The Brave New Client
David Friedman, president of Avenue A/Razorfish, Central Region, closed out today’s Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada’s Toronto opening stop in this month's MIXX Canada 08 coast-to-coast speaker series with a refreshingly clear-headed talk on “The Client of the Future”. Given he’s an agency guy, mind you, it wasn’t quite as no holds-barred as it might have been. Still he offered some realistic recommendations on how marketers should start thinking and organizing themselves for the new digital world. (And the Successories-style parody image here from Friedman’s PowerPoint captures the cheeky Dilbert-esque tone of much of his talk.)
It may have struck a special chord with me as I’m moderating a panel on essentially this very question later this week- The Canadian Marketing Association’s Digital Leadership Forum at the Harbour Castle Westin Oct. 2, featuring Doug Checkeris, CEO, MediaCom USA –Canadian boy made good in the Big Apple- , Goodwin (Goody) Gibson, President, MacLaren MRM and Tammy Scott, Vice-President, Marketing, Telus. (I have a preview post on the CMA’s blog with more details).
Friedman’s four key points to build the better Client of the Future:
1) Identify One Customer
Surpassingly –or maybe not- most companies, if you look close enough, don’t have an internal consensus of who their customer really is. Is it the end consumer, the channel, shareholders? It often depends on the department. And even if everyone is agreed that it’s an external end consumer, who that actually is if often different in the minds of each internal division.
Having a clear common vision of whom you are speaking to is essential.
2) Focus on Experiences Instead of Messaging
Marketers needs to change how they think about talking to that one customer. The TV age, which is -make no mistake- ending, meant developing 15, 30, 60 or occasionally longer videos with a fixed message.
Consumers now “experience” the brand and organization far more often than they learn about it through paying attention to any messaging from it. And this trend will accelerate.
(In a way, Friedman noted, this is the biggest stretch for the marketing communications people in companies. Many other disciplines like retail channel folks and in store and promotion marketers, have always been all about the “experience.”)
3) Conduct the Agency Ballet
The pool of specialist –and generalist- agencies working for a marketer all have to perform in harmony. And it’s up to the client to choreograph that dance.
Friedman used the example of AT&T, which has every one of its many roster agencies at the table for the same briefing, and then has every agency back at the same time for a full presentation of each shop’s contribution to the overall marketing show.
A key, however, he said is to ensure that every agency has a defined role and task that no other player will be allowed to pitch or poach away.
4) Reach Détente with I.T.
Companies have to continuously work to bridge the marcom –information technology chascim that exists in almost every organization.
This one was in some senses the most controversial recommendation Freidman made. As IABC president Paula Gignac was quick to point out, several other presenters during the MIXX day had advocated outsourcing projects and digital experiments to avoid the roadblocks that intransigent IT teams seem to inevitably throw up.
Friedman pointed to JC Penny in the U.S., which has apparently had some success at getting IT and marketing working in harmony. Although he conceded, this has been a decade-plus exercise, and in the early going (as in first 5-6-7 years) would use outside suppliers to “prime the pump” and show what was possible in Interactive.
But ultimately, if digital marketing is to become a core driving principle of business, an organization is going to have to embrace it across the board with every department buying in and working together to common goals.
It’s all easier said than done, but all does need to be done.
How to get there?
Friedman recommended companies create a digital plan, and to use a cross-functional and cross-departmental committee (with both digital believers and skeptics involved) –that reports to the highest-level management committee- to do it. This committee should assess what’s needed now and in the future and develop a road map to achieve it. And, as almost every one else speaking at MIXX also recommend, he urged companies to experiment with new digital tools and tactics wherever possible.
Friedman cautioned, however, that there’s “almost no point” in even bothering with this kind of exercise if the CEO hasn’t bought in and isn’t prepared to actively support it. But there really is an opportunity to use the changes the new technologies are bringing to the table to leverage total system and DNA changes in organizations.
Despite the opportunities, you get the feeling a lot of agencies won’t be holding their breaths for a sea change in human nature and corporate behaviour. As one agency CEO pointedly said as they waited for the Carlu elevator at the end of the day, the old saw is true: clients really do get the agencies they deserve. Based on evidence to date, the CEO implied, the best the industry can hope for is a wave of early retirements at the C-suit level -including among CMOs- so that a new generation of more digitally savvy marketing people can get at the challenge as soon as possible.
Posted by sutter or mckenzie
at 7:57 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 1 October 2008 10:00 AM EDT