Why I’m betting my money on small creative agencies to thrive in this digital age?

I recently outsourced my brain to a creative agency as the other parts of my body were busy rebuilding a house. It was an ad-hoc request to create a pitch for a well-known banking brand. Whether I could come up with a creative communications campaign based on a humdrum client briefing. Turned out I could. Turned out this is what a creative director does: A strategic and creative answer to a dull briefing. If you want to see the pitch slide deck, drop me a line.

This whole project got me thinking tough. On the role and type of agencies we have today. And which ones we will have tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow. Contrary to current popular believe, I’m going all-in for the creative agencies. I’m pleased to detail my reasoning further below.

In 2017: Digital is basic by now.

I’m amazed that digital marketing is still a thing. It’s 2017. Digital is like electricity, it’s just basic. Everybody does it. Maybe it’s time to drop the term digital as such.

Back in 2006 when I started, digital (online) marketing was a true differentiator. Today, it’s not. It even might be the hardest way to catch the consumer’s increasingly selective (digital) attention.

Today, there is also the growing understanding that overall customer experience is the key differentiator that can make or break brand success. Back-to-basics, isn’t it?

Sure marketers need to drive tangible, data-driven results – something consultancy firms are traditionally good at. However agencies and/or in-house marketing teams have (or should have) those skills as well today.

But, the big, creative ideas are more necessary than ever for brands in search of the ultimate experience. Even, or should I say especially, in a digital space and age.

The big, creative ideas, concepts and stories are the key asset of a creative (ad) agency. And those things aren’t time-specific. Stories and creativity are for eternity.

In eternity: creativity & stories are channel-agnostic.

The core relevant ideas/concepts/creativity are just as relevant for any channel. That’s basically the adagio we’ve known for ages – integrated communications. Back-to-basics. Again.

We can finally make that happen. Over numerous channels. A unified, seamless experience. Some channels are fully traceable today, others will be soon. And that’s exactly where data comes in. But be aware, there isn’t gonna be a lot of (big) data when there’s no big story that resonates and draws the attention of many.

Data is important and it is at client’s side.

No single creative ad ever came out of the blue. It was always driven by insights. By understanding. By empathy with the “target audience” the message was meant for.

In today’s digital age, there’s of course the digital data trace of human behavior that lead to great insights and understanding. It’s a completely new game due to data science. But then again, doing something relevant based on these insights requires creativity.

What’s even more, the data is owned by the agency’s client. One can imagine that privacy may be of importance so it seems natural that agencies will also need to service at client’s side. Let’s say like martech companies do today. Marketing tech companies help marketers manage data, loyalty and CRM programs.

Next to this data thing, there’s another trend that “design” or “creativity” evolve into key hires at the client side. And we agree, those things really give a competitive advantage. But I believe it will not replace the creative agency – rather act as a bridge.

Where data meets creativity, innovation spurs.

We talked above about data and creativity. I firmly believe this is exactly where innovation happens. At the intersection of data and innovation.

And oh yes, innovation is the thing of a creative agency. No longer is advertising necessarily the best manifestation of creativity. Marketers are now looking towards innovation and effectiveness in terms of brand-experience. For the agencies, this is gold.

Agencies have a perfect position to foster innovation based on dull client requests. Due to creativity within a specific context (data). So agencies should not only conceive a new label on a package, they should conceive an innovative package for instance.

The great rebundling of “expertises” to offer full-fledged customer experiences.

With the above trends in mind, how does a successful marketing communication service provider of the future look like?

A one-stop shop that provides companies with all the support they need to deliver relevant, exciting experiences across all consumer touch points.

Companies need a streamlined, end-to-end solution to push creative thinking to the forefront. It doesn’t make sense to get business strategy advice from one firm and creative input from another—especially if the creative agency doesn’t understand how the company’s business works or how industry trends are impacting its bottom line.

Just as consulting improves the quality of creative work, consulting work benefits from the ingenuity provided by creatives. There’s going to be a blurred line between the folks who create amazing original content and big ideas and the more nerdy specialists that do all that personalization “data” and “tech”. People who understand data and omni-channel ultimately become the most responsible in this respect. 

As clients demand newly bundled support across commerce, digital content and media distribution, agencies transform to meet the challenge, investing in consulting and tech. At the same time non-agency players are getting their way into the marketing services industry. The threat of new competition lures behind the corner too: media owners/publishers & wide range of ‘consultancies’. 

