Please see yesterday's "The demise and rise of the industry, part one", in which Zeigler gave his perspective on a variety of ills impacting marketing-communications, including the disconnect between marketers and agencies, the pressure of consolidation, the marginalisation of the marketing function and undue focus on short-term sales uplifts.
One of the latest fashions in the C-suite is ‘customer-centricity’. The phrase has entered the business lexicon over the last few years. There are a number of reasons for this. Brands live in fear of angry customers sharing their experiences on social media. Organisations also have access to more customer data than ever before. Although you could argue that businesses should always have been ‘customer-centric’, has this combination of ‘big data’ and social responsiveness given the concept greater urgency?
Shouldn’t marketing as a discipline, and its practitioners, be central to this agenda? After all, marketing is all about being the ‘voice of the consumer’ within organisations. The UK Marketing Society recently announced an updated definition of the term: “To create sustainable growth by understanding, anticipating and satisfying customer need.” What could be more customer-centric?
And there are other signs that marketing is changing. A much-quoted report by Gartner predicted that CMOs would end up with bigger technology budgets than CIOs, as the marketing function becomes key to interpreting and responding to consumers. It could even be argued that previous predictions of marketing’s relevance to the business agenda were premature; only now, when the finance department alone isn't enough to secure growth, will marketing really fulfill its potential.
There is a huge prize here, if marketers can recognise it. But what does this mean for agencies? It does not mean that procurement will suddenly ease up. CEOs are looking to marketers for creative approaches that deliver growth—but not necessarily the creativity of a 30-second advertising spot.
And what about us?
It is time, then, for agencies to start rethinking what they mean by creativity. Instead of advertising creativity, a world of consolidated markets but rapidly changing data and media technology, requires ‘business creativity’—the application of creative thinking across business processes to deliver competitive advantage. Brands are asking what could be done differently. How can they innovate through a service offering or product design? How can fresh understanding of the path to purchase unlock growth? How can brands maintain engagement with consumers beyond an ad campaign that launches and then disappears?
Agencies must match our best minds with the brand’s key decision-makers to devise ways to look at the business problems and drive business growth—it’s not just a reaction to an advertising brief. Engagement is about discussing the issues that keep clients up at night, not what TVC we should run this year. It’s using the right tools—whatever is at our disposal—to get to creative ideas that help clients sleep a little better.
To achieve this, brands will require access to a creative business resource. The ad industry could reinvent itself as a provider of a broad spectrum of creative services, ready to help customer-centric businesses. Now is an opportunity to identify new growth areas, not as a new industry, but certainly as an industry that is looking to change the way it is used and what it does.
Engaging creativity for growth
Creativity is the heart and soul of the traditional ad-agency business, and it is at the leading edge of knowing how to touch and manage customers, non-customers, clients and staff. Creativity needs to be used as the integrated lifeblood of how a business builds, takes to market and supports through staff engagement the actions that will stimulate competitive advantage and growth.
So how do we change the industry deliverables to create and leverage more creativity advantage?
It is all about changing how and why we engage. It's all about knowing how to get best thinking first before any work is done. About allowing enough time for the thinking to be strong, then doing work that delivers. I believe it’s time to use our greatest asset—creativity—to prove to brands that agencies can build the business growth they are seeking. I call it Engaging Creativity for Growth or, put simply, ECG. It’s using an agency’s’ creativity and know-how to develop a new product, a new distribution advantage, a new way of connecting socially with customers.
If we don't change to meet these business needs, sure, there may well still be a creative industry. But business in general will keep accepting the mostly bad work it receives today. Real creative talent will migrate to more entrepreneurial areas to invent and evolve. And business will start a new cycle of low growth and 'competitive inadequacy’. So many signs already point to this today.
Getting this right is a major challenge for the agency business. But it is a challenge, and an opportunity, agencies—and their clients—cannot afford to miss.
John Zeigler is chairman and CEO of DDB Group Asia-Pacific, India, Japan