Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Ahead - Keep Your Clients and Prospects in Touch with Tomorrow

 If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that one of my strongest beliefs is that an agency should be more than just a "creater of ads".  They must help their clients build a bridge between their customers and their brand in all communication areas. 

Clients can be overwhelmed by the pace of change and the impact of new communications technologies.  Smart agencies can help to fill that role, and build client loyalty in the process.

One way to do that is to follow companies that look at future trends, like,  an "independent and opinionated (their description) trend firm, scanning the globe for the most promising consumer trends, insights and related hands-on business ideas."

Their monthly Trend Briefings are always fun and thought-provoking, and, from my experience, are usually on the leading edge of consumer behavior trends.Their most recent briefing report was a compilation of trends they have been observing over the past year. Here is a quick summary of what they feel are 12 trends that marketers should be watching closely.

1. Get ready for all-things China.
In addition to dominating manufacturing, Chinese tourists will reach 100 million by 2020. In 2012, department stores, airlines, hotels, theme parks, and museums will roll out the red carpet showering Chinese visitors and customers with tailored services and perks.

2. Consumers get personal about health with DIY monitoring and diagnosis.
During the coming year, expect to see consumers take advantage of new technologies and apps to discreetly and continuously track, manage and be alerted to, any changes in their personal health. New apps are being introduced almost daily designed to help you avoid a trip to the doctor, which may or may not be all that good. But it’s happening.

3. What's the deal?
In 2012, not only will consumers continue to hunt for deals and discounts, but they will do so with increased fervor and pride. Deals are now about more than just saving money: it’s the thrill, the pursuit, the control, and the perceived smartness, and thus a potential source of status that will drive sales in the coming year.

4. Recycling becomes a viable marketing tool.
In times of recession, economic interests have generally tended to overshadow eco-causes, but the quest for a more sustainable lifestyle will remain a pressing issue for years to come. One ‘green’ trend to watch in 2012 are brands helping consumers recycle by taking back all old items from customers, and then actually doing something constructive with them.

A great example is Nike’s trailblazing Reuse-A-Shoe program. Nike has collected and recycled over 25 million pairs of worn-out Nike shoes to-date. Old shoes are sliced, separated and ground up into a material called Nike Grind, which is then used in creating athletic and playground surfaces, as well as a variety of Nike products. Look for other brands to join this trend in 2012.

5. A cash-less society gets closer to reality.
We will continue our march toward a cashless future, as major players such as MasterCard and Google build a whole new eco-system of payments, rewards and offers around new mobile technologies. For consumers, the initial lure will be convenience, but eventually mobile payments will create an entirely new data-driven eco-system of rewards, purchase history, deals, etc.

6. Lower-income urbanites become a new marketing target.
Marketers are finally discovering the global opportunities for brands which cater to the hundreds of millions of lower-income consumers, a heretofore ignored target group. In 2012, expect more lower income consumers to demand innovation tailored to their unique circumstances, from health issues to lack of space to the need for durability.

7. Crowdsourcing will expand as a marketing and communications tool.
In 2012, count on the crowdsourcing trend to continue to shake up business processes and spawn  innovations in new areas. After all, being given a chance to contribute, or to be a part of something bigger than themselves, has always been popular with people.  Expect to see more initiatives in 2012 that make it simple (if not effortless) to contribute to anything, from pinpointing roads in need of repairs to finding signs of extraterrestrial life.

8. Brand transparency, and humanity, will be consumer favorites.
While 2011 saw new levels of consumer disdain at too many business' self-serving actions, stories of businesses doing good (think Patagonia and Ben & Jerry's) remind consumers that personality and profit can be compatible. In fact, in 2012 consumers won't expect brands to be flawless; they will even embrace brands that are are honest about their flaws (think Dominos), and support brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor and dare we say it, some character and humanity.