I imagine creative agencies will get smaller. The big idea doesn’t benefit from size. It flourishes in small cultures. What doesn’t get much smaller, beyond the roles that can be automated in time, is the data and analytics business that drives personalization

That’s exactly why I’m betting on small creative agencies to remain the marketing service provider of the future. 

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Why Facebook wins the Social Network Battle. On Flirting, Sex, Porn and Mr Rogers.

Facebook social network

Facebook social network

Earlier this week I came across an interesting study on social media around the world. The presentation is packed with social media data but if you go through the slideshow, you note that the researchers basically conclude the following:

  • There’s one big Network: Facebook.
  • It’s flanked by a few smaller nonetheless successful players: Twitter, LinkedIn.
  • We must keep an eye on smaller, locally succesful players like Vkontakte in Russia and Eastern Europe or Hyves in the Netherlands.
  • In addition to the researchers findings, we want to point out that locally succesful social networks might be thriving these days, but the chances are high that they are to be beaten by Facebook – as happened in the Netherlands with Hyves. The below image shows the decline for Hyves in favor of the Facebook growth.
Facebook bigger than Hyves in the Netherlands.

Facebook bigger than Hyves in the Netherlands.

The research report makes a similar observation: “The Big will get bigger – The small will become smaller”. This doesn’t have to surprise you that much. It’s like with people: the rich get richer while the poor become more poor every day.

Big to be bigger, small to become even smaller.

The value of a social network can be determined by the size of that very network (user base). Now, as the study points out, Facebook is the only one that has an adoption rate higher than 25%. If we think about the mainstream social network battle, this theory suggestst there will be only one mainstream social network: Facebook. I’m so sorry for Google’s tremendous efforts.

Google intelligently trying to give you a hint about it social network Google Plus

Google intelligently trying to give you a hint about it social network Google Plus

Facebook & LinkedIn: why are they ‘big’?

When you’re dealing with the adoption of innovation, one needs to realize that adoption is a human personality trait. Some are early adopters, others are laggards – lacking behind in adoption for every single technological novelty. According to Mr Rogers innovations always diffuse according to this model.

Speaks for itself that this diffusion is boosted when the innovation is actually making life more comfortable, taking away a pain or getting things done faster. Ideally the innovation continues on the path paved by older media so to boost the adoption. Actually, those new media internalize the content of the old medium. This can be seen for instance in radio being “spoken news”; film being “theatrical”; websites being a “digital brochure or businesscard”; etc.

The question is: what pain does Facebook take away? Have we been on this planet for ages with a tremendous pain that is now suddenly being solved through Facebook? How were we able to life before? What pain does LinkedIn take away? How did we do business before?

Facebook and LinkedIn have clear goals

In the case of LinkedIn there’s the obvious advantage of being a functional, B2B platform. And yes, it takes a way some pains related to networking, human resources, etc. It’s a great addition to business.

However, when looking at Facebook, what things did it make easier? I agree, sharing videos, pictures and status updates is very easy to stay in touch with your globally dispersed friends. However, there are other platforms that offer the same function. So why did exactly Facebook win and no other social network allowing to fulfill the same need?

Well, I believe the answer is in the very fact that Facebook was build for the Flirt!

Flirting is the act of demonstrating playfulness, romanticism or sexual overture by one person to another so to subtly indicate an interest in a deeper relationship with that other person. If you have a closer look at the very origin, growth and current usage of Facebook, you might notice that almost everything might come down to facilitating flirts.

The Digital Flirt = Facebook’s Killer App.

Facebook was founded to find and connect with people based on their “face picture”. Facebook made it possible to see who your co-students are, what they are doing without actually engaging but deploy it to set up an offline flirt strategy or charm offensive. Furthermore, the evolution of the platform always favored this aspect. Private messages and IM are perfectly suited for the flirt. Just think about it.

Summarized: Facebook is build to support our natural drive to have sex, to flirt.

Twitter: a flirt challenger?

The report points out that Twitter is a growing challenger. However, it might never reach the popularity like Facebook. Having nothing but 140 chars (minus room for images, links, etc) makes it a lot harder to flirt. But it’s possible though.

