The myth of the “full service” advertising agency

Finding the right advertising agency requires being honest with yourself

Finding the right advertising agency requires being honest with yourself

The advertising/marketing ecosystem is too large and complex to offer all services in-house

It’s an old illusion in the advertising business that agencies wanted to look larger then they actually were. The thinking behind this was that the more services you claimed to offer, the better chance you had of reeling in new accounts. It was this mindset that coined the phrase “full service” agency.

Enter reality

Today’s advertising/marketing ecosystem is far too complex for any one agency to possess all of the needed skill sets in-house. In fact, the major advertising holding companies have been on a buying spree acquiring specialized agencies and then trying to integrate them into their multinational brand name agencies.

What clients are ending up with is a convoluted mix with a lead agency that directs different specialized groups under the holding company umbrella. Of course, what goes along with this are turf battles, divergent strategies, off-brand messaging and a revolving door of well-intentioned agency people operating with a minimum amount of knowledge, trying to keep the client happy.

The small agencies specialize and the big agencies get bigger

Advertising Age recently published an article about how the forces of technology are ushering in and shaping new business models that will affect advertising agency service offerings, size, and profitability.

What we are seeing now is the rise of small boutique agencies that specialize in category, market, or technology expertise. These agencies have no illusions as to their service offering and are very transparent with their clients about what they bring to the table. They also offer their clients the greatest amount of flexibility, because they can contract with best of breed suppliers when a specialized service is required.

The multinational holding company agencies will continue to gorge, fueled by large brands that use advertising as a blunt force weapon. For all the prediction that consumers want to engage with brands and have a relationship, the majority of consumers just want to watch TV and tune out of their socially hectic worlds for a few hours entertained by mediocre television programming, supported by advertising that makes it hard to remember the name of the brand or what it is actually supposed to accomplish with daily use.

The forecast for the future does not bode well for mid-sized agencies

Mid-sized agencies suffer in two areas. First, they try to staff for too many specialized skill sets in the belief that their clients care about this. There is too much technology and infrastructure at play for any small department to be competent in the nuances of code and the required updates of operating systems to keep this humming along.

Secondly, mid-sized agencies suffer from non-billing personnel “creep,” ranging from administration to human resources to accounting. This starts to take a bite out of agency profitability at a time when clients are demanding more services for less cost.

Finding the right agency requires being honest with yourself

Do you want a long-term or a project-by-project business relationship? Do you need strategic planning and research or more of a tactical execution of internal strategy? Are you looking for an agency of record or interested in working with several agencies based on the need at hand? Each relationship has its pros and cons based on resources and expectations. I believe the agency of the future is small and nimble, creatively driven and staffed by a small team of experienced managers that can bring forth the forces and talent needed to complete the task at hand in an efficient manner.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

The Precarious State of Advertising & Marketing

Why Business-to-Business Marketing is Transforming to People-to-People Marketing

When to rethink

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Have we lost sight of creativity in advertising?

 

As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish?

As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish?

Is the constant drumbeat from ad technology firms overshadowing the importance of creativity?

For those of us left in the advertising business, it seems that every message we receive has something to do with ad technology and its unlimited possibilities for making advertising more effective.

We, as agency creatives (if that is still even a relevant term), are overwhelmed with digital platforms. From programmatic media buying, to optimization, to first and third person data, it appears that ad technology has become the means to the end.

As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish? Once, our primary job was to inform and entice people to purchase our client’s products and services. This usually required the talents of humans that could string together words, pictures, thoughts and emotions into a memorable experience executed across different mediums.

To accomplish this, a deep understanding of human psychology, communication and interaction was required, intertwined with a point of view. The message could be perceived as funny, clever, sarcastic, and informative, a hard sell, or any one of hundreds of different tones and styles of human communication.

Ad technology is nothing more than a delivery mechanism

Ad technology providers would lead you to believe that the message is secondary to the channel from which it is delivered.

With all the streaming bits and bytes of data swirling around our sensory receptors, it is no wonder that the “human” part of us has learned in a relatively short time to tune out internet advertising.

The reason for this is that the message has been compromised by the delivery mechanism.

