Last week Forrester published a new Big Idea on the Connected Agency.
Their exec overview of the Big Idea is:
Today's agencies fail to help marketers engage with consumers, who, as a result, are becoming less brand-loyal and more trusting of each other. To turn the tide, marketers will move to the Connected Agency — one that shifts: from making messages to nurturing consumer connections; from delivering push to creating pull interactions; and from orchestrating campaigns to facilitating conversations. Over the next five years, traditional agencies will make this shift; they will start by connecting with consumer communities and will eventually become an integral part of them.
I saw the coverage coming out from Forrester in various blogs - here for example - but didn't post on it at the time for two reasons:
- Fear of my opinions reading as chippy and know-it-all
- I haven't seen the actual report, so am only working from those blog posts and the outline on the Forrester site
But since Jeremiah - who I respect enormously - has asked for comments, here goes.
First, there are two connected but different points here:
- Agencies understanding and connecting with their client's customers
- Agencies 'getting it' about social media and technology
In this post I'll add some comments on the first point, and follow up later on the second.
The risk of chippiness derives from the fact that for twenty years - in the B2B marketplace, to be clear - we have earnt a living by connecting our clients with their customers. Sure, when there weren't social networks, online communities and the rest of the marketing toolkit 2.0, we did it in different ways. But certainly we connected them - through the marketing tools then available - with their customer's fears, concerns and issues, using their customer's language and jargon, and in the context of that community, in the conversations and at the meeting places that then existed.
I would argue if you have that experience, skills and aptitudes, then transposing them into the new techniques and channels offered by social media is a lot simpler than trying to come at it from the direction of the advertising agency.
Metia was by no means unique in that regard. In B2B especially, lots of other marketing and PR agencies paid the monthly wage bill by having a deep understanding of their client's target customer audiences. The tools and techniques being applied were always secondary to an understanding of what was driving the audience.
We had to get it right because we all survived on the dog end of the budget that was leftover after the advertising agency had spent the bulk of it randomly carpet bombing an unmoved audience with the advertising idea du jour (I exaggerate, a bit). We won our clients and projects by knowing the client's audience inside out. Ad agencies seemed to win clients and projects through the magic of advertising (a good trick, and yes, we would probably have swapped places like a shot).
Enough chippiness (sorry, but I warned you).
I suppose my point is, this might be a Big Idea for advertising agencies (and especially in B2C, and especially if they are still living in the 1980s), but its not a Big Idea for marketing or PR agencies. Take a look at the organizations Forrester interviewed, they are all classic Big Ad Agencies.
The question I would have is, do they have the appetite or inclination to get into the detail of these customers' worlds, especially in a B2B context. I think it will be a big ask. Most ad agency folk I meet glaze over when asked to get passionate about the ins and outs of server virtualization or MiFID or fractal ownership or whatever.
What other evidence have I got for the fact that Ad Agencies are far behind in this race? Well, never mind five years to change, lots of marketing services companies left the start line years back.
Item of evidence # 1
When the technology started to open up opportunities, a lot of us 'got it' early on. Eight years ago we built our first global online customer community. It was aimed at channel partners and in three years went from zero to 15,000 participating organizations worldwide. It mixed traditional marketing to recruit, with online community building, key influentials were cultivated and relationships bonded through complementary face-to-face events, all managed and measured through a software platform to run the program. Our people were the frontline, accepting members into the program, meeting them face-to-face, administering the program benefits. All made possible by a far sighted client who go it - and the sheer luck that this all grew up in what started out as a quiet backwater, so was under the radar of the corporate marketing machine.
Item of evidence # 2
Six years ago we got serious about customer advocacy, although we didn't use that term back then, we developed a methodology, tools, resources and capabilities. We developed applications to manage customer reference communities - and measure their contribution to sales. Now we manage those communities for clients, their communities in that particular case.
It would have been interesting if Forrester had interviewed more broadly and more diversely, in order to compare and contrast the approaches taken by smaller agencies outside advertising, which may have a track record in connecting their clients to customer communities.
Tags: The Connected Agency, Forrester, Jeremiah Owyang, customer communities