But there are bigger opportunities with Twitter. Its difficulty though is that this social network requires the individual to define its own medium goal. Not every individual is able to do that. But for some the twitter goal is about flirting, for others it’s free texting, for others it’s a personal teacher, etc.

Why did I ramble on about that? Well, flirting is a precursor to sex (if you are lucky).
Sex is a rather important social driver.
And sex is closely linked to porn. And porn is important to frame innovations.
And the softie in me believes flirting could be as valid as porn to frame tech-human innovations.
But You should always keep an eye on porn when discussing innovative technology.

iPhone innovative technology diffusion without porn

iPhone innovative technology diffusion without porn

History has proven that porn and sex are often the key social driver behind the diffusion of innovation. Yes, it’s pretty strange that the iPhone was adopted so fast without supporting porn. But then again, the iPhone was adopted through a range of “taking pain away apps” to be easily installed through the app store. In the iPhone case, it’s not about the hardware but more the software ecosystem Apple cleverly set up. As might be clear, it’s not always about porn. But often enough it is.

Mr Rogers & The Adoption of Innovation

When we are talking about new communication technologies we often tend to focus on the technological aspects. It’s true that without the technology at stake, things wouldn’t be possible. But technology by itself doesn’t do a single thing as well.

To frame innovations, one needs to look at the social factors that determine whether a technology shall reach mainstream or not. Next to that, there’s always the economic reality check. Having an idea and a technology is one thing; to turn that into a viable business is a whole different story.

Specialist often point to so-called “Killer Applications” to explain the break-through. Well, in fact a killer application is an application of the technology that has social relevance. In the case of Facebook the social relevance is flirting. In the case of LinkedIn the social relevance is business networking. In the case of the VCR, it was porn.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation

The importance of porn in the VCR battle

The diffusion of the VCR was related to 2 phenomenons, to know TV viewing and Film. Especially the latter is important to understand why VHS tapes won the battle – even if they were in a technological sense a lot less powerful than their competitors at Betamax or V-2000.

  • First application: time-shift in TV watching: new medium takes content of the old. This boost adoption since people are used to the content.
  • Second application: Film. And here’s where porn comes into play. The Film Industry (A-movies, blockbusters) were not very willing to offer their movies through VCR tapes. On the other hand the “secundary” Film Industry (porn) were very willing to spread their videos via the new technology. As a result video rent stores popped up and mainly had videos with porn. Most of those were VHS (65%), then Betamax (25%) and finally V-2000 (10%). So this VHS technology concquerred the market while clearly not being the best technology. Porn won!
  • Flirting wins! That’s people, that’s mankind, that’s a monkey brain.

Who’ll beat Facebook?

In short term: nobody. Most people basically hate change. It seems mankind is born with a love for status quo. So why on earth would they want to change their social network? It has been a big thing already to just get on it. But the opportunities for the digital flirt eventually got everyone on board. Now that we’re all on it, who’s going to swop? Most of us aren’t. Most of us love status quo. Most of us hate change.

People don't like change in general.

People don't like change in general.

Not about the software but about the way you use it. On CRM.

The rise of CRM software – “ready-to-send” quote generation

Don’t get us wrong: CRM is great to keep track of the marketing and sales process. The end of such a process ideally is a sale. In order to reach that, one needs to send out an offer and a quotation. With the rise of CRM Software this task has been automated to the fullest. CRM tools often integrate a functionality to generate a “ready-to-send” quote.

Generate a quote with CRM Software

Generate a quote with CRM Software

The “issue” with those documents is that they are often very hard to understand and do not show the relationship that was built during the entire process.

The real innovation: not in software but in behavior?

It’s not about the technology nor the software but about the way you use it. We’d prefer to use the CRM as to manage the long sales process. However, we would not recommend to deploy the quote generation functionality.

Instead we suggest to make it personal: add details and information from the sales process. Things that remind them about the relationship you have built during the past weeks, months. You could already do this easily by e.g. integrating a meeting date and place into your proposition.

Make it easy to understand for human beings

Make sure there is no confusion about the content in your offer. Auto generated quotes tend to be very hard to understand. Additionally, make use of strong copy as you’re still trying to convince someone to favor your offering. If you’re good at “sales talk” but not a writer, don’t hesitate to collaborate with a copy writer to help you write the proposal.

Specs for which we believe the above “theory” applies.

