Is Your Agency Too Process Oriented?
First, it always amazes me how relatively small the individual international markets are. Even relative to the amount of commerce going on in a given country, the media markets are often small enough to give concern to agencies that need certain sized deals just to make transacting worthwhile.
The second striking difference is the much higher level of thought and scrutiny that people outside the U.S. put into their marketing research and decisions.
Given their small market sizes, it would be natural to assume that the agencies serving those markets would put less effort into their research and "account planning," as they term it in London. But they do quite the opposite, and I for one believe that this says more about our notable lack of diligence than it says about their higher, more proper, level. Where we enjoy a great economy of scale in applying learnings to large media markets, we often pass up this opportunity.
I would have thought, for instance, that, given their smallish individual media markets, the Europeans would not spend so much time and overhead worrying about subtle market trends and the vagaries of marketing social sciences. Yet, it is precisely the EU countries that breed the best, most diligent researchers and marketing experts. Even though they have the worst economies of scale in applying their learnings, they go the greatest distances to bring good insight into their marketing efforts.
In the U.S., clients tend to pay for research and account planning resources only when they can establish a definite return on their information investments. Here in America, there is a presumption that advertising has positive effects, and research isn't often needed to prove it. Worse, conducting research creates a liability for an ad agency, increasing the potential that an ad may be proven to be ineffective, where it has previously been presumed to be successful. As a result, our research efforts tend to be aimed at safer lines of inquiry, and perhaps as a result, less useful ones.
I can see it at advertising conferences and in Internet exchanges. The people who run the American accounts tend to be client service people concerned with conducting a smooth marketing process, churning out a high number of ads and increasing the overall billings of the account. The people who come up afterward asking the more academic questions, pushing the envelope of marketing psychology, almost invariably have accents.
I add this to the mounting evidence that American marketers have capitulated their marketing efforts to the process of advertising, rather than the potential ends advertising is supposed to achieve. The ultimate folly of this shortsighted strategy lays not at the feet of the agencies, however. The causal folly comes from clients who fail to demand more rigor in the marketing process.
Here's the test to determine if your own organization is too process-oriented. Take the last five campaigns done by the firm and poll the creatives. Ask them why the messages took these particular forms. It will be obvious that marketing formalism has set in if the creatives respond with these types of answers:
- The client wanted it this way
- We had a better idea, but we figured we could sell this one better
- This is what was dictated in the creative brief
Only slightly better would be answers indicating a lack of consideration for previous learnings and market research. If the creatives don't refer to specific expertise on the relevant market, then it's unlikely the creative was truly generated out of an agnostic process determined by a combination of ultimate objective and specific market.
This wouldn't be a bad set of questions for clients to ask their agencies. Just putting that additional level of scrutiny on them is often enough to get them moving in the right direction.