Mashable continued its “future of social media” series last week with a story about ad agencies and technology, proselytizing bold advances in location-based marketing and group buying. The most interesting of the trends highlighted in the piece, though, is this: software is the new medium.
Software – and, by extension, the underlying technology from which it is derived – will be the single key contributor to a brand’s success from this point forward. The role of a brand manager is rapidly evolving along with all of the agencies that serve it into a blend of IT manager, brand marketer, consumer relations expert and PR person. There are so many ways that technology can boldly empower an organization to become an exciting, customer-driven entity. Agencies, too, are morphing into fascinating shops where hack-a-thons, aggressive experimentation, applet development and software engineers join brand experts to bring true innovation to their client work.
I have picked up some tips in my career that are useful for navigating these new territories, experience applicable to both agencies and brands. In no particular order, summarized in a concise 3-tip package:
1. Know thy limits
As cliche as it sounds, the ideas and engagements enabled by technology truly are essentially limitless and know no bounds. However, the ability for a brand and/or its agencies to execute them generally is not limitless, and is bounded by a variety of externalities. FTC disclosures, privacy policies, time, budget, the economy – all of these can have a direct impact on the ability to push an idea from inception to execution. I’ve seen so many outstanding ideas die simply because they were not grounded in reality.
Agencies can be particularly guilty of this tendency. For example, in the rush to pitch new business and wow a new client, an agency team will devise a devilishly-smart campaign comprised of some pretty advanced technology that does not exist in the marketplace. The new client, impressed by the agency’s creativity and bold thinking, signs on for the work only to find out that the team who pitched it didn’t do a reality-check. Either their capabilities to build it were overstated, or in truth it’s far too advanced for time or budget to allow and would require an army of developers. The idea then gets stripped down to a simpler core that the client feels less inspired by but is obligated to fulfill. Now, you might be saying to yourselves – “technology doesn’t evolve without ideas that push the envelope of absurdity and cause disruption,” and I could not agree more. What you need to be asking yourselves is this – “is my organization (or my client) that bold pioneer?” And particularly for agencies, know precisely how you will scope out and execute an idea before risking your client falling in love with it.
2. Know thy consumer
Technology does not abate the need for all those smart segmentation insights you’ve amassed over the years. An Apple consumer will have very different technology needs and interests from a Clorox consumer although their motivations may be similar. Innovation only works when it’s executed in direct alignment to your consumer and sometimes you have to be willing to just ask them what they’d like.
For example, if you’ve started to think about the role of mobile in your brand’s story arc you need to understand the platforms that are of interest to your consumer. Are they iPhone users who are heavy gamers and would salivate over a sexy game that you give them for free? Or, are they household organizers who relish saving time in their chores, and would respond to a simple SMS-based daily tips program? Brands left and right are launching iPhone apps, when in truth they might be faced with a consumer who skews more to being an iPod Touch and flip phone user. The success of the technology you deploy will be dependent on these insights so be aggressive about discovering them.
3. Be nimble, not obsessive
The thing that excites a lot of people about technology is the pace of its evolution. In the computer chip industry there is a law – called Moore’s Law – that defines the capacity of the processors that make up computing devices. Essentially, the capacity of these chips doubles every two years meaning that their associated functions – such as processing power, memory and speed – double with that capacity. That means the chips you are developing software for today will be replaced in 24 months with something twice as fast. It also means that whatever cool tool you’ve developed today will have an exceptionally limited shelf life, probably much less than 24 months. How can you use this insight to your advantage?
Think in terms of outcomes. There will always be something faster and newer and there will be new devices that require altogether new formats. You can leverage this to your advantage by creating a brand organization that values this innovation versus seeing it as an obstacle, and creating an agency network that isn’t steeped in just one technology. What you want to be looking to achieve is the creation of an innovation ecosystem in which amazing ideas develop and marching orders are written to go find ways to get them done. What you want to avoid is getting too invested in any one platform that will force your hand in future decisions, and prevent you from porting over all of the innovations you have amassed.
These are three pretty simple insights but they’re areas where I consistently see brands and agencies going down the wrong path. Time will sort out a lot of this noise but by consistently asking these questions you will keep your brand (or client) centered and steady.