9. Touchscreen technology becomes “high touch”.
Thanks to the continued explosion of touchscreen smartphones, tablets, and the cloud, 2012 will see new touchscreen technology that is not only more pervasive, but more personal, more immersive and more interactive than ever. In 2012, we see touchscreens as an interface to a world where consumers will care more about the screen and what’s being accessed through it, than the brand.

10. 'Trading in' is the new black in 2012.
It’s never been easier for savvy consumers to resell or trade in past purchases, and unlock the value in their current possessions. In 2012, ‘trading in’ will continue to become an alternative to buying. Consumers have always resold large, durable goods like cars and houses; but in 2012, almost anything is ripe for resale, from electronics to clothes, and even experiences.

11. Risque becomes less risky and more accepted around the globe.
While cultural differences will continue to shape consumer desires, middle-class and/or younger consumers in almost every market will embrace brands that push the boundaries. Expect frank, risqué or non-corporate products, services and campaigns from emerging markets to be on the rise in 2012. Consumers in mature consumer societies have generally been more willing to handle much more honest conversations, more daring innovations, more quirky flavors, more risqué experiences, but in 2012, consumers in emerging markets will increasingly appreciate brands that push the boundaries.”

12. Consumers will demand instant visual information gratification.
The need and expectation for instant information and instant access to everything one wants to know is already deeply ingrained in the today’s consumer. 2012 will see a mix of apps and QR codes bringing information about objects that consumers encounter in the real world instantly. And like some other trends, it’s the rise of the smartphone that will fuel this full-blown access to everything.

As the authors of the latest Trendwatching briefing point out, "We’re not saying there are only 12 consumer trends to track in 2012; there are dozens of important consumer trends worth knowing about and applying at any given time of the year. We merely bring you a selection to get going."

I hope this recap gives you ideas on how to approach your clients and prospects.  Today's information overload and digital technology makes it imperative for someone to take the lead in understanding what changes marketers should be exploring today to be ready for tomorrow.

Is your agency ready to provide that kind of support?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Creator vs. Curator - Is this the future of the agency business?

I just read that Tim Williams has hooked up with 4-A's to offer a webinar entitled "Co-Creation and the Future of Agencies: Your Agency’s New Role as “Curator,” Not Just Creator"

When I first saw the headline, my first reaction was to scream "NO".  We've been touting the advantages of the agency as an outside creative resource vs. in-house agency for years.   And generally proving that creative talent with independent insight on consumer attitudes and behaviors produces a better product.  But the key to that independent insight is being immersed in the company -- its brand heritage, its aspirations, its competitive environment, etc.

To say that we should give up that position and embrace a role as a crowdsourcing "curator" just doesn't seem right.

I've been saying for years that agencies must rethink and re-define their role with clients to succeed, but my focus has been on broadening the agency role as a resource to guide the client through the maze of multi-channel marketing options available (and too often confusing) to clients.

This webinar will focus on a different aspect of being a resource for clients, based on increasing incidence of marketers going around agencies to work directly with the media, production companies, and even directly to creative talent via crowdsourcing. Apparently, Tim will argue that by embracing the ability of the World Wide Web to solicit and deliver creative ideas from across the globe, agencies can stop defending their position as the exclusive creators of content and also adopt a role as curators.

According to the registration materials, "an agency curating the best content on behalf of its clients is like a museum curating the best art on behalf of its patrons.  Several new unconventional agencies have built their entire business model around the concept of “expert sourcing” in an attempt to redefine the way “creative” gets done in the 21st century. We’ll show how agencies can create more value for their clients by exploring and embracing the many different forms of co-creation available to agencies today.  "

I'm all for providing the best content on behalf of our clients.  But, I'm sorry, I just can't wrap my arms around actively positioning the agency as a curator vs. a creator.  One of the best lessons I learned in agency management was to think about "unintended consequences" to my decisions.  If we embrace redefinition as simply a go-between coordinator, then how easy will it be for clients to say I can do that much cheaper in-house.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!