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This post is part of Greg Fuller’s guest series on Brand Impermanence. The first post explains the background and concept of Brand Impermanence: The search for nirvana is over. The second post focused on the four principles of Brand Impermanence: The Beta Brand.

This latest post poses the question: If Brand Impermanence were to be delivered by an advertising agency what would this agency look like?

There is certainly not an existing agency model that can meet the current challenges of the digital age in all its immediate and networked glory.

Let’s consider why there needs to be a new approach, what form it might take, who will be the key players and what it will mean for the future of brand communication?

The Vision

3 of the biggest challenges facing agencies in the age of uncertainty:

  • Immediacy of communication
  • Liberating data and ideas
  • Thought leadership

It’s interesting to consider broadcasting will probably, in the long run, turn out to be a short terms artifact of the industrial revolution[1] – a future beyond advertising beckons.

Approach

Traditional approaches to brand communication revolve around presenting a comprehensive vision of how to go to market.

Communications planning as a discipline has come to the fore as the most effective means of meeting this brief. Although fundamentally discipline and solution neutral, communications planning is born out of the brand to consumer approach that seems at odds with the ideas of networks, relationships and conversations of the now. There has also been a disconnect between comms planning and content creation that needs to be addressed given the means of production has now been democratized.

Agencies must become more agile and flexible to create, collaborate and contextualise the content of future brand campaigns. This requires multi discipline teams working in small groups and in close contact to the brands and clients they partner.

The ability to make quick decisions as production responsibilities evolve and become blurred will be vital. Clients will ultimately need to take more responsibility for brand identities, values and personality as directors rather than managers.

In this understanding of brand communications it’s more useful to think of “startegies not strategies”[2]. The hugely seductive proposition of a grand plan is replaced by a continuous flow of tactical decisions based on a starting point given your current knowledge (the plan is under review from the moment you decide on it).

This approach is therefore geared to deliver what has been termed “brand-actional” advertising. An understanding that brands are not simply a set of values and emotions attached to a product or service; they are a catalyst for interaction, experience and behaviour change.

As formats migrate to digital means so there is less distinction between objectives and indeed there is an increased ability to deliver both ROI and brand orientated results in real time. A greater share of the marketing budget awaits the successful few.

How can this be delivered and who is in the best position to do so?

Creation and Reaction

The nature and speed of change requires an integrated agency model. Ideally in the form of a creative and reactive hub. It’s the skills and knowledge of the hub as a whole that will be vital for success. Very importantly the central hub only consists of 3 people. This smaller team allows for manageable systems and processes, production of better, quicker ideas to clients and faster reaction to live information.

Figure 5 is a representation of how this might work.

Structure

Client – responsibility to provide the framework and set brand guidelines

  • Briefs, setting budgets, managing brand portfolios
  • Constant evaluation and monitoring of feedback from the hub
  • More secondments learning and understanding – less process

Communications Hub – centralised point of call for all brand communications, consisting of:

Brand Engineer

  • Responsibility: content, ideation, messaging, proposition, competition
  • Outputs: ideas, big picture thinking, creative
  • Background: account planning, comms planning, brand consultancy

Audience Collaborator

  • Responsibility: insight, data, research, trends, shopper marketing, PR
  • Outputs: interpreting markets, conversations, networks, people
  • Background: research agency, below the line, media agency, client

Technology Innovator

  • Responsibility: context, channels, data, measurement, efficiencies
  • Outputs: channel planning, comms interactions/monitoring,
  • Background: digital agency, media agency, media owner, data owner

Outputs and value

  • The power of the hub is in the interaction of skills and knowledge to create an energy and immediacy that can be quickly transferred back to the client
  • The interpretation of real time information and data into actionable campaigns is its unique selling point
  • Cross discipline knowledge is actively encouraged and over time makes the hub stronger
  • Client integration and transparency are vital. Clients are encouraged to spend time within the hub and secondments take place regularly in the opposite direction
  • Most interaction, including regular meetings, occur between the client and the core members of the hub, however each discipline has a wider supporting team
  • The relationship can not exist without open collaboration and sharing of information and data sources from both parties.

