What's changing on the digital marketing scene

Advancements in digital technology, increasing demands of the consumer and the client, and changing habits of media consumption are all creating a new landscape in the ad world.

What is emerging is scalable, adaptable, lean, multi-dextrous and nimble. And collaborative. Smart. The new ice age is dawning and the cold wave is technology.

We’re seeing different trends like ‘snacking’, ‘time-shifting’, ‘place-shifting’ in media consumption. Consumers aren’t doing what it tells them to do on TV Guide. They’re not taking orders from brands, but ‘liking’, ‘viralizing’, and commenting/sharing what they like, what they feel in control of. Social media is enabling that. And Search is helping them find the truth. Separating the Well Told from the Real Truth. All of this is catalyzing change. Agency sizes are adapting to what’s needed. Talent is quickly learning to be multi-talented. And revenue streams are increasing every day – yet overall revenue is tightening. The zeroes and ones. They’re affecting us all.


1. Media consumption habits are changing – forcing agencies to think different.

While here in the Middle East, tv is still king, there’s no denying that media consumption is evolving. In Egypt, the revolution and Tahrir Square was not driven on tv, it was written on the wall via facebook. With better connectivity, higher speed, more bandwidth, and the proliferation of mobile – specially the smartphone – it’s now a digital world. And in that world the consumer is choosing when, where and how. Not media moguls and agency planners.

Consumers are clearly defining consumption trends because, with their adoption of newer technologies and channels, and a proliferation of devices, everything changes quickly. They’re watching tv programs downloaded on to their iPads. They’re using coupons built into apps. Catching a brand message built into a MMORG (massive multi player online role playing game).

Entertainment at home has gone full circle. It’s done the lean-back-to-forward-and-now to-back-again.We used to consume media at home leaning back on our sofas. Then, with online, and hulu and YouTube and facebook, and Video on Demand, we looked towards our computer screens for our entertainment – leaning forward. Now, with tv manufacturers building internet right on to the massive LED 3D sets, we’re leaning back again. Except that out attention is now divided.

How many of us watch tv today, with our iPads in our hands? It’s a fragmented attention society we’re in. We’re driving but talking on our mobile. We’re watching tv, but the computer is on, the skype is beeping, the phone is ringing and the washer dryer LED screen is playing an YouTube How-to video. As agencies we want to help our client’s brands cut through this clutter?

We’ll have to think different. Successful campaigns kick start with integration and 360° thinking built in. Not facebook added on in the end, or a sms broadcast done with a leftover few dollars. And genuine, media neutral strategy needs to drive communications and engagement – which may or may not result in every possible media channel being used. Some campaigns work great on tv. For others a simple Search campaign on google combined with a good SEO strategy maybe enough. Or a twitter drive. What needs to happen is a for agencies to start taking a honest look at need and then deliver on that. Unchained to the what they learn in ad school or what their CFO’s bully them to do.

2. Technology is calling for multi talented people – single armed dinosaurs are at risk

The specialist today is the great generalist. The genuinely multi-talented guy who can develop strategy, create and design content, delve in and direct conversation in social media and lead the whole agency effort is the much sought after. What is emerging is that increasingly clients are asking their mainstream agencies to do digital, and vice versa. And in both these situations, the client is winning. What we are seeing is that digital agencies are usually staffed and led by people who are digital/analog at the same time – they’re part of a new breed who switched to digital specialization having started off their careers and their training in mainstream advertising, media and PR. Usually, these ‘digital’ focused agencies are far more 360° capable than the bigger mainstreams who are trying to do a late game-saver at digital.

An ad agency used to have Client Servicing and Creative. A media agency had Planners and Buyers. And PR had ‘PR folks’. Life was simple. Today you have Social Media Strategists, Community Managers, User Interface Designers, Search Copywriters, Outsource Management Directors, and YouTube Videoographers. YouTube Videographers are the ones with the iPhones. Who also are Social Media Content Creators, SEM Feedback Specialists, Mobile Game Surveyors and iOS Version Specialists. One device. Ten talents. That’s technology for you.