The religion of ad technology practiced by the providers of ad networks, mobile apps, and behavioral retargeting wants us to believe that the scripture of analytics trumps creativity and with enough retargeting, our resistance will ebb and we will succumb to the purchase of a product we don’t want or need.

The reality is that we have already learned to block out such annoyances that appear on our screens as we read the opinion page of the New York Times or catch up the on final quarter of the game we slept through last night.

John Wanamaker in 1898 was correct that half of the money spent on advertising is wasted. The trouble is knowing which half. I’d make the case that this still holds true today, considering half of digital advertising cascading across the internet is never seen by a human being.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Do your customers suffer from “E-fluenza”?

The Precarious State of Advertising & Marketing

Why bother with branding?

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.
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The Precarious State of Advertising & Marketing

Humans respond to creativity. We are attracted to design, color, shape, and imagination.

Creativity and experience matter more than ever.

Daily we are subjected to a constant barrage of marketing messages. From text messages for discounts from our favorite yogurt establishment, to emails from strangers, to online advertising featuring talking Geckos backed by Berkshire Hathaway’s unlimited media budget. It seems that there are neither limits nor boundaries that marketers will not exceed to try to get our attention.

Because we carry the internet in our pocket, we are at risk of information overload. Already we have short attention spans and our tempers are getting even shorter.

That is precisely why creativity and experience matter more now than ever.

Humans respond to creativity. We are attracted to design, color, shape, and imagination. We want to associate with experiences. And that is the essence of great advertising and marketing.  Corporations and their brands spend billions of dollars every year trying to gain a foothold in our consciousness, hedging their bet that when we “need” something, we will select their brand over the competition.

Algorithms can be creative but they can’t replace creativity.

It seems in the digital universe of search, some have decided that efficiency and scale are all that matters. The selling of keyword search terms have turned search engines into the largest advertising agencies on the planet. Forgoing strategy and concept for the sake of efficiency, thousands of small brands compete for customers through paid links, hoping that the phone rings. Unfortunately, the only brand differentiation for paid links is the price you pay for the search term.

Digital is disruptive, but it’s also disposable.

Hindsight tells us that digital advertising and marketing has been a disruptive force to traditional media and advertising channels. Yes, it has taken its toll on newspapers and magazine subscriptions and advertising revenue. Digital channels are more efficient, use fewer natural resources, and are capable of getting to market faster.  Nevertheless, for all of its efficiency, digital content is disposable. No one collects digital pages or ads because they were moved to action by the photographer’s skills in capturing the emotion of the moment, the art director’s sense of design in bringing the images and copy together, or the copywriter’s nuance for tone and style.

Are you experienced?

Navigating the waters of traditional and digital marketing is a balancing act. Follow the digital evangelist too far and you can slowly drown in a maze of platforms and data. Follow the traditionalist for too long and your brand becomes stodgy, or worse, irrelevant in a connected world.

As we survey the current state of advertising and marketing, we need to remember that what we have before us is a product of our own making.  Great brands understand the need for innovation and are not afraid to try new strategies and tools, but they also remember the creativity, experience, and imagination that helped them get where they are today.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Big data and creativity

Should your brand be aligned with a moral cause?

Why aviation brands need emotional engagement

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

Social media content strategy

Social media content, when used as an integrated marketing tool, can extend the reach of advertising.

Why platform selection affects the quality and quantity of social media content

Social media, love it or leave it, is hard to get away from. What started as digital networks where like-minded users could connect and share information has grown into a multi-billion dollar network catering to sophisticated brand advertising and user generated content.

Platform selection influences quality of social media content

B-to-B brands seeking to use social media for engagement need to understand the strengths and limitations of their selected social platform. Where Facebook is perceived as a more B-to-C retail platform, there are numerous examples where B-to-B brands have used the platform to connect with rural outlying communities where their facilities are located.

Each platform has its own particular tone and style. Understanding this allows for social media content to be developed to show a more human side of the brand or a more technical competency based on the objectives of the social media effort.

Objectives can include the following:

  • Community relations
  • Recruitment
  • Health and safety
  • Product comparison
  • Thought leadership
  • New product introduction
  • Forwarding of content via social network
  • New business inquiry

Achieving any of the above identifies content that is conceptually sound, produced with a purpose, and deemed valuable by its intended audience.

