From the Other Side - Advice for Agencies


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It hasn't been very long but already the world looks very different being on the corporate side here at PepsiCo partnering with many different agencies. Here are some perspectives that maybe valuable for digital (and traditional) agencies working with organizations the size of PepsiCo.

  1. Digital Marketing complicates life for a marketer: There is no question life was much simpler before digital marketing entered the picture. Marketers have an immense amount to worry about. And with all the facets of digital marketing thrown into the mix - a complex space only gets more complex.

    What does this mean - the way marketing organizations are structured is probably going to have to change at some point in the future. No more is it possible for a brand marketer to be able to grasp and own every facet of his or her brand. The world has changed. And anyone who keeps telling a brand marketer that it is about 360 degree marketing with paid, owned and earned media integration is over simplifying. As an agency person, recognize what we're going through and be a positive part of the complexity.

  2. The current structure of the advertising ecosystem is not perfect. There are a lot of people in the business who complain that the structural dynamics of advertising are flawed - brands to agency to publisher to consumer (notice how far the consumer is from the brand?). I believe that too. But we haven't nailed the replacement for this structure given the number of players in the ecosystem. And until we do, we'll be forced to stay with something like this.

    In the digital space, digital agencies don't like that the fact that they're at a significant relationship disadvantage. Brands don't like the fact that they're sometimes kept at arms length from consumers (agencies and publishers are in the middle). Digital agencies feel traditional agencies don't get it and traditional agencies can't understand why brands don't completely appreciate their digital chops.  In a sense, everyone is unhappy. That's not good. It has to change and probably only will when truly a new form of an agency rises (yes, I know there have been lots of false starts!).

  3. Brand Marketing is indeed in a crisis. You know all the hype about social media and how it is changing the fundamentals of marketing? Well, it may not be the complete picture but it is certainly having its impact. Traditional marketing tactics aren't as powerful as they once were. It is just the way it is. But the problem is that everyone in the ecosystem (or nearly everyone) don't think about changing this space.

    Here's what I mean. It is easier for an agency or a media company to sell TV advertisements or digital media impressions or traditional PR tactics than it is to sell social influence marketing or deep consumer engagement. That stuff is much harder to design, price, guarantee and market efficiently. And from a buyer perspective, it is the type of thing you can lose your job over too. No one likes it but it is the future if you want your brand to survive. Please help us get there. Take the risks and force us to.

  4. Agencies are fabulous but they aren't that fabulous. Probably the most humbling fact about moving over to the client side was the realization that agencies don't look that different from each other from afar. When you're on the agency side, you invariably drink your own cool aid. I certainly did a fair bit of drinking and I do feel that the agency I came from (Razorfish) is  special. But differentiation between agencies is not always that clear. Everyone is reading the same trade publications, attending the same marketing conferences and seeing each other's pitches. Yes, there's a lot of group think.

    So what does that mean for an agency? Put extra effort into figuring out what makes you special. And don't think in terms of just having a special story but also tangible, proof points that make that story real. You're not that special otherwise. In fairness to the agencies, the brands may not be that special either. We may think we are the most important thing in a consumer's life but we probably aren't!

  5. Biases drive a lot of marketing decisions.. We have always known that marketing is an imperfect science. It is as much art as it is science. The reality is that biases - at every point in the ecosystem heavily influence marketing decisions. Accept it and use that to your advantage but always keep the brand's objectives in focus. Here are a few examples of how it plays out.

    A digital production shop that has grown into a digital agency will probably always emphasize content creation versus conversation management online. A marketer who has had great successes with TV advertising in the Super Bowl will always privilege that over other forms of marketing. An agency that hit a home run with one idea will be called in to do the same thing again and again even though the world may have moved on. The biases will always exist as we're human. There is no perfect company and no perfect agency either.

  6. Ideas matter an incredible amount but help us think beyond ideas. Every marketer suffers from the candy store syndrome at some point. We get so many great ideas from so many different agencies every day (I certainly do here at PepsiCo) that we can't help want more and more. More ideas to salivate over, provide feedback on and then be able to choose from. It's just irresistible.

    But in the long run that's a bad thing. Ideas do matter of course but they need a strong strategic frame. Without the strategic frame they are meaningless. My challenge to my agency partners is to always think about that strategic frame. What does it mean - on the marketing side we have to do a better job of explaining our strategic priorities and our long term digital strategies. Please help us stay focused. We can't get too caught up in the candy store syndrome.
What do you think? Am I missing anything important? Life on the corporate side is very different but it is fascinating being in a different place in the ecosystem. And as the agency landscape evolves with new types of agencies cropping up, it is only going to get more interesting.


Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

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