The answer to digital disruption can't be to do more things in more channels, writes Christian Purser, head of digital strategy, M&C Saatchi Group.
Much has been written about the fragmenting media landscape and the importance of understanding how digital and social are changing the way that consumers are consuming media.
In my experience, this has led to most brands and agencies merely increasing the number of channels they employ for campaigns and communications, rather than a genuine change in approach.
Surely the answer to the fundamental disruption happening in our industry can’t simply be to do the same thing, but in more channels.
Many of you will be familiar with the theory of "many lightweight interactions over time" postulated by Paul Adams, the head of brand at Facebook. His thesis is that consumers build relationships with brands in the same light touch way that people build personal relationships and that consumers don’t think deeply about their perception of brands.
For me, "many lightweight interactions" chimes with Jeremy Bullmore’s much earlier perspective "People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws they chance upon", although I prefer his own later parody "Stakeholders form the framework of brand concepts less from holistic perceptions than from the convergence of disaggregated structural elements".
I have learned more from his parody than I have from the original quote, as I believe that mastering "the convergence of disaggregated structural elements", while deliberately mocking marketing language, gives us a clue about the direction of marketing’s role in an increasingly fragmented and disaggregated media world.
If the consumer’s perception of a brand or product is made up of many lightweight interactions over time, from snatches of advertising, to their own personal experience of the brand, their friends and families’ perceptions and a plethora of small subjective fragments of conversation and experience, then our role must surely be to try to curate and shape those experiences.
The idea of curating and shaping disaggregated experiences implies a much broader responsibility for overall, end-to-end customer experience; it implies the need for a more holistic and ‘always on’ approach to marketing. An approach where customer service is not just an adjunct to marketing but has to be a top marketing priority in its own right.
The artificial separation of marketing and customer service is no longer possible in digital media because a brand’s marketing sits alongside the real experiences of existing customers, and we all intuitively and empirically know that the real experiences of customers are a more powerful force than finely crafted messages from a brand (more powerful still is the brand’s response to customer dissatisfaction).
Yet most brands and agencies are currently incapable of creating a more holistic and ‘always on’ approach to marketing.
Advertising, CRM, digital, insight, content, channel marketing, product marketing and IT are siloed entities because of budget allocation and the need to develop and grow specialist capabilities within the business; this hampers a truly holistic approach.
Also, our instincts as marketers are towards big, visible and disruptive campaigns, which retards the selling and championing of 'always on' strategies internally.
Perhaps that’s why it is easier to just add more and more channels to each campaign; because the effort required internally to genuinely deliver a curated set of customer experiences across a disaggregated set of media channels is just too hard to organise.
Nearly twenty years into the internet revolution, marketing communications still looks eerily familiar to anyone that started their career in the 90s.
Perhaps, with that in mind, we can return to the beginning of the article with a different perspective:
Much has been written about the fragmenting media landscape and the importance of understanding how digital and social are changing the way that consumers are consuming media…
…but surprisingly little has been written about how clients and agencies need to structure themselves operationally to deliver a more holistic and ‘always on’ approach to marketing.
For the first time in history, consumer behaviour is changing faster than brands and agencies can adapt and that is because the adaption required is a genuine operational and structural change, not just a few extra digital channels on a media plan.