Fall '13 Agency

December 8-11, 2013 | Scottsdale, AZ

What your agency must do to remain relevant


Agencies that fail to adapt will fail to survive. To maintain relevance in the future, consider this guide to meeting the needs of clients and consumers in tomorrow's complicated world.

In order to survive, agencies must remain relevant. In the agency world, relevance is achieved through constant evolution. As new technology changes communication behavior, agencies must adapt the content and delivery of the marketing message. As new media companies arise, agencies must look externally to maintain a competitive edge by forming unique partnerships. Those that fail to embrace change won't attract consumer attention, and getting noticed is the fundamental objective of advertising.

But given the sudden democratization of the advertising business and the constant influx of new technologies and service providers, how exactly does an agency remain relevant? During his keynote presentation at the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., Rishad Tobaccowala, the chairman of DigitasLBi and Razorfish and the chief strategy and innovation officer at VivaKi, addressed this question. He discussed some very important industry trends, including the notion of commerce+, data-driven marketing, and the future of storytelling. In addition, Tobaccowala stressed the importance of altering the marketing mindset to meet the client and consumer demands of tomorrow.

According to Tobaccowala, the only two things that matter are "marketers and consumers...the rest of it is basically noise." If marketers forget this notion, they will find themselves in serious trouble. He began his presentation by discussing the current trends agencies need to understand. The first trend is that clients and consumers have very high expectations. As Tobaccowala explained, "Most people would like to have a Four Seasons experience at a Motel 6 price." The second major trend is the connected experience. According to Tobaccowala, "Anything that isn't connected is useless." The third development, which Tobaccowala considers an opportunity as well as a threat, is that everyone is essentially marketing to themselves, as connectivity increases. Thus, the question marketers must ask is, "Are we marketing or helping to facilitate self-marketing?"

After covering these important industry shifts, Tobaccowala moved on to address the client. The client should thoroughly understand that, in this connected world, what matters most is "the quality of the product and service." If you do not have a quality product in our world of oversharing, you will struggle to survive. In addition, because everything is connected, the client must understand that everything is marketing. Furthermore, as Tobaccowala explained, "We live in a world where every brand has to be API friendly." Thus, they must be wherever consumers are. And lastly, clients have realized that marketing is extremely difficult, and thus the extremely complex becomes oversimplified. As a result, three major issues arise. According to Tobaccowala, when clients don't know what is going on, they become polygamous with their partners. In addition, clients decide to start doing more marketing in-house, believing that external companies lack proficiency. Lastly, clients will cut everyone's fees so they can invest in the future. So, as Tobaccowala explained, some clients are turning away from agencies. And, to put icing on this indigestible cake, clients are beginning to lose trust in agencies.

However, this is only one contemporary mindset Tobaccowala detailed. He turned the presentation around by focusing on client shortcomings and the advertising industry's need for agencies. According to Tobaccowala, "Clients are falling further, and further, and further behind their customers...They have made the massive mistake of benchmarking against their competition." It is up to the marketer to make brands aware of this transgression. Additionally, if advertising is such a doomed business, as Tobaccowala explained, why is every company in the world trying to get in on the act? Tobaccowala believes that marketing is a massive growth industry, and marketers must remind everyone of this notion. In addition, marketers are "like cockroaches" that continuously reinvent themselves.

So, in thinking about marketing as a growth industry, advertisers need to focus on three key trends. According to Tobaccowala, one is commerce+: the inability to differentiate between advertising, media, and commerce, because all will merge into one. The second trend is data-driven marketing, but this data must be filtered down to form unique insights. The third and most important trend is next-generation storytelling. As Tobaccowala explains, "Brands are basically stories."

Moving forward, Tobaccowala believes that marketers have to change their mindset. As he explained, "If you think you are in a shrinking industry, get the hell out of there...We have to think positively. We have to stop believing that this is 'The Hunger Games.'" Marketers also have to adjust their mindset by understanding that "where and when is just as, if not more, important than who." The ability to market to someone within a particular place is extremely powerful. Additionally, Tobaccowala touched on the topic of programmatic. Although he believes in its importance, he also believes "programmatic at its heart is about plumbing" rather than poetry. "We are fixating so much on the plumbing that we have forgotten about the poetry."

Tobaccowala concluded his presentation with some personal advice. He believes that, "every organization is really about people...the big challenge for all of us is doubt. The challenge that is facing our industry is doubt." Marketers must acknowledge this doubt and remain relevant. The more relevant you remain, the less threatened you are by shifts in the industry. In order to remain relevant, marketers must recognize that we are moving into a world where there will be "video across glass," and they should get familiar with new technology in their lives. In addition, agencies must recognize that reputation matters. According to Tobaccowala, "We have to build a brand for ourselves as agencies." To do this, he advises that agencies describe their niche, voice, and story in three words. And lastly, he believes agencies need to have a "soft-elbow orientation." As Tobaccowala explained, agencies need to be relevant, likeable, and trusted. According to Tobaccowala, nothing moves as fast in this industry as trust.

Kyle Montero is associate editor of iMedia Connection.

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