The drums are beating louder: Why marketers need to evolve beyond the linear

In the last week we’ve heard from a senior marketing commentator that: “the industry is as close to being on its knees as it has in the 20 years I’ve been writing about it.”

Coupled with this we have the head of marketing at Nestle resigning, citing that: “marketers had become bogged down in process management, coordinating an ever-increasing number of agency relationships to properly do their jobs.

“We’re spending so much time doing things that are not core to our trade of marketing that it’s taken up our ability to do our trade of marketing.”

He goes on to say it was time to re-think the nature of agency relationships. “The old brand management model invented in the 1950s by Procter & Gamble is now 60 years old. The nature of our relationships with our agencies is 50 or 60 years old. The tools we’re using are old. We’re a progressive industry, we’re a forward-thinking industry, we should be on the cutting edge, but actually some of our relationships and approaches are very out-of-date.”

There are two issues in play here. Firstly, media and creative “agencies” are struggling in the face of massively reduced margins. This is largely because risk-adverse boards have been focussed on cost cutting. Growth however stems from competitive and sustainable advantages not making unsustainable savings from the back-end.

Secondly, marketers (well at least one vocal sage) are too consumed in managing their agency relationships, compounded by out of date thinking from the industry that services them. Sounds like the perfect storm

If you run a creative agency, media shop, digital agency, PR, search or social consultancy, then I imagine this will be close to your heart. If you’re in marketing, then it’s equally relevant because you are the people we strive to partner with.

So how do we find ourselves at this impasse and what can we do about it?

In the beginning, there were products and services, and some were good. Fewer became trusted brands, but those that did enjoyed unquestioned loyalty supported by simple yet effective marketing engines built to reach people in mass quantity. This formula worked for decades.

Today, despite the pervasive nature of digital, including social and mobile, much of the marketing emphasis remains dedicated to reaching people in mass. This has followed a tried and tested advertising formula stemming from consumer insights and crafted messages pushed out across a myriad of channels (including digital) to feed the industrial broadcast-machine. Very much a linear process.

Marketers need to evolve beyond the linear

Despite signs that media consumption is highly fragmented, shifting to digital and increasingly more difficult to track marketers appear reluctant to overhaul their approach. Then along came content marketing which is disrupting linear thinking.

Marketing folk across the land are currently grappling with the notion of content used in the context of marketing. They understand that their customers value content, consume it, create it and share it and they want a piece of the action. They also understand that this type of content is not the traditional campaigns they execute for broadcast, so they face a dilemma.

The content conundrum represents the tip of the iceberg for “new-marketing” but must be dealt with as proof mounts that content is valued whilst overt advertising and marketing is something to be filtered out.

Marketing has to undergo a transformation where shifts in resources need to go into building social/digital media channels.

An agile and adaptive mentality is badly needed in “new-marketing” one that is less dependent on historical data to make decisions and more inclined to be iterative and responsive to data.

Brands will have to learn to be more flexible, be more in tune with rapidly changing sentiment and more responsive in their subsequent approach across a de-centralised and splintered media landscape.

A more holistic approach is the answer

From a marketing perspective the solution lies somewhere between acknowledging that a brand must support both a traditional, linear marketing model in addition to a newer, agile approach which is constantly in tune with the current environment.

The pivotal challenge is two-fold. Firstly there is the need to deconstruct a 60 year old marketing machine which has placed the majority of its resources on mass marketing diligently hitting certain metrics. Secondly there is the need for an evolution of roles within marketing, a new literacy in community management, editorial and digital analytics.

We’re talking shift not revolution. It could look something like this:

From an “agency” perspective we are starting to see aspects of media and creative (digital & non digital)) merge like globules of mercury. I’m not sure what we can call it, to be honest. Full-service and integrated come to mind, suggestions anyone? However it needs to reduce the burden of management on marketers and be able to manage all aspects of new-marketing disciplines. Here’s an example of how it could look.

I may be off the mark but hopefully you’ll agree it’s not just about media buying agencies providing content or creative agencies getting involved in media. Both marketers and their partners need a more fundamental restructuring to take us forward for the next 20 years.

Please don’t be shy to leave your thoughts.

Martyn Thomas
BY Martyn Thomas ON 25 November 2013
Martyn Thomas is the managing director of Melbourne based FRANk Media, a hybrid full service agency with social business strategy at the core. Martyns’ ethos is to consistently add value for clients and keep marketing teams abreast of the world outside their office.