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Think BR: The future lies with influence

Agencies need to ditch the channel fetish and focus on influence, writes Chris Pearce, chief client officer at Tullo Marshall Warren.

Chris Pearce, chief client officer at Tullo Marshall Warren

Chris Pearce, chief client officer at Tullo Marshall Warren

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"People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better."

Ray Bradbury, Beyond 1984: The People Machines

I love this quote. For me, it encapsulates the melting pot of conflicting tensions in our industry right now.

Our desperate need to prove we have the ‘new agency model’ (nay, ‘future paradigm’!).

Our paranoia of falling behind our clients or even consumers in truly understanding the ever changing nature of brand/consumer interactions, the use of technology and the march of all things ‘social’, ‘location based’ and ‘real time’.

But in the same breath it also reflects our industry’s relentless, energetic optimism. We don’t just want 'more', we want 'better'.

Right? But what does better look like? With a self-consciously ironic embrace (well, we’re all citizen journalists now) my future gazing starts with recent history.

Any cursory glance around the projections of others will reveal some undoubtedly provocative thinking, from Bud Caddell’s apocalyptically tinged "will we need agencies at all?" to a more measured three forked pathway for future agencies to evolve.

Some consensus is certainly building around a potential split between the pure ‘idea generators’ and ‘executors’. But isn’t this happening already? And to return to Bradbury, it feels like just "more of the same". 

Far more interesting is Caddell’s third pathway - the platform builders. Those organisations "that reverse the power dynamic between brand and agency by creating remarkable, attention earning, systems for human interaction".

At last, a glimpse of a future agency model that puts understanding human behaviour at its heart. 

Of course, most agencies will claim to do this at some stage in their process but continue to refer to themselves as digital, integrated, direct, creative, or whatever channel based fetish is the current milieu.  

This approach has to go. It has no possible relevance to consumers and leads to the silo based marketing we are all familiar with.

My personal vision of the future agency model is one aligned to a more intelligent understanding of real world behaviour and predicated on influence rather than channel based persuasion.

Influence is very different to persuasion. Persuasion is the art of convincing someone to buy or do something once. Influencers play for much higher stakes.

If our role (our very reason for a continued existence) is to influence brand and consumer interactions in an intelligent and creative way, then the infrastructure required to affect that influence must be built around it.

It may well be platform based, but will continue to be fuelled by idea generation. Conversation provoking, always on, participative, long term, editorially rooted, collaborative in parts - but still idea based.

And what of execution? If we employ future platform builders, is not execution an inherent part of creating effortless human interactions? Is the way we do things as important as what we say?

Well of course. The intelligent influence agency of the future will combine all of these elements. We may not recognise the titles.

We will definitely not be based around old school department names (platform development is not a department, right?). 

But we will still live by our ideas, create new platforms and execute them beautifully. At least my agency will. But then I’ve always been relentlessly positive!

Chris Pearce, chief client officer at Tullo Marshall Warren

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