Will the Next Agency be the Client?

I’ve worked with agencies nearly all my professional life. Big, small, east coast, west coast, midwest, south, you name the region, I’ve worked with a company based there. Always thought I should switch sides at least once in my career and work for one, but so far the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. Perhaps someday it will.

As the Internet emerged the Interactive Agency was born. Traditional advertising firms tried to set-up digital shop to compete but it took them years to catch-up, many of them never succeeding. Interactive companies tried an end around play to capture advertising business. That had equally mixed results. As technology became more and more embedded in marketing efforts, numerous specialized firms sprung up. The client had to choose carefully so as to not become overwhelmed, swarmed or outnumbered with external services and experts.

The growth of Social Media led to yet another specialty group of agencies. But social will be done best and most effective by the people who are in the company. A successful social strategy will be supported by three pillars.

Service and commerce already exist inside the corporate walls. Once firms establish and sharpen their social media skills they will be well positioned to execute on all three of these pillars.

Three pillars of Social Media
Three pillars of Social Media

Social Media

The Social Media express has lifted-off with rocket ship thrust and settled into solid orbit. It will be the hardest of the three pillars for companies to understand, learn and practice. As we know it’s about people, communication and relationships, not polished marketing, campaigns and sound bytes. The brands employing authentic people will get this right very quickly, providing senior management steps-up and legitimizes Social Media along side the likes of direct marketing, advertising and others.

Social Service

Brands known for great service and placing appropriate focus on the customer experience will naturally gravitate toward social tools to service their customers. Phone, IVR, e-mail, online chat and SMS are staples of the mature service department today. That evolution will simply continue through the use of social tools and technology. It will also allow other, more expensive channels to be reduced.

Social Commerce

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on this one but mastery will be required or the entire social revolution will fizzle out in the C-suites, then cost centers; relegated to road kill. Selling inside the social graph is inevitable and it will be effective. Consumers will sell brands and products without even knowing it or stopping to think about it. Enabling this will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between Marketing, advertising, customer service and IT, and it will be entirely digital.

Summary

Arguably, no agency can do this better than a brand or company. Social Media is not services purchased. It’s in the DNA of a brand. The mission, vision, practice, philosophy and most of all people who show up everyday because they enjoy it. That last part is crucial. You don’t have to love your brand to churn out marketing collateral or pick up the phone and answer inquiries. You can’t write a purchase order for passion. It’s table stakes in the social graph.

Despite the fact that agencies are working hard to crack the code on where they need to go to cash in on this next curve, it might be a futile attempt. The top CEO’s will soon see how all these orbiting customer touchpoints (online, phone, mobile, social networks, blogging etc.) are shaping how consumers consider and choose products and services. However, there will be a cost. Either through expansion of staff and resources or a measured replacement of existing “traditional” personnel and cost centers. My opinion is we are long overdue for a complete re-imagining and re-structuring of the marketing organization.

Am I saying the next agency will emerge from within the walls company? Not an agency in the way we know it today. Instead a new corporate classification of marketing. A new way doing business that can only be accomplished by people who work for the brand.

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