Strategy in the Age of Specialization
As modern marketing grows more complex and specialized, it’s getting harder and harder to hold it all together.
Rising complexity and specialization is driving the full-service agency model into extinction — and leaving many marketing leaders without a single strategic partner who can help them string all the pieces together.
Complexity is on the rise. You’ve got more channels and functions to manage than ever. And news ones are cropping up all the time trying to get your attention.
And for many brands, more channels means more specialization across the board. Specialization on the internal team. And specialization on your (ever expanding, or at least ever-shifting) agency roster.
And then there’s the technology side of things. Many of the new channels and functions that power your brand are backed by technology. And more than ever, it’s your responsibility to choose and use the right ones.
And of course it’s the source of even more complexity and specialization. Because above and beyond your internal team and your agencies, the extended team under your leadership also now likely includes a growing roster of technology partners as well.
In fact, it never stops. That’s kind of the point. Instead it just keeps changing. Faster than ever. New channels. New tactics. New technologies. Each with a new wave comes with a new array of specialists.
The most obvious trend: the vision/fantasy of being truly “full-service" is growing more difficult and less attainable every day.
“I wish sometimes that the agencies would stick to what they are good at. You can’t do everything, and if you try to do everything, you do nothing. It drives me crazy when the agency is trying to pitch you every single service available.
—An anonymous brand executive vents to Digiday
Instead of a single full-service partner, more clients are opting for some mix of strategic new hires (insourcing), multiple specialist agencies and multiple tech vendors.
This new model makes sense on paper. No question. And many specialists can indeed turn their specialized knowledge into truly great, truly impactful work.
But in practice, the new specialist-heavy model also brings with it a new set of challenges.
You’re a modern CMO. Fed up with too many promises, you’ve jettisoned your AOR. Or maybe you’ve just demoted them. Added them to a growing list of specialist executors you can count on to do one or two things really, really well.
- The brand is slipping out of the drivers seat: Not surprisingly, a channel-centric model yields channel-centric thinking. Which means that if you’re not careful, the brand experience can become disjointed and fragmented.
- Customer experience inconsistencies: Speaking of disjointed, more players on a wider field means more silo-ed decision making. And that doesn’t bode well for a unified (call it “omnichannel" if you like) brand experience.
- Prioritization and decision-making is difficult: Which part of the giant motor should get the most oil next fiscal? Ask ten different team members and you might get ten different answers.
- Orchestration is hard, too: You’ve got all the instruments in place, but trying to get them to play the same song at the same time ain’t easy. Never mind actually sounding good.
- The model is more agile in some ways, less agile in others: Individual channels can pivot quickly and respond to changing customer needs. But the whole machine is bigger, more complex and harder to manoeuvre. Bad news, when change is the only constant.
“We need to find ways to lead with brands and not channels.We need to find ways to orchestrate an integrated approach."— Unilever CMO Keith Weed, speaking at Cannes 2014
All of this adds up to more pressure at the top, at the marketing leadership level. More pressure to stay nimble. To keep pace with shifting consumer habits and expectations. More pressure to make the right technology decisions for today and tomorrow — not just the right tools for each channel, but the right integrated tool set across the whole mix. And more pressure to orchestrate the disparate pieces to deliver a great brand experience, and protect the brand from fragmentation.
As the agency roster has grown and become fragmented, and much of the thinking and planning has moved down the chain to each of the channels, that place at the CMO’s right hand — the place where holistic, brand-level envisioning and planning happens — has often been left empty.
Something is missing. But what does the missing piece look like, exactly? To my mind, this new breed of strategic partner would need to be able to assist the CMO in envisioning, creating and evolving the complete marketing machine, creating a whole that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.
A big picture POV
They would need a good strong generalist’s understanding of what each piece of the marketing machine should be doing, and how all the pieces can work together. And an ability to break down silos to make that vision a reality.
Savvy reader that you are, you may have guessed by now where my conclusion is heading. And you’re right. I am, I admit, the co-founder of a strategy-focused agency that has been built especially to fill this emerging need.
Original Page: http://ow.ly/FzDJc
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December 9th, 2014