The Future of Agencies, Brand Building & Business Success

“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”…The Brady Bunch

“Digital, Digital, Digital”…The Branding Bunch

Tom Goodwin, VP of Strategy and Innovation at Havas Media, wrote an article in Ad Age in April 2015 titled, “Specialization was a mistake…how agencies can restructure for the future”. It is an outspoken, thought provoking article worthy of sharing. Here is a summary of his key points:

1. We went wrong around 2000 with advertising and marketing when it became fragmented and stove piped into specialties.

2. Before that we had four kinds of Agencies — PR, Media, Retail, Creative…with just a handful of agencies working for a company.

3. Then we started creating more vertical, specialty houses. It started with agencies then it went from SEO to social media, content marketing to mobile advertising in siloed verticals. This became messy and difficult for CMOs to handle.

4. What should have happened — Mobile should have just been a specific place for Media, Ad and Retail agencies to help shape holistic campaigns. Social should have been a part of everything. No agency should have been labeled “Digital”… It is like electricity, it is in everything.

5. Future — All agencies should be merged…from Media to Retail, from Creative to Digital, and everything in between.

1. Visionary Agencies — Focus two years out and beyond and on long-term investments to build business for clients. Made up of innovators, technologists, futurists, and business strategists, they will improve products and services based on branding/positioning, and understanding the future of marketing and brand building.

2. Brand Agencies — Focus on medium term Storytelling to build brands over three months to two years. The closest to what we consider “Advertising” today. A mix of talent from all current agencies…PR, retail, and tech, employing artists and creative types who would design and shape the brand, produce ads and marketing to tell the story and build brand equity.

3. Performance Agencies — Focus on developing programs for short-term sales within less than 3 months. They would tweak communication tactics, use automation, clever SEO, flow advertising, creative optimization, real time marketing, short term PR, Promotions at retail.

To put this into context — almost 2/3rds of CMOs believe that agencies are NOT good brand stewards (brand builders) and a large number of companies have brought ad/marketing in-house to better control brand building and spending.

We don’t know if Goodwin’s proposed model for a new Agency structure will take hold or not but we do know life (and that includes business) rolls in cycles. Like the Breath of Brahma, the Brand/Advertising cycle, like almost any other industry cycle, “breathes out”, expanding and fragmenting (as it has been doing since 2000) and it may be due for a “breath in”, perhaps consolidating the way Goodwin talks about it.

In any case it is important, to those of us who operate in this Brand Universe (and that includes just about all of us who run or serve business), to define our role in this larger context and step out of the knotted ropes of specialization. It is not that we don’t need specialized skills and talents; it is that we need to frame and organize this work in the larger context.

If you are a CEO or CMO or any big picture leader, you want to think, plan and operate in the frame of Visionary, Brand Building and Performance. You need to do all three well and, to Goodwin’s point, you need to have the specialists united by these three frameworks. To dip into the axiom bucket twice…“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and “We don’t want a drill, we want holes”.

We have to keep our eyes on the whole result we want and need. Visionary — we want to design and produce long-term business adaptability, viability and value creation. Brand Building — we want to thoroughly engage our customers so that they build our brand’s importance in their lives. Performance — we want to ring the register and generate the cash “mother’s milk” that feeds our future.

All of us who run or serve businesses, should never lose sight of this greater framework and we should organize our work and the work of our specialist teams around it.

Then we should take a deep breath in, enjoy the beautiful world around us and let go of our obsession with “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”.

— Dan and Meredith Beam, Principals, BEAM, inc.

BEAM, inc. is a San Francisco based international consulting and design firm dedicated to creating value and enriching life.

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