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How agencies and clients can make interconnected work

Our essayists and some big-name brands came together to discuss what interconnection means for agencies and clients.

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Anticlockwise from bottom left:
Claire Beale, editor, Marketing
Chris Macleod, marketing director, Transport for London
Marco Scognamiglio, chief executive, Rapp
Stephen Maher, chief executive, MBA
Suzanne Bidlake, consultant editor, Marketing and Campaign
Tess Tucker, group digital marketing director, Just Eat
Zaid Al-Zaidy, chief executive, McCann London
Dan Hulse, managing director and planning partner, St Luke’s
Joshua Graff, director, LinkedIn EMEA
Jane Bainbridge, acting features editor, Marketing

What does "interconnected" mean for clients today as they try to juggle not only disciplines across different departments within their organisations, but also outside agencies with their own specialist areas?

Interconnectivity means far more than just adding a social-media element to the marketing mix. While it's easy to get caught up in the social-media buzz, determined that communications should perform and proliferate across all platforms, the brand's core vision and attributes must be protected for its long-term health. And while marketers have long been seen as brand custodians, is that still their role, now digital and social elements are added to the mix?

Marketing gathered around the breakfast table the authors of the essays that follow, along with a handful of clients, including connective brand LinkedIn, to establish how the debate has moved on in the past 12 months.

What does "interconnected" mean?

Stephen Maher I'm pleased that "interconnected" is the title of this debate, rather than "integration", because it gets you away from talking about channels and structures to the heart of the issue: the way people operate and interact with brands.

Tess Tucker We're shifting our focus away from traditional planning and looking at how people are behaving, especially on social media. We have to adapt our approach, and that's where it starts to blur. Previously we'd have our brand director - I look after the digital channels, but it's not clear any more what's digital and what's brand; it's all overlapping.

Claire Beale So has your job got a sell-by date?

TT Possibly. It means so much now, digital is everything. Social media for us is about building brand engagement. At the moment it sits within my team, but whether that's the future of it, I don't know.

CB What's struck me is how siloed clients still are within marketing and how disassociated marketing can be.

Zaid Al-Zaidy There's an enduring need to build super-brands. There is fragmentation and the challenge of the data, but what remains is the need to create brand stewardship. Who has total ownership of the brand? That's where advertising agencies need to go and reclaim their position as brand guardians.

Dan Hulse How does the brand behave in an interconnected world? It's very exposing if there's a difference between what you're saying about yourself and doing. How consumers behave is incredibly important, but focusing on people within the organisation is just as important. It needs to be so joined-up that the brand makes sense to the retail staff, to the people who use social media, just as much as it does to the marketing team.

CB Does that internal connectivity require a real change of mindset and structure?

There’s a responsibility on us to work hard to join the dots within the organisation.

DH It can't just be about inventing something and plugging it back into the organisation, it's got to be about understanding the truth of an organisation. Otherwise it's an agency going in and saying "Behold, your brand is thus." Stakeholders have to be a much bigger part of developing an idea so they feel part of the solution.

Joshua Graff The notion of interconnectedness starts in the boardroom and filters down throughout the organisation.

Rules of the game: play nice or nasty?

CB Is it still an issue how different agencies work together on a client to deliver this interconnectivity?

SM There's still a slight issue because - whether it's clients, agencies, trade bodies - they still dissect the advertising world into different types of agency. If you're a pure ecommerce business, you can operate only in an interconnected way, because your digital experience is your customer experience.

ZA-Z The client challenge is having to be a conductor of various specialist operators. The organisation has to invest in the right type of training to allow individuals to do it well. Agencies are walking all over each other's turf - they have to because the lines are so blurred that, if you don't, you will lose out to your competition. I'm interested to see where it settles.

Chris Macleod It'll never settle. Our culture is a problem-solution culture: there is a problem and we have to solve it. It'll never be solved, you just keep working it.

Marco Scognamiglio The client has control over bringing us all together. As a well-known client has said: for clients, agencies are a small part of their day-to-day job, 95% is doing other stuff; but 100% of our day is our client's job. There's a responsibility on us to work hard to join the dots within the organisation. A lot of it comes down to the relationships we have with our sister agencies.

CB Your agency could, and maybe should, do everything to own the interconnectivity with the client?

MS Agencies have to be realistic; there are so many touchpoints today and there are lots of skills in reaching those consumer touchpoints.

Suzanne Bidlake At a recent round table, everyone was talking about co-operation when an agency chipped in: "I don't think it's a good idea to play fair, that doesn't generate the best work." Do you clients agree?

JG It's human nature to have healthy friction and competitive spirit breeds creativity. That could be a talent team, it could be agencies working together. It's up to the conductor of the orchestra - the client - to help agencies work together, but also play them off on each other.

TT We want to work with an agency that's almost an extension of the team, so we form the idea together. Then my team buys into the idea because they've collaborated.

CB To really make interconnectivity work, it seems to have to start in the boardroom. Agencies have often found it hard to develop relationships at that level, and marketing has become less valued within client organisations and has less of a voice in the boardroom.