All this means that the talent gene pool is getting smaller with fewer people needed. The highly specialized is being replaced by the highly skilled and multi talented. The fact of the matter is that technical skills are becoming easier, and thanks to online, an incredible bank of resources are at hand. Instant help is a click away, as is a lesson in video editing or HTML5 bug fixing. And, finally, collaboration and outsourcing is making a lot of sense. Smaller agencies are often working with each other, often under white label and producing cheaper, better, faster, and then some. And beating the big ones. The piranhas vs the whales.

3. Social media is changing the control room. As is Search.

Let’s face it. The consumer is in control. It’s theirs vs ours. The facebook wall post, the tweet vs the brand tv spot. The unedited vs the edited. Free vs paid. That’s the consumer manning the control room. And Search is providing even more tools, more information, more reviews, insights and help for the increasingly wary and aware consumer. If the brand message as drafted by the creative agency, as placed by the media agency and as advocated by PR does not resonate with the consumer, it not only doesn’t reach, it self destructs.

Naturally, social media today has become an integral part of how agencies function. Creative mainstream agencies, media agencies and PR agencies are all fighting to create offerings in the space and gain largest share of the pie. The bigger ‘advertising’ agencies are discovering that while they are still ad agencies, their business model (with or without them) has evolved from advertising into engagement. From one way into two way, or as they say, with social media, into a freeway of multi point conversations.

With Social Media, one cannot guess what works and what doesn’t. One soon finds out – there’s plenty of ways to measure that, but it’s in the here and now, and it’s meandering, changing, adapting. With Search thrown in, you’ll have to realize that there are no more start and end dates to campaigns. Say hello to the long tail. Today, once you’ve started a dialogue, the show must go on. It’s a never ending spot.

Finally, the wall between the media agency and the creative agency is now being pulled down, as social media is marrying the two. The contact point is just as relevant as what you say on it.

4. Revenue streams are increasing. Revenue is decreasing. Huh?

Yes. Revenue streams are increasing. A few years ago, no client would call us and say “we need six YouTube videos shot for our launch”. There was no facebook page. No in-banner game. No SEM. With the advent of technology, social media and online and mobile media we are seeing a huge widening of the revenue stream spectrum. Every day there’s something new that consumers are playing with, and brands want to be in that space. Our world is becoming idea driven media-neutral. Once we know what to say, there are several ways we can communicate that to our target audiences and that all put together for those in this industry mean more revenue streams – more channels, more creativity, more executions, more billings.

But not more revenue, necessarily. More and more clients are discovering that expectations of quality are getting lower, or, because of technology higher, better quality is available cheaper and faster. Also, as mentioned earlier, talent is multi-dextrous, and is able to do five things one a project, thus making it feasible for agencies to lower their costs. And clients are demanding that agencies take a serious look at outsourced work – when outsourcing makes dollars and sense.

Take a PR agency model for example. A brand’s typical PR on a launch would usually wrap around an event, a lot of ink in the media about it, interviews in newspapers, tv about it etc. The revenue stream was about that product, that launch. Today, the PR machine works 24/7. Beyond the launch, beyond the event, way beyond the write-up. It’s maintenance on facebook, the tweeting, the responding, the YouTube Videos, the un-boxing of the product on blogs, what not. Yet, put together, as a new, emerging, tech driven digital focused revenue stream it’s small compared to traditional. It’s less revenue.

5. Medium is the new hip. Agency sizes are adapting to new demands.

As marketing communications are increasingly moving into new media, agencies are moulding, morphing into everyone can (or should) do everything models. Smaller teams are more effective, brand knowledge gets contained better, institutional memory gets sharper, and streamlining helps everyone. Large multi-floor agencies are in a position where they don’t need huge teams working on campaigns any longer. Thus they don’t need to be huge to be effective. And with collaboration, multi talented work forces, advances in technology and smart outsourcing, they can be more effective when they’re just the right size for the need. Which is usually a medium size. Which works rather well with the more-revenue-streams-but-less-revenue model.

Because new media makes new demands, today’s successful agencies are ensuring that these demands are met as standard rather than specialized, and that the workforce is as adept at working on projects or campaigns that integrate social media, blended search, media and content as one, as they are on traditional media such as ones on tv, radio and outdoor. While it is becoming the trend to try and own as much of the campaign pie as possible, agencies across PR, media and advertising are facing the reality that with technology, with advanced communications, and with a little impetus from clients, it’s possible without being big. Medium is the new hip. Or small. Who are discovering the magic of collaborative wins.

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