Fueling the hub

Once the agency grows and wins new business, a team structure of additional semi autonomous hubs – each with its own profit and loss, personality and client portfolio will develop.

The freedom given to these teams drives an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of responsibility and camaraderie that bonds them to their work and ultimately delivers output of greater pride and passion.

Each team is actively encouraged to share skill sets and form a 360 approach. It’s vital that they remain in teams of 3 to retain their agility and ability to improvise.

This helps develop their overall performance as ideas can start anywhere – consumer, brand, media, digital or client perspectives.

Figure 6

This model is based on the talent and speed of a relatively small group of people. As we know, the most successful campaigns rely on the skills and size of much lager organisations.

Ideally the hub would sit within a large communications network such Publicis in order to manage cost, conflicts and encourage collaboration. However, the communications hub would essentially outsource work on an individual brand or project based on the ability of the contractors to deliver specific requirements.

These relationships could be permanent or temporary dependent on the nature of the brief and would be remunerated accordingly. If all work is delivered within a network, greater efficiencies will be achieved

Relationships would include but are not exclusive to:

  • Media buying agencies – large buying points that span communication networks to deliver optimal price and efficiency, global reach.
  • Creative production – in charge of delivering the execution of activity. They will have to run with digital at their heart, quicker turnarounds.
  • Content specialists – potentially housed within media owners they will help deliver the content that will drive communications in the new era
  • PR – essential for managing and creating effective activity but  will be much more closely integrated into the hub
  • BTL – again a lot of their skills will need to sit in the hub but for specialist knowledge and shopper marketing this relationship will be key
  • Bespoke research/Econometrics – the strength of the hub is its use of open source and collaborative data. If there needs to be more granularity and rigour, the specialist are used

See figure 7 below.

The hub in action

To bring this approach to life; consider how a successful campaign such as comparethemeerkat would have developed (this is a hypothetical example).

The hub approaches the client with an idea. Through analysis of blogs and news feeds there is a growing disillusionment with all things financial following the economic down turn. The Audience Collaborator uses a live online community to verify the assumption people want to interact with lighthearted and comforting content not dour comparison websites.

A search for the target audience’s top rated You Tube clips highlights huge viewing of humourous “standing cat” videos. The Brand Engineer uses this thought to brief his creative network of 500 freelances to pitch for the work. A creative based in Russia returns with the idea of Aleksandr Orlov.

Content is distributed across multiple channels and the Technology Innovator monitors in real time through an integrated dashboard. Search uplifts following the TV ad show a huge positive reaction to Alexandr and prompt discussion which fuels both the Facebook fanpage and Twitter feed.

The hub and client have a live basecamp discussion a couple of days into the campaign and agree to upweight social channels with more regular content.

As the campaign gains more followers they are asked to upload their own content and ideas for new Meerkats. Sergei is born, first socially and then, already with thousands of fans, is introduced via broadcast TV to a wider audience.

This is picked up by national newspapers and Simon Cowell quips “Simples” live on X Factor. The content is immediately uploaded and merged into the digital channels.

Another big drop in the global financial crisis reduces consumer confidence. Activity is pulled back and the tone of the campaign changes to reassurance.

The Audience Collaborator has noticed another trend emerging from an influential technology forum that could enhance the brand experience, the next phase of the campaign evolves in real time.

About the author

GregFuller is a comms planner working for Starcom MediaVest, a global media agency (although the concept of a pure media agency is long gone). I’ve worked in communications planning for 8 years across a range of clients including the likes of American Express, COI, Royal Mail, Associated Newspapers and most importantly Jobsite! Having recently completed the IPA excellence diploma here are some thoughts/ideas on the future of brand communications.

Websites

www.trendwatching.com/nowism

www.cisco.com

www.citysense.com/

www.wired.co.uk

Nielson Global Online Consumer Survey 2009

www.tweetfeel.com

www.bazaarvoice.com

www.vocalpoint.com

www.accesstoninsignt.org.

www.informl.com/

www.biggu.com/apps/shopsavvy

Footnotes



[1] IBM: Beyond Advertising article (2005)

[2] Cronk, J. (2002) Brand New Brand Thinking

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