Having worked in advertising and marketing for as long as I have, it’s intriguing to watch history repeat itself in this space. Like fashion trends, things seem to circle around and come back… but always with a bit of a twist.
While there’s much to get excited about with digital technologies and open marketplaces… in my view, there are some important things being lost – things that, I believe, will become increasingly important as time marches on.
Let’s wind the clock back a bit. Typically, creative marketing was resolved through a choreographed interplay between ‘clients’ and ‘agencies’. There’d be a ‘brief’, along with some discussion – then each party would retreat to their silos… before reconvening at some stage for the inevitable presentation – at which point both parties tried to figure out if they’d pushed the bar any further forward – or not! If ‘NOT’… then the process was repeated until there was an approved result… or funding ran out… or media deadlines loomed.
Often this involved long time-lines, with large teams AND comparatively large budgets. Or smaller ‘heavy-hitter’ teams with even larger budgets for a ‘premium’ service.
And there was some good in this. Strategic creativity was valued… clients understood that it took deeper thinking to differentiate their business in the marketplace – to help customers understand or care about what makes their product or company different. And to inject the brand with a distinct identity – then execute with a consistency that gave it roots and resonance.
How things have changed: Marketing Managers often now work with smaller teams, tasked with delivering much more… with less time… in more complex markets… with less funding. Figuratively, the Mercedes is now often a Smart Car… or an electric bike!
And, business owners more often demand a $3 return for every $1 spent – to the exclusion of any other form of ‘value’.
As a result, there’s a heavy shift towards purely metrics-oriented marketing… which is in turn heavily embedded in technologies and automation. The result – a pumping out of ‘content’ that’s heavy on ‘selling’ and light on being ‘engaging’.
So, what’s gone wrong? Or perhaps, what’s not going as well as it could be?
Well, for a start the agency voice carries far less influence in the client space. And many business managers have made themselves the strategic AND creative lead… and choose to deal direct with art-workers, videographers and the like. While this can work for some tasks… when it becomes the default, standards fall and material no longer engages audiences. The unseen enemy here, is that ultimately when the brand starts to lose its mojo, it’ll take truck loads of funding to restore it and turn things around.
The missing element is often strategic creativity around the brand – that was the hallmark of the old world. Without an end-to-end vision, based on creative innovation, aligned with business objectives… marketing becomes a world of sporadic and fragmented efforts splattered across an array of platforms.
While some say that things are moving too fast in the marketplace for steadfast strategies … we see more and more brands becoming increasingly bland and indistinct. And it’s often the small to mid-sized businesses that suffer the most.
Looking forward: I’d argue that businesses can have the best of both worlds, but some essential ‘human’ ingredients are needed.
Agency people need to realise that their only mandate to work on a given brand, is the one their clients give them… and so respect the opportunity. And business owners and marketers need to re-discover the value of strategic creativity. With all due respect, it’s NOT something that can be automated… pulled out of a spreadsheet… mocked up in PowerPoint… or done by a salesman and a freelance Mac-Op – even a good one!
To sum up then… I encourage business owners and marketers to fully embrace digital technologies… to carve out a clear and engaging presence in the marketplace through holistic strategies. But to also invest in some genuine ‘craft’ on the creative side.
It’s a mix of old and new worlds, but it works. I know because I’ve seen it work – and have made it work.
What it needs from all parties, is a bit healthy mutual respect, a sprinkling of common-sense and a dash of humility in the mix.