  • B2B markets
  • Complex products
  • Long sales cycles
  • Telco industry might match (?)
  • Strategy might be beneficial for SME facing big guns (?)

The app store economy: an innovative price model for publishers?

News behind a pay wall?

News behind a pay wall?

Newspaper publishers suffer for years now. The number of readers is going down – and as a result advertisers are less interested to put an advert in a newspaper. With the rise of the app store economy, publishers have the chance to come closer to a price model that works.

Strategy 1: news behind a pay wall?

In order to generate revenue there are plenty of newspapers who have turned news into paid content. The UK Times experiment with the paywall demonstrates that people say “No, thanks” and click away to another site when faced with a paywall at a news site. Source: The Times UK Lost 4 Million Readers To Its Paywall Experiment

Strategy 2: look at other industries (gaming industry) – The app store economy

The app store economy - innnovative pricing through inn-app purchase

The app store economy - innnovative pricing through inn-app purchase

Since there are loads of buzz within the publishing industry about publishing for the iPad, why not have a look at the opportunities of the app store economy? In the beginning of the Apple App Store, you had free apps and paid apps. After a while, they added a functionality called “in-app purchases”. In-app purchases mean that you can offer the apps for free and charge upgrades in the app – like e.g. in the gaming industry new levels.

Price model innovation newspapers: app store and in-app purchase

Consider this: a newspaper publisher creates an iPad edition. Would it make sense to offer the app for free, allowing everyone to read the entire newspaper on iPad? Would it make sense to limit the free articles to 3 and then offer “in-app purchase options” if one wants to read more? Would it make sense to show a summary of all articles and offer “in-app purchase options” to get the entire article?

We’d love to see publishers experiment with it and see whether the strategy from one industry can be applied to another one.

Facebook's history of innovations. What's next?

Facebook - online social network

Facebook - online social network

Facebook is pushing its latest product innovations hard these days. Only within the last three months we have seen the launch of Facebook places, Facebook Groups and Facebook Messaging.

The history of the enterprise seems a history of innovations. What is the next innovation and where will this end?

Facebook: a history of innovations

  • Facebook as a platform is innovative by nature: it redefined our social experiences. Hence, this technology had a tremendous impact on how people construct their identity. From time to time we tend to note a “I publish, so I am-trend”, meaning that if it didn’t happen on Facebook (or there are no traces on Facebook) it didn’t happen.
  • Secondly, with their “connect to facebook” technology, the social sharing experience was opened up to third-party apps.
  • The third innovation that we wish to bring forward is the implementation of the like button across the web. This might seem an easy trick but has loads of consequences. And it’s extremely nice for a savvy marketer! Why? Guess this is food for another blog post…
  • Finally, the innovative new messaging system which is rumored for bringing together text messaging, instant messaging and e-mail messaging. It seems as the Facebook Messaging Innovation took a classic “melt-to-innovate” approach.

Will the next innovation be mobile?

The question for us is: what will be next? What could be Facebook’s next big innovation? Let’s have some ideas flow on that …

Facebook Places @ Olympia London

Facebook Places @ Olympia London

  • Would a photo book app on top of Facebook be innovative? And what if you could collaborate with your friends on the creation of that photo book?
  • Would an e-newspaper based on posted articles by friends be innovative? In this manner you can leaf through a digital newspaper that contains all news shared by your network.
  • What are the chances they further develop an “office suite” on top of it? Would that be innovative? Would that impact the way employees work? Would it mean the definitive break-through of enterprise 2.0? After all Facebook obtained Docs from Fuse Labs that will allow to co-create and share text documents, spreadsheets and PDF directly within Facebook with all friends, family and (especially) colleagues.
  • Is the next big thing in the mobile sphere with Facebook Places? Shall we get suggestions to drink a beer with a friend in the bar behind the corner? Will it embrace AR technology?
  • Or will Facebook evolve into the basis for artificial intelligence, as one of the main (Russian) investors believes?

Framing innovation

Innovation is about adaptation! We don’t want to bother you with theoretical facts about the adaption of technological innovations, but please realize that in the end, it are always the people who decide whether an innovation becomes a mainstream success or not. For those interested in the theory on innovation & adaptation: it follows the statistical distribution known as Gauss.

Gauss graph - diffusion of innovation

Gauss graph - diffusion of innovation

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