Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 19, 201112:49 PM

The Drug Of "Next"

The ability to focus is an ability laden with complexity.

I'm staring at my iPhone 3GS and wondering why I didn't bite the bullet and get an iPhone 4. Because I didn't line-up for an iPhone 4 and waited so long, it seems silly to get one now. What's the point? I'm sure the iPhone 5 is just around the corner, right? To my left is my iPad. I should probably get an iPad 2 at this point as well. Right?

Do you see what's going on here?

While it's not as destructive as a heroine addiction (and not nearly as important in terms of something that needs treatment), Moore's Law seems to be picking up pace and our ability to focus on what's currently in-market (and how it's working) is being clouded and confused by our constant pursuit of what's coming next. It's becoming a huge issue for Marketers. For those who lead the brand and for the agencies that lead them, the great marketing divide between the tried and true traditional marketing tactics is very much clouded by the new and emerging channels. It wasn't that long ago when Marketers truly believed that the Internet and online advertising would be/could be a fad. Some might still argue that it's still unproven when compared to traditional mass media advertising.

Nearly twenty years into the Internet and it's still new media?

The struggle is very real. Make no mistake about it. Last week, I attended the Mirren New Business conference in New York City. It's a very niche event where marketing agency owners converge for three days to talk about new business development. What it takes to win new business - from credentials and presentation skills to dealing with procurement and adding new services into your agency model. As you can imagine, the real discussion and interest was about what's coming next. What can an agency do be viable and profitable in the coming years? What's the next "iPhone" of the advertising agency model?

Everyone was tapping the vein.

The three big revelations about the what's next for advertising agencies were around:

  • Digital innovation - the ability for agencies to not only offer digital marketing services but being able to deliver them with award-winning results. And, while the conversation is no longer about websites and more about Facebook and iPhone apps, it's still the same conversation about relevance and context.
  • Pricing models - how can these services-based industries move from an hourly rate to one that truly encompasses the actual value that this marketing work brings to the overall economic value of the companies that they serve?
  • Product development - no longer beholden to selling big ideas to a brand, now agencies are both developing their own products to put into market or they're creating venture capital funds to both invest in new product development or newer companies developing unique advertising solutions.

So, how's that working out for you?

With some of the hottest advertising agencies and some of the most talked about up n' comers in the room, the answers were quite startling (and yet, not surprising at all): there are still no new models that work. Agencies are - for the most part - struggling with their digital marketing success when compared to the traditional results they were delivering when this whole Internet thing didn't disrupt the model of people passively sitting by and letting TV, radio and print wash over them. They're struggling with finding a groove where their digital marketing work and results can be compared to the excitement that a Superbowl ad delivers. While some agencies are adding in additional fee structures based on sales results (or other metrics), the majority of marketing agencies are still working by headcount and the hours-per-day that their employees are working. Lastly, there has been no proven example of a marketing agency that has developed a product with tremendous success in the market.

We should not stop trying.

While some may read this and shake their heads, the message should not be taken as all doom and gloom. We're an industry that is trying. We're willing to look at all of of our sacred cows and question them. This is a good, moral and right way of being progressive in business. We have the most creative, irreverent and thoughtful people working on these problems, but true success in the real world often looks very little like our thoughts or pontifications. We also need to be very cautious of spending too much time on the drug of "next." The answer will, inevitably, be simpler than anyone of us could have ever imagined. We're quick to say that Quora is the next big thing. We said this about Cuil too (remember when Cuil was the Google killer?). We're sometimes right... but we're often wrong.

The answer?

  • Have a passion for the present.
  • Solves real world business problems.
  • Add real economic value to the brands you serve.
  • Create platforms that truly allow people (brands and their consumers) to come together.
  • Be interested in innovation (allow for a small percentage of the overall brand budget to tinker with new channels and tactics).
  • Recognize what success looks like.
  • Use the analytics available to you to truly drive new directions and opportunities.
  • Let people from all angles of the agency think and create new ideas.
  • Technology must be a critical part of the process (along with the creative and client services department).

This may not be as fun as chasing the dragon, but being a "Presentist" in a world of this much opportunity, diversity and room for change seems much more future-focused than trying to be a pure "Futurist."

By Mitch Joel