Oliver Spalding
Apr 6, 2017

Complexity is our shared problem

While brands often put the emphasis on agencies to transform, it’s a burden both parties should bear if true success is the aim, writes Oliver Spalding at DigitasLBi.

Oliver Spalding
Oliver Spalding

Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard’s message last year—"Frankly, your complexity should not be our problem”—was a wake-up call for agencies. But was it a fair one? It spoke of justifiable frustrations with areas of inflexibility and opaqueness. Agencies are scrambling to re-organise to be more client-centric and give simpler access across a network of skills.

Agencies mirror their clients. In 1988, HBR foresaw that by 2008 large businesses would have fewer than half the levels of management. In 2011, BCG said that, actually, internal complexity was growing six times faster than external complexity. The C-suite is now more complex, with a proliferation of new stakeholders. Ultimately organisational structures that had been the foundations of business in the past century are sinking in the shifting sands of the 21st century.

Complexity is our shared problem.

Businesses are investing to modernise marketing skills and to become more agile and always on. The in-house agency trend will not go away, and the contemporary marketing department will absorb many agency services, but in-house is not a complexity silver bullet. 

Businesses are organized to get their product or service to market, not to get creative ideas to market. These processes do not mesh easily. Consultancies have tried and failed to integrate creative and UXD, acknowledging that it is better to keep their marketing agencies separate and then partner with them.

Creativity thrives on diversity. Agencies tend to be more liberal. Employees are exposed to more avenues for creative thought. Working for a single brand is great to develop a bold design vision over years, less so a big idea over weeks or days. Digital agencies are also pretty good at getting extroverts and introverts to work together by creating open and closed working practices.

It makes sense for clients to take many ongoing requirements of marketing in-house like social media, content production and marketing intelligence. Agencies help to plug those gaps until such a time as the client is self-sufficient. The in-house movement frees up resource to concentrate on partnerships that drive customer and competitive advantage. Which leads to the complexity of data.

According to a survey from The CMO Council, 78 percent said the CMO should drive data strategies, but 43 percent felt they didn’t have the tools, and only 7 percent felt they could use data to run complex marketing. Data remains the inflection point where agencies and clients can best address complexity, applying it to cutting edge techniques like dynamic and programmatic creative.

In the era of ‘peak complexity’, instead of thinking about the future agency and the future marketing department, the two can evolve together, building complementary capabilities:

Stand up for creative that works: Creativity is more powerful than ever. Creativity combined with technology should be more exciting, relevant, scalable and measurable. The fact that a lot of creative work is pedestrian and being blocked by consumers is in part down to a lack of accountability. Consultancies have been better at owning business results and bringing industry vertical expertise to bear.

Set meaningful metrics: We have a collective interest in shifting from paying for impressions, clicks and engagement to metrics that represent customer impact, for example branded search, view-throughs and bounce-rate. Agencies must advocate how and why longer-term measures are more representative. Client businesses must connect the dots in their own data so that the work can be more accountable, especially for indirect sales channels.

Put more emphasis on a pilot programme: Terms like ‘minimum viable product’, ‘prototype’ and ‘proof of concept’ have been dumbed down to ‘get something produced and launched quickly’. A lot of marketing investment is still based on guesswork and therefore agencies and clients should work together to define a pilot with sensible timeframes and success metrics to unlock that investment.

Co-locate more: Time is being spent in complexity rather than dealing with it, by that I mean in meetings, conference calls and email. Clients have scant time to work in-person with their agency to come up with solutions together. Co-location is essential to ‘agile’ and ‘design thinking’. Both are very much in vogue.

Get used to failing fast. Marketers ask agencies to be more entrepreneurial, whilst distancing themselves from the possibility of failure. According to Fortune, 90 percent of startups fail. Testing and optimisation techniques reduce the risks, but we must all accept and be prepared for negative outcomes.

Even if the agency of the future looks radically different, clients armed with data to ask the right questions and agencies stepping up to delivering masterful creative give cause for optimism. Things must change. There was a New York Times headline that went “Complexity + Complacency = Calamity”. Seems fitting.

Oliver Spalding is APAC head of CRM at DigitasLBi

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