumer, if they are going to be successful. In some particular cases, like cellphones and other personal electronics, that first sale you make to a consumer actually loses the brand money.
That is why I see the moves that Virgin is making as being so powerful and why it makes sense to me, in some odd way, that I have all these different sorts of projects in front of me. We have to stop the linear approach to communications and that means that we have to think completely about all the ways that consumers are coming into contact with the brand.
The big lesson for me, here, is this: no matter what you are doing for a brand, you have to put it into a larger framework that understands and incorporates the myriad channels and the non-linear way people engage with brands. It doesn't matter what you are doing. You may be hired to write the third paragraph of a five-paragraph email. Think about that task inside this larger framework.
Otherwise, we are never going to catch up to consumers who have already deeply integrated their media channels and habits. That is, ultimately, the way that I have addressed these odd assortment of tasks that are scattered about my desk. I think about each one as part of a larger framework that is focused back on that core task: convincing people to buy products.
That, at least, makes my day go a little easier. So I can get back to what really matters: watching the @SFGiants march toward another World Series win.
Confused Worker image on home page via Shutterstock.
This column has been updated from a previous version.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014