From smartphones to augmented reality, there is no shortage of emerging platforms out there screaming for your attention. The trouble is, the emergence of each new bright shiny object makes it harder for agencies to convince their clients to experiment on a particular platform.
For one thing, budgets may not increase as fast as new platforms become available for advertising opportunities, which means that in some cases the money simply won't be there after all other advertising needs are met, no matter how willing the client is to push the envelope. That's a challenging dilemma, but it's likely one that will have a budgetary solution.
The more difficult situation -- for the agency -- is when the client can't, or won't, understand the importance of getting in on the ground floor of a new platform.
Think back to ancient times for a moment. Really ancient. You know, like when you saw your first Super Bowl ad for a dotcom. Remember when your mother asked, "What does dotcom mean?" Remember when people said the internet would never make it, and that brands that advertised on the web were just throwing good money down the drain? Yeah, those people were wrong. But they also represented the conventional wisdom of the day, and if you were working at an agency back then, trying to convince a client to embrace the web, you were fighting a pretty hard fight.
These days, the challenge is still there, except it's broken into smaller channels. Mobile has been the longest running next killer app. In fact, it's been the next killer app for so long that people can't help but predict that next year will be the year for mobile without smiling a little. But the truth is, mobile has come a long way -- it just didn't do it during the last five years when pundits, myself included, said it would. And the brands that were able to make the most of the iPhone when it came out on the market were the ones that had experimented with mobile when it was a punchline at industry cocktail parties.
Twitter was everywhere a year ago. But in the months before Twitter's big breakout, it was nothing but a wonky platform for the uber-geeky. At least that's how many brands and agencies viewed Twitter, and anyone who was trying to sell the platform as a branded communication tool was, well, out there.
But then Twitter got hot and everyone got religion. Fast. Of course, at that point, every brand jumped on Twitter hard, and in the process a lot of those marketing efforts flopped, making the brands appear, well, out of touch. And this part should come as no surprise -- the brands that made the most of Twitter were the ones that made learning about it a priority early on.
The trouble is, for every Twitter there were probably a dozen other platforms and ideas that emerged around the same time that ultimately went nowhere. And to compound matters, the next year likely saw a dozen more cutting-edge ideas.
Semantic search anyone?
How about virtual worlds?
Can I interest you in a little augmented reality?
But the onslaught of new ideas doesn't mean the client or its agency can afford to ignore the next-generation of digital platforms. In fact, ignoring the future is a certain recipe for disaster, and new ideas need to be developed, explored, embraced (if they are sound), and discarded (if they are flops). But if you're in the business of selling those ideas, convincing your client that it's worth experimenting can be a daunting task, which is why we reached out to some leading ad agency folks to pick their brains on how to best talk to a client about something new.
Educate, educate, educate
If it feels like new ideas are coming out of nowhere, you're probably not doing your homework, according to Dimitry Ioffe, CEO and co-founder of The Visionaire Group, who insists that educating clients is a critical factor in getting them to green light campaigns on experimental platforms.
"We work very closely with our clients to keep them abreast of cutting-edge and experimental technologies we think might help their upcoming campaigns soar," Ioffe says.
But the emphasis is on might, because Ioffe believes that keeping clients in the loop on what's coming down the road is critical for building trust. And with trust, Ioffe believes, comes a willingness to partner with an agency on a campaign that leverages an exciting -- but yet unproven -- technology.
Know your client's agenda
Imagine that you've been tracking augmented reality for the last six months. You love this platform. It takes advertising to the next level, and you've got a million super-cool ideas for one of your brand clients that you know it just has to have. Do you call the brand up and make it all about augmented reality? No, says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction.
It may sound obvious, but a lot of agencies think only of the idea and ignore the client's current agenda.
"It starts with knowing your client's agenda and understanding how the idea you're proposing supports it," Kleinberg says. "Too often, the only thing a 'bleeding edge' idea might support is an agency's portfolio. Be candid about why using an emerging platform is a good idea. There may be an opportunity to build credibility and deepen relationships with a core customer segment. If something is red hot, there may be opportunities to amplify the reach of your marketing with integrated PR."
According to Kleinberg, his agency has managed to leverage a lot of the heat currently surrounding augmented reality by making that platform part of the larger pitch, which in turn helps the agency focus on the client's agenda rather than the latest killer app.
Be the wingman
Ad agencies may do the work, but the client gets the credit. That's just a rule of the business, and it's a critical lesson to remember when you're working with a client on a new platform. After all, if it works, the client will be the hero and you'll keep servicing its business. But if flops, the client's head will be on the chopping block, and you'll be one client down on your roster.
So when you're approaching a client about a new idea, it pays to think collaboratively and do your homework, says Sam Bergen, associate creative director for digital innovation at Ogilvy & Mather.
"[Selling] experimental ideas has been less about convincing and more about collaborating with clients," Bergen explains. "Every client wants to be a rock star, you just need to give them the tools to feel safe doing it. And a lot of that feeling of security comes down to research. If you can support your thinking, and show them why it makes sense, they are more likely to trust you. And the more you treat them like a partner, and less like a client, the more they will want to work with you."
First things first
You can't underestimate the value of being the first mover, says Adam Broitman, partner and ringleader at Circ.us.
"Convincing clients of the efficacy of new technology is an art -- an art that clients are nine times out of 10 happy that their agencies possess," Broitman says. "One of the things I often point out to clients is the first mover advantage that brands like Amazon had when search marketing was still new, or Dell's ability to make sense of social media due to the fact that they were early experimenters."
But according to Broitman, pushing to be first also means talking about something that may be very difficult to measure -- long-term ROI -- and doing that means agencies need to explain, as best they can, how today's tactical experiment could be a big part of the brand's strategic future.
"Sure, quick payoffs are nice, but brands that have been able to capture the hearts of millions did not do so through direct response, they did it through innovation and participation (with their consumers)," Broitman says. "These tenets are more important now than they ever were before."
First mover, part 2
There's another often overlooked advantage to going first, according Frank O'Brien, founder of Conversation LLC.
If you're the first brand to try something new, there's a high likelihood that the press will write about you. And that's free media.
"First mover's advantage in the technical space can yield huge press returns, in addition to driving the intended goal," O'Brien says. "Our strategy in communicating this to clients has been to break that return down to a traditional reporting structure -- i.e., CPM -- which is fairly easy to relay and understand. At that point, the added PR value becomes a bonus, and sign-off on a 'test' becomes fairly easy to receive."
If you build it, they will buy it
Selling a concept is hard. Selling a prototype, well, that's still hard. But it's a lot easier than selling the concept. So it pays to approach your client with more than a snazzy sales pitch and deck.
According to Conor Brady, Organic's chief creative officer, digital agencies that need to sell big experimental ideas to clients need to think more about how they present the ideas to them.
"[We] believe in delivering prototypes first to sell the big ideas and demonstrate the value that they will eventually bring to the client," he says. "By presenting a detailed prototype and addressing as many questions and issues up front as part of that initial discussion, [we have] been able to convince clients to take risks that they normally would have eschewed."
According to Brady, it's a strategy that most recently worked with Bank of America, which bought the agency's NFL trivia game that combined multiple emerging platforms such as mobile, digital-out-of-home, and, of course, gaming.
"[We] brought in a prototype that showed how it would work, but [we] also focused on setting expectations, value derived from learning, and defining measurement from the outset," Brady explains. "For related properties [we] showed them a detailed prototype of what their site would look like and how it would work."
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
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