Clearly, no single type of marketing agency owns the strategic keys to the client kingdom any longer. Traditional advertising agencies once did by being the early gatherers and keepers of data, which was fused into relevant insights and in many cases, led to great creative ideas. It's no longer that way. Data is now accessed from public and private domains, including Google, to manufacturers and retailers. Data, like the world today, is all about making it make sense. Just think about it--no one buys anything that doesn't make sense ... especially today!
So being of strategic value--making real sense with compelling insights and creative--is the only agency model that works. Regardless of the table you (as the agency) are accustomed to sitting at--360 or IMC, board or conference room table, shopper or customer team table--as a solution provider, solving marketing challenges is everyone's role. It's not about the functional agency being a game-changer, it's about realizing the game has changed.
Going a little deeper on the subject of functional-based branding, in many circles, brand messaging has evolved--as a result of the obvious economic realities--into value messaging, or at least a form of hybrid-based branding. You see this where the "brand narrative" features an underlying value story as subplot. Again, even campaigns are being asked to do more.
Regardless of where (the value of) messaging falls in a particular brand's story line arc, it is often considered a strategic point of difference in many categories and for many retailers. The creators or facilitators of this kind of content are located throughout the proverbial agency food chain. This new world order is potentially huge for clients across many category landscapes. No longer does one kind of agency lay claim to being the strategic enabler because the issues at hand are so wide-ranging and dynamic--from retail-centered branding needs to solution-based selling (e.g., meals, entertainment, household cleaning, even personal care). People, like brands, are looking for help--for real value--and will go where they can get it.
There you have it. These are tough times. We all know this. But, if you believe like I do that the way out of any bad situation is through a good idea (strategically valid, with simple execution and integrated, if possible), then the new strat race we're in will help get us out!
Being a full-fledged member of the new strat race means "getting" a few things:
1. Smart, strategic thinking that sets up the idea is always smart in IMC or any other marketing-related business.
2. Leveraging this new world order, you have to think "top down and bottom up," which really means thinking about tactics strategically and planning strategy in tactically, nimble ways.
3. Newly mined, defendable and hopefully dynamic insights are always valuable, but way more when there is so much risk due to budget cutbacks.
4. Waiting for direction is "so yesterday." In a strat race, being dynamic, not passive is key.
5. While 'we're all in it together' is a wonderful attitude, the reality is, we're also in it alone--so bringing your own passionate commitment all the way to the results is key.
6. That said, respect is created--just like really killer ideas. Being a real asset and exceeding the expected in unexpected ways is the most defining way to join and thrive in the new strat race of marketing today.
7. Said another way, if you act like or define yourself as a function, you'll always be limited to that function versus the solution the function provides. In today's strat race, function clearly follows value.
8. Finally and honestly, strategy should always be what stirs the marketing pot--because with it comes C-suite acceptance, the potential for sustainable value (investment versus expense) and a definable landscape "benchmark" to measure a program or plan's success.
Obvious stuff ... maybe. But in good times a lot of misguided spending occurred. In these times, it's hard to imagine getting real money without real thought!