Content that lacks strategic direction is hastily cobbled together, short on authenticity, and not tied to a specific objective is probably a waste of time and resources.

Key take away: Having a platform presence without a strategy is not sustainable and will quickly lead to abandonment.

Integrating social media content with other marketing tools

Social media content, when used as an integrated marketing tool, can extend the reach of advertising. This complementary function is much like the support of public relations. Done correctly, social media content can capture an influencer’s attention, leading to additional content generated with the appearance of endorsement.

Key take away: Social media content is a complementary tool not intended to carry the entire marketing load.

How much social media content is needed to be effective?

The internet is a content eating machine. In order to stand out in the sea of sponsored display advertising and user generated content, advertisers should be prepared for a long term commitment to social media content development and treat it with an evergreen journalistic approach.

Key take away: The best strategy is to develop a library of content that has a long shelf life.

Social media has its limitations

The one thing social media can’t do is provide sustainable scale. By its very nature, it is fragmented – subject to the reader’s value system and point of view. Accuracy of regenerated content cannot be guaranteed and may do more harm than good.

The use of social media by B-to-B brands is accelerating. Taking a strategic approach to integrating social media into the marketing mix requires creativity and a willingness to try something different.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Why content development will drive the future of aviation marketing

How to engineer a social marketing strategy

How to write effective online copy

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

Differentiating your brand from the competition

The user’s value system is found in their DNA of experiences.

The user’s value system is found in their DNA of experiences.

Brand differentiation comes from the user’s perception

There is not a huge amount of difference between leading brands. Depending on the category, almost all brands offer the same feature, function, and benefit to the user.

What makes a differentiated brand?

First, let’s explore the idea of a brand.

 Brand: noun

1 a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name: a new brand of detergent.

• a brand name: the company will market computer software under its own brand.

• a particular identity or image regarded as an asset: you can still invent your own career, be your own brand | the Michael Jordan brand certainly hasn’t hurt them.

• a particular type or kind of something: his incisive brand of intelligence.

The emphasis is to stand apart and stand for something.

A brand also allows companies to manufacture different models under the same brand name.

For example, Gulfstream Aerospace manufactures the following aircraft: Gulfstream G150, Gulfstream G280, Gulfstream G450, etc.

The intent is for the brand to offer more features and better performance as you move up the price chain.

Which leads us to brand differentiation

The simplest explanation is one of branding cattle. Each cattle ranch burned a unique mark into the hide of the cow or steer it owned. This was done to separate specific animals from the herd in the early days of open range grazing. This basic concept is the foundation for trademarks, which leads to brand differentiation.

Brand differentiation in the digital age

Branding strategy has expanded to include digital platforms and social media networks. The primus of the expansion was for brands to interact with individual users who in turn would become brand advocates, spreading the gospel about how wonderful the product performed and why all their digital friends should try it.

And for a while, this was the thinking behind investing in social media networks and spreading tweets and likes.

The reality

Brand differentiation comes from the user. It is the user’s value system that determines brand preference.

The user’s value system is found in their DNA of experiences. Their value system can change based on aspirational goals, financial conditions, or maturing of values that come with age.

Marketers that strive for brand differentiation must appeal to the user’s emotional needs and fulfill these needs by brand association that serves a higher calling than feature, function, and benefit.

This is not an easy task. It is the job of marketing to uncover what is unique to the brand and communicate in such a way as to create an emotional connection with the user.

It can’t be automated, digitized, or replicated. It has to be unique, authentic, and reach the user on a personal level that melds into a lasting connection. It must be “lived” by those in care of the brand and treated as an ember that will be extinguished if left unattended.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Investing in your brand perception

Connecting decision makers with your brand

Why bother with branding?

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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Social media: Media channel or purchasing influence?

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The ad revenue model is blurring the lines between social media and advertising

In the early days of social media it was hailed as the replacement for advertising. The interruption model of advertising was so twentieth century and the permission model of social media was the darling of the new millennium.

Brands that were early adopters were especially excited because they viewed social media as a non-commercial marketing channel. Instead of renting space in magazines or commercial time on broadcast networks, social media offered the hope of connecting with purchasers on a one-to-one basis for less cost. Brands flocked to Facebook populating their pages with helpful hints, events and special deals for those who “Like” their brand.

