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Overcoming the advertising industry's identity crisis

Overcoming the advertising industry's identity crisis Andy Frawley

In today's fast-moving, consumer-centric world, brands are battling for market share, blindly following their target audiences across new trends and channels, relying on the influence of their advertising and marketing partners, in an attempt to stay relevant and drive purchases. More often than not, brands succeed in the former, but not the latter. Agencies are part of both the problem and the solution. As an industry, we're perpetually jumping on the latest and greatest, plugging in buzzwords to modernize our offerings, yet not always thinking about how to actually enhance our client's business. Well, the jig is up.

Overcrowded and undifferentiated, our industry is having an identity crisis. We're all promising to deliver exactly the same solution (customer engagement), at exactly the same time (real-time) to exactly the same audience (CMOs). While it was once all that was required of us, it's no longer enough to have a big "strategic" brand idea and extend it across channels and technologies.

I meet with dozens of CMOs each year, and what marketers want is seamless integration from their agency partners. In addition to coming up with the big brand idea and executing across a multitude, and ever-growing list, of channels, they want us to deliver transformative business outcomes. Notably, these outcomes will vary by brand based on their specific business needs, goals, challenges, and opportunities, but the truth is, our clients want, and have begun to expect, more from us. For proof, look at Procter & Gamble's 2015 consolidation of agency partners to drive "effective communications" or the details from any big media reviews over the last year. Brands are truly challenging agency partners to be cost-effective and bring on new business models.

So if the modern day marketer is required to drive business activities, not just tell stories, what's next for the agencies who serve them?

Instead of focusing on how we got here, it's time to think about where we need to head and why it's important we fundamentally change as an industry. Our future requires a new breed of advisors that can transform business operations and offer truly personalized consumer interactions at exceptional scale.

Following are five areas that agencies of the future need to focus on to come out on top, securing the trust of brands and the wallets of consumers.

Get enterprise involvement
How we are identified by our clients is immensely important. Therefore, agencies need to position themselves as trusted strategic partners, not marketing vendors. To drive this shift, conversations must extend beyond the CMO, to the entire C-suite, to ensure technologies and strategies are integrated throughout every part of the client's organization for complete collaboration. When a client understands the impact this has on their business, the sell is easy. Just look at major airline brands, who have changed their organizational structure so the focus is on the consumer across every department -- not just marketing, but also customer service and experience design.

Operate as a solutions integrator
Focus should be placed on bringing together the best outside technologies while swiftly and seamlessly integrating internal talent and services for the final solution. By constantly analyzing the marketing roadmap, frequently iterating and attempting to minimize risk at all times, agencies will become invaluable to clients. Efficiency and agility here will be key to do this successfully.

Stop with the hyperbole
Enough with the promise of "end-to-end" "disruptive" "human-centered" "cross-platform" "storytelling" solutions to reach consumers "24/7/365." As an industry, agencies need to be less focused on the talk track and more focused on what we're actually delivering and why marketers should care. It's time we walk the walk.

Know the consumer
Marketing relies on knowing consumers, understanding how to engage with them and providing relevant personalized content, for a consistent experience at every touch point. Data -- and how effectively it is put to work for a brand -- is already important to clients, but it will become the most vital tool over the next decade. We are at a point in time where all media is becoming addressable and trackable, and data is the silver bullet.

Hire non-traditional agency talent
Agencies of the future must be more diverse, shaped by talent with a range of backgrounds and skillsets. This is crucial for survival, particularly as agencies will need to engage with the entire client C-suite, not just the CMO. Creatives will need to be well versed in data, and technologists must have an appreciation for design, ensuring connected messaging and seamless integration across art and science.

The obstacles to an "agency of the future" model are merely philosophical. A partner who can help with strategic brand development, lead execution, spearhead strong creative and tie together each piece of the marketing puzzle with complete connectivity and seamless integration is our industry's future.

Andy Frawley is Chief Executive Officer of Epsilon, a global leader in creating connections between people and brands. He joined Epsilon (a division of Alliance Data) in 2009 to lead digital marketing and became President in 2012. In early 2015, he...

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