Diminish a once-powerful industry and lose all respect inside and outside the agency.
- What is influencer marketing?
- What is programmatic?
- What is artificial intelligence?
There is a virulent strain of stupid on the loose in the business world today. The disease leads those infected to strip the soul of creativity from the marketing communications industry.
Whether it’s a content marketing disciple overselling the efficacy of his wares or a beancounter plotting doom on his X/Y axis, the players seem to have lost the game.
If there were only a magical formula to rescue us all…
There Is A Formula!
The formula is there is no formula. But there are decisive steps to take, for those with the desire to chart a path instead of following one.
I believe that the successful agencies of the future have to be more challenging to their clients. They’ve got to be the ones that stand up to their clients and say, this is the nature of your problem, this is the nature of your risk profile for this brand, these are the threats that you’re under, and therefore this is what you have to do. But if you do not want to do that, if you want to go down a risk-averse approach, we will not be accountable for the results of this because of the condition you impose on us. So there is a future for agencies that are brave.
There is a future for agencies that are brave. Well said.
Agencies need to be buttoned up enough to be the dispassionate deliverers of hard business truths. At the same time, agencies (that creative people want to work for) need to be loose enough to allow for the growth of ‘true’ creative culture. Faux creative culture is worse than corporate culture. No one needs a Foosball table to make them feel wanted, inspired, or at ease.
True creative culture supports the arts and the artists who make art. This translates to support for the unusual, the weird, and different—all things that marketers need to stand out. And all things that make suits uncomfortable.
A Little of This, And A Bit of That
Brand communications are fundamentally about distilling the essence of the company into a powerful shot—one that tastes good going down and delightfully intoxicates, once imbibed.
Adpulp writer and London-based brand strategist Toby Donaldson recently wrote:
Mixing cocktails is a good metaphor for what brand strategy is. You’re mixing a set of ingredients, these ingredients could be advertising, PR, sponsorships, heritage, physical, digital, psychological, or historical. You cultivate all the ingredients you can, combine them with an understanding of your audiences’ preferences – and serve up something that works for them.
Now, who among us is adept at this sort of mixology for today’s brands? A machine with no sense of touch and no feelings whatsoever? Or an alchemist who draws upon a universe of knowledge and mastery of many disciplines to create something new?
Solving Marcom Problems Is Specialization
For years, we’ve heard the clarion calls of specialization. The consultants chime: Until you specialize, you’re just another commodity. That’s their rap. But are they correct to put creative people between the lines? Does it make for better work and better work environments? Does it lead to more profits for the agency and its clients? Hell no.
Consultants and coaches are like everyone else, they have a program to sell or they go out of business. It’s up to the buyer to discern the need for, and quality of, their offers. If a coach helps you broaden your view and learn new things, she may be worth her weight in gold. If the coach has a formula for you to follow, it might be a scam.
Seek A Point of Difference, Not A Single Track
If specialization is not the right answer, is generalization? That would be logical, but creativity isn’t logical. In no way am I saying that there’s a need for a sea of generalists. I am saying that building brands is the overarching category and ad people must find a way to define themselves as unique under this large tent. Take rock and roll bands…there are thousands of them and many sound the same, often for the same reason—they’ve been told to produce formulaic work because that’s what sells. But is this true? It seems to me what sells well and what makes a handful of musicians into superstars is their utterly unique take on an old standard.
The consultants and others who preach one-track doing are promoting systemization, with the belief that the MBAs who manage brands can understand that and therefore invest in the service. One consultant to agencies argues vigorously for a radical narrowing of one’s offer. He says you have to become the obvious and only choice for one particular thing you do best.
That’s how to run a practice successfully, says he. He also says that creative people will reject his thinking. He is right about that. I reject it. I reject it because the best advertising people do custom work. This means there is never a uniform solution for a client’s marketing challenges, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. The job is to captivate the audience. If a rock band played the same song or the same three chords all night, the band wouldn’t last long.
The ability to mix things together in new and powerful ways is the skill that is needed to do the job. It’s something that liberal arts majors are adept at doing because they’re trained to think this way in school. If it were me seeking an agency or individuals to help me grow my audience and revenues, I’d find the anthropologists and fine artists who care about other people. When all you care about is making ads, or making money, it’s obvious and obviously off-putting. The power to move people to believe, to buy, or to act is real power. If you hope to infuse your marketing with this real power, hire the alchemists.