As we kick off the new year, it's time to look ahead and make some New Year's resolutions beyond the typical "get fitter" or "eat healthier." As marketers doing marketing in a world that is being drastically changed by digital every day, we should also resolve to do marketing more effectively and efficiently. To do this, we need actions from all parties involved - agencies, clients/brands, and even the end customers.
Three Things Agencies Should Do Better
Focus more on the drivers of the clients' businesses rather than the creativity of the ads. Most agencies spring from creative roots where the cleverness or catchiness of the ad was enough to generate awareness for clients. In the new digital world where customers are savvy and empowered with information and feedback mechanisms from peers, just being clever is not enough anymore. Agencies need to truly understand what drives their clients' businesses and what motivates their clients' customers to action and create marketing that most effectively impacts these drivers - sometimes at the expense of being too clever, risqué, or "out there." Being truly useful could be far more impactful.
Be more accountable and break things into bite-sized projects. Agencies used to rely on large agencies of record (AOR) contracts in order to maintain the large overhead of offices, personnel, and equipment. But such large "retainer-like" arrangements also breed waste, laziness, and fuzzy math when it comes to accountability and ROI. Agencies would be better served if they themselves proactively drove clients into project-like arrangements, rather than being dragged there by their clients. Smaller projects, with well-defined beginnings and ends, as well as clear deliverables and metrics of success, are simply a smarter way of doing business - i.e., agencies won't be "scapegoated" for things that had nothing to do with specific scopes they worked on but that could have been lumped under some large umbrella agreement where no one knows who to track down for suboptimal results.
Collaborate with clients more. Agencies used to be asked to "do everything," from the market and customer research to the creative ideation to the production of the ads. Now agencies are being asked to do more specialized things - the things they are particularly good at or have the most experience in. However, clients are also getting far more savvy, especially in new digital disciplines like social media, and are most deeply knowledgeable about their own businesses and industries. In the formulation of strategy and then the mapping of tactics to such strategy, agencies should be more collaborative with clients - where each brings their unique knowledge or experience.
Three Things Clients Should Do Better
Don't just buy the lowest cost; you will truly get what you pay for. Low cost is OK but do you really want to entrust your social media - your online voice - to an unpaid 22-year-old intern straight out of college, just because she uses a mobile phone and Facebook "likes" all day? Low cost works well for mature products with well-defined features lists, but probably not so well for marketing disciplines where quality, experience, and business return should be more important. Instead of just siccing your procurement folks on agencies and vendors to squeeze down costs, clients should consider using smaller digital projects to do quick test-and-learn - getting immediate feedback on what works and what doesn't using digital metrics. This iterative approach will cut down on large time and dollar commitments, which ultimately turn out to be major fails. And it wouldn't hurt either if clients scheduled in more time to actually learn about digital disciplines, their best practices and benchmarks, and what things should cost.
Break down departmental silos and eliminate known, inefficient processes. Most clients are already acutely aware that "digital" doesn't fit neatly into just one department - marketing, PR, tech, IT, etc. But because most traditional corporations are still set up with these departmental silos, the processes to get anything "digital" done are usually slower than fruit flies trapped in fossilized amber. Because these processes and approvals take so long and involve so many different parties, it inevitably drags out the timeframe of any project well beyond when it was supposed to end. This makes it terribly difficult for agencies - or any vendor - to survive while serving the client. They cannot simply absorb the time and cost overruns. So if clients could break down the departmental silos that make digital processes untenable, that would go a long way in making client-agency relations more efficient and productive.
In-source strategy, and be metrics vigilantes. Strategy cannot be outsourced, even though practically every brand and client has attempted to do so. Strategy requires the detailed understanding of the industry, the business, the products, and the customers. Few agencies have sufficient or better knowledge in all of these areas than the brand or business leader on the client side - nor should they. Clients should be responsible for strategy, but collaborate deeply with their agencies in the selection and execution of marketing tactics that best map to the strategy. Agencies are supposed to have the deepest knowledge of each marketing discipline and the best practices for execution. And the collaboration will enable clients and agencies to each do what they know best. Clients should also be maniacally focused on whether the data backs up their strategies; if not, change and optimize it as quickly as possible.
Three Things End Users Can Do Better
Speak up in public. Customers can and should do their part by "speaking up" in public venues like social networks, review sites, on Amazon.com, etc. The age-old 1-9-90 rule of social media, where 1 percent create content, 9 percent comment, and 90 percent just consume with no further action should be more balanced. Consumers now have more ways than ever to communicate with brands, provide feedback, and truly exercise the power they have been given via "digital." Most brands now have some form of social listening up and running. And if more consumers would provide feedback directly, they would have more and better data to work with than what they historically got from small-sample "focus groups" and surveys. And the feedback doesn't have to be limited to how the current product doesn't meet expectations; consumers can be the ones who help drive innovation of the products themselves - if only their collective voices were heard (and utilized) by brands and used beyond just their marketing departments.
Curate and share what's best, but only with those who'd care. As the sheer amount of information continues to grow and the amount of noise from ads vying for consumers' attention, most consumers simply resort to tuning out everything until such time they want or need something. But even then, sometimes even search is not enough - anyone notice that lately it takes more time and effort to pick through search results to find what you're looking for? (See "Why Even Search is Not Enough.") Even if search returns the five four-star French restaurants in Midtown New York City, the consumer may still need someone to recommend which of the five to actually go to. So increasingly, consumers themselves will not only be the curators of information but the ones who share the right information with the right person at the right time. This kind of relevance and timeliness is still unmatchable by any algorithm - and furthermore, if the bit of info is coming from a friend, the recipient is more likely to actually use it.
Stand up for your personal information and rights. Advertisers who still live in the "old mentality" of targeting consumers with ad messages need more, and more, and more personal information, supposedly to do better targeting. But at what point is too much personal information taken and used, sometimes without the consent or even the knowledge of the end user? Users should pay more attention to what is being collected and how their personal data is being used - even if it isn't considered "personally identifiable" by traditional definitions. And if it's not clear, consumers should ask and insist on getting detailed clarifications of how, when, and where their information is being used, and who it is being sold to or used by. Then and only then will advertisers be forced to adopt more consumer-friendly ways of marketing that may turn out to also be truly useful.
So, as we kick off what should be another great year of amazing new opportunities in digital marketing, let's all resolve to do marketing in ways that are better for all parties involved - agencies, clients, and end consumers.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is the senior digital strategy advisor to CMOs, marketing executives, and global brands. Dr. Fou has over 15 years of Internet strategy consulting experience and is an expert in social media marketing strategy, data/analytics, and consumer insights, with specific knowledge in the consumer packaged goods, financial services/credit cards, food/beverage, retail/apparel, and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors.
He is a frequent panelist, moderator, and keynote speaker at industry conferences. Dr. Fou is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies and at Rutgers University at the Center for Management Development, where he teaches executive courses on digital strategy and integrated marketing.
Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT at the age of 23. He started his career with McKinsey & Company and previously served as SVP, digital strategy lead, McCann/MRM Worldwide and group chief digital officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG). He writes a blog "Rants, Raves about Digital Marketing" and can be found on Twitter at @acfou.