CM I wonder if that's about marcoms; marketing is much bigger than just advertising. Boards may well be debating concepts that you and I might call marketing and might be about the customer, they just don't call it that. Just because the ad agencies aren't there: well, too bad.

SM We often talk about the Amazons and Apples of this world where there's a brand soul and culture. Jeff Bezos has marketing in his DNA, but he's not really a marketer, yet it does percolate down.

ZA-Z You can integrate to a point, and the point is where data becomes the hub of a brand. You have great emotional TV commercials and then you have data analysts pulling up very smart segmentation. You have two very different creative forces and a culture trying to bring those together.

SM The convergence of creativity and technology is where the future lies, because a lot of what creative people in agencies produce is content. Unless you know the relevance of that content to a particular audience, you can't produce great creativity. I accept there's a tension between technology and data people, leftand right-brain people, but the brilliance of an Apple or Amazon is that they've managed to structure and culturally converge technology and creativity.

ZA-Z But agencies, within themselves, can't deliver that totality of brand expression. So the big step-change is the brand perception; it's a combination of feeling you are being served personally and being part of a bigger organisational movement that speaks to the heart and soul of you as a human being. I don't think those two cultures co-exist at the moment.

MS When you think of data not as left-brain but right-brain; it's data that leads to creativity and has so many dimensions. Brands and agencies have data at the centre of their DNA.

CM That's the paradox for agencies: their strength is they do creative stuff. And we all know a great campaign can transform things; it's just the way you do it.

CB And as an industry, you're funding TV research over here, PR research there, outdoor over here... they don't talk to each other.

JG That's changing. If you look at Twitter and TV, it's a great example of digital and TV coming together and measuring what the success is using both channels.

When you say you’re doing TV, it’s very clear: it’s an ad, it’s on TV. Social is so many things, advertising on top of that.

What's the value of social?

SM Chris (Macleod) and I are working for the IPA on measuring social media. The industry needs a definitive, best-practice view on how you measure the real ROI on social in particular. We've reviewed a lot of examples and case studies and we're trying to get more people involved. It's going to take a while, because there isn't a legacy; the IPA Effectiveness Awards have been going for 20 years, but the data just doesn't exist in social in the same way.

TT When you say you're doing TV, it's very clear: it's an ad, it's on TV. Social is so many things. We have different networks, different communications, advertising on top of that. If someone asked me what's your ROI on social media, I'd say I have no idea. But our customers talk to us on social networks and we respond, and we post to more than 1m fans on Facebook, and my only cost is one or two people in my team. So, even compared with email marketing, it still stacks up without building a model... but I'd love to have a model.

JG The technology has only recently existed to start measuring all this stuff. You've had more than 60 years to measure TV, 15 to 20 years for digital, three to five years on social. The technology's been developed over the past couple of years as a result of these platforms coming to fruition.

ZA-Z This creative economy wasn't built up questioning the business validity of every single thing we did, it was (built on) suspending disbelief and creating the big creative leaps of faith. If we don't continue to do that, we'll just look like every other single marketplace in the world.

DH There's a real tension in terms of what can be achieved and measured in the short term versus what you can achieve in the long term.

TT On social media we don't just look at metrics. On email and our CRM programme, I could look at opens and click-throughs, but ultimately we're looking at the behaviour of people on the list over time. It's about building an affinity to the brand.

CM I wonder if another strand to this is: are clients doing more for themselves particularly in the social area?

JG Our customers are constantly struggling with whether they should take this in-house or use a third party. It depends on the resources they have, but it's difficult to relinquish control of social to an agency because the authentic voice comes from within the company.

DH It depends on the level of sophistication you are talking about, but it's much more authentic coming from within the organisation. Each Majestic Wine store, for example, has its own Twitter account - you've got young graduates thinking about what they're going to do on Twitter. The agency role is not to have a better idea, but to make sure those people are really fired up and understand the brand strategy.

ZA-Z What are we interconnecting? Ninety-nine per cent of all the data that goes to the brain that consumers process is visual data. So what's the best way of eliciting the best commercial response? Great video. As agencies, we are really good at that, so maybe we should disseminate more types of video content in this interconnected world.

MS There's the content that really differentiates the brand: the content that the consumer creates and (it's about) allowing them to create as much as they want on your behalf.

ZA-Z Do you think all brands should be creating their own content? Because, as brand-owners, we often think that our brands are more valuable than they are. How much is about encouraging consumer content-creation versus creating your own content?

JG Consumers are creating content about your brand whether you like it or not. You have a choice: to ignore it or be in the conversation.

SM Now you can absolutely personalise the communication and customer experience. It's almost going back to the market stall, so, in that sense, human behaviour hasn't changed.

JG You have to create content that is going to deliver incremental value for that consumer, and at that stage they will make a call on whether they share it or not. They may just consume it and thoroughly enjoy it but not take a social action, and that's also good. If you can create that advocacy, even better.

SM We are trying to redress the balance from a world where it was all about the big idea to a world which is now about combining that with personalisation.

JG Da Vinci achieved amazing creativity with brilliant science – and that's where the beautiful stuff happens.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk


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