The AdForum Worldwide Summit in New York is a unique and highly focused “by invitation only” event. At the event, which took place in mid-October, leading agency consultants, drawn from markets around the world, meet and interact with agency network CEOs and management teams from all disciplines (creative, media, digital, direct, social).
Instead of trying to relate everything we heard in meetings with 26 agencies over five days, let me focus on three linked trends of critical interest to marketers and agencies alike.
Big data, small data
If you have any doubt that data is king, look at the cover of the October 2012 Harvard Business Review. "Getting Control of BIG DATA" is the lead feature. And data—not just digital—was a consistent theme by the more impressive agencies we visited.
When you consider that 90 per cent of all data was created in the last two years, it is no surprise that the race is on to harness it. And translate the big data, to small data—learning more and more about what drives individual customers. Not just their customers, but those of their competitors.
As the HBR article points out, data-driven decisions tend to be better decisions. And data eliminates the “HiPPO”—the highest paid person’s opinion. The CMO of today will likely transition into the CMTO tomorrow. Having the right answers will be replaced by asking the right questions. And clients and agencies alike will face the same capability challenge: there are far too few data scientists to go around.
Think 'media ecosystems', not 'channels'
Media ecosystems provided another consistent theme, and make no mistake, this is more than a buzzword. It is far superior to channel planning, which has a slight bias to the delivery platform. Ecosystems are rooted in user experience and the often overlapping and symbiotic ways in which your messages reach them. And how they then share those messages with others.
Again, success here starts with big data—tracking all forms of messages, updates, images, and conversations. And don’t underestimate the value of the media ecosystem; done well, you can aggregate audiences that dwarf those of a single television program.
Story amplification is replacing storytelling
Advertising started as a way of communicating information, and then evolved to entertainment and persuasion. But there was always a common thread: Everything was told from the brand perspective. And storytelling became the currency.
Advertising, however, is undergoing a step-change, where brands are no longer solely in charge of the messaging. Consumers are active participants. And while there is no denying that brand stories are still of critical importance, storytelling is becoming passé, as it is one-directional.
Story amplification, on the other hand, recognises that stories change and evolve as they are passed on through the media ecosystem, and that brands (and their agencies) need to continuously expand and enrich their stories.
Implications for marketers and agencies
Marketers will need to break down silos within their organisations more than ever before, and draw data from throughout the company. They need to build their internal capabilities with a new breed of data and techno-savvy marketer. They need to challenge their agencies by asking the simple question “so what happens next?” when reviewing creative and media alternatives. They need to understand that everything is social, and that their messaging criteria should now be: Is it on strategy? Is it on brand? And most importantly, is it share-worthy?
The successful agencies of the future will be those that are not stuck in the past, walking around proclaiming that “digital is at the center of everything we do”, while measuring themselves in outdated yardsticks of clicks, swipes, and likes. They need to transition from 'Mad Men' to 'Math Men'. From storytellers to story amplifiers. With ever-increasing agility. And more than ever, be able to justify their clients’ investments with solid ROI measures.
If AdForum 2012 is any guide.
Jeff Estok is managing partner of Navigare, a Sydney-based global consultancy specialising in client-agency engagement management. This was Navigare’s 10th year attending AdForum NY.