As social media platforms matured, it became apparent that in order to sustain their business they needed a monetization model to pay the bills.  Google figured this out early. Ad Words (the purchase of key word search terms) made Google extremely profitable and allowed the search engine to continue to provide a free service.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn had lots of users but struggled with developing a monetization model. The one thing they did have were copious amounts of data about their users. Access to this data was attractive to the advertising community. It held the promise of being able to target advertising to an individual user based on their profile, interest and browsing habits.

Social media channel?

As the social media platforms grew the sheer number of users dictated that brands develop a social media strategy instead of just maintaining a presence.

Social media platforms responded by offering sponsored advertising.  Sponsored advertising solved several problems:

  • Now the social media platforms had a monetization model leveraging their vast proprietary database.
  • Brands could better target their advertising based on the users profile.
  • Digital analytics provided a rear looking ROI measurement.

So what began as a non-commercial peer-to-peer network is transforming into a branded media channel.

Using social media to influence purchasing

The premise of social media is word-of-mouth advertising. Brands understand that a negative comment or a positive review can affect brand perception ultimately influencing the purchasing decision. Many brands have adopted social media as an inbound marketing channel.

For example:

  • Airlines producing their pre-departure safety videos to become branded forms of communication.
  • Firms like GE have dedicated social media pages about locomotive and jet engine engineering and production.
  • Dell computer uses social media to answer customer questions and solve technical problems.

All of these strategies have one thing in a common – to connect, engage and influence the purchasing decision.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Using social media to gain customer insight

Finding the sweet spot for social marketing

Social marketing begins with the correct strategy

 Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

Aviation Marketing: Trimming marketing expenditures

Blog 92 Aviation Marketing: Trimming marketing expenditures

How to keep share-of-voice and maintain industry presence

Cost reduction is nothing new. The great recession accelerated the learning curve on how to reduce expenditures by cutting personnel and marketing investment. However, as we fast forward to a new year and a recovering economy, when asked to reduce marketing expenditures one must take into account the value of marketing and the influence it has on the behavior of your customers and competitors.

Where to start?

Begin by taking a realistic approach to reducing marketing expenditures. Identify what is essential for maintaining share-of-voice, brand awareness and customer attention.

Outbound marketing areas to review:

  • Advertising
  • Directory listings
  • Direct Mail
  • Public Relations
  • Tradeshows
  • Telemarketing
  • Email

Inbound marketing areas to review:

  • Website
  • Social media channels
  • Video sharing sites
  • Newsletters
  • Search optimization
  • Events sponsorship
  • Tradeshow participation

Making smart decisions

A consequence of reducing marketing expenditures is a void in share-of-voice. It can be easy to justify drastic reductions in the hope of returning later when better financial times arrive. The fallacy of this strategy is that previous investment is lost and the completion fills the void left behind. Playing catch up is an expensive proposition because now the competition has the customer’s attention and it will require more investment to return to the status quo.

A more thoughtful approach is to review tactical executions such as reducing ad size, cutting back on frequency of placement, and the number of publications. If done correctly this can yield a reduction of 50% or more in outbound marketing cost while still keeping a presence in core industry segment publications.

Customer perceptions

While some may argue that marketing and the various tactics used to change customer behavior contribute little to the bottom line, customers notice the brands’ absence and begin to question brand health, viability and commitment to the industry.

Keeping a commitment to inbound marketing assures that these channels do not become neglected.  In fact, these channels can become the focus of the marketing efforts because they are owned and do not require continual purchase of space and time.

The following should be reviewed for tactical execution and resources needed to keep the outbound program vibrant.

  • Newsletters – keep customers informed by telling an expanded brand story.
  • Blogs – highlight employee expertise and extend the effectiveness and reach on social media platforms.
  • Emails – invite customers to events and keep a steady stream of valuable content delivered to the customer’s desktop.
  • Website updates – keep the site fresh with announcements and social media postings.
  • Video Produce iMovies and post to syndicated video channels for optimized web search.

Marketing budget reductions happen, those that that take a strategic approach can minimize loss of market share and industry presence.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Why advertising is important in aviation marketing

Why internet advertising matters to aviation marketing

Emotional ties create strong brand loyalty

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.