360-degree marketing: Nobody wants it

If everybody's always talking about 360° marketing, how come I almost never see any? asks Renegade Marketing's Martin Bihl.

If everybody’s always talking about 360° marketing, how come I almost never see any?

You can’t listen to the head of a major marketing organization talk for more than five minutes without hearing about how this stuff is right around the corner, how it’s going to revolutionize our industry, how it was the driving force behind all those mergers and acquisitions.

Phooey. Three-hundred-and-sixty-degree marketing is a long way off and everyone in this business, deep down inside, knows it. Because nobody in this business really wants it.

Agencies don’t want it because, from where they sit, there are only two ways to get it and neither one is pretty. One is to partner with the client’s other existing agencies.

But that leaves too much money on the table – a point their own CFOs will remind them of at the next monthly revenue meeting. ‘Why are we part of a big network if not for this?’ they’ll howl. And, ‘How hard can it be – look at the crap those other disciplines produce!’ and ‘Just look at the margins!’

The other option is to do all the different work themselves. They like the revenue that implies, but they don’t have a clue about how the different disciplines work. Which becomes painfully obvious when you see them try.

But that’s okay, because the clients don’t really want that solution either. Clients are no more interested in consolidating all of their marketing at one agency (not their ‘advertising,’ but their marketing, i.e. the whole enchilada) than agencies are capable of doing it. Why? Because brand managers think of their agencies, whether they admit it or not, as an elaborate system of checks and balances. A system that keeps everyone pitching everyone else’s business, so everyone stays nervous, so the quality of the work stays high. A system that keeps account managers bidding down their services against each other, which in turn drives down costs. And, hey, there’s always the chance that one of them will hit something good eventually, right?

So nobody wants it. Well, not ‘nobody.’ Consumers want it.

Okay, okay I admit it. No consumer ever said: ‘Gosh, I sure wish my favourite brands had their marketing agencies aligned.’ But that’s because consumers don’t know that every brand they encounter has a half dozen agencies. And they sure as hell don’t know that the ad agency is secretly showing the client Web pages in an effort to steal that business, while the promotion agency is showing print ads, while the guerrilla agency is working up a sweepstakes.

They don’t know that all these guys not only don’t talk to each other, but that they’re actually actively trying to destroy each other. They think there’s one message handled by one agency that cuts across everything they see. I mean, why wouldn’t they?

So while they never say it with their mouths, they say it with their dollars.

And when they see multiple messages (because the ad agency wouldn’t talk to the promo agency who wouldn’t talk to the guerrilla agency who wouldn’t talk to…), the overall impression is diluted. In fact, it’s like multiple brands. Hey, who was it who said that the systematic repetition of a message ensures success? Reeves? Zyman? Goebbels? I forget.

That’s why we talk about it. Because anybody who watches consumers knows it works. And if you’re as frustrated as I am by how rarely we see it, then take a look at these three steps for making it happen.

Step One – The client takes the lead. Because let’s face it, the only person in the equation who’s really in the ‘talking to customers’ business, is the client. Agencies used to be, but now they’re mostly in the ‘talking to clients’ business.

So the client has to make it a priority. Tell his agencies: ‘Work together or I’ll find people who will.’ Of course, this will take clients out of a ‘problem-solving’ role and shift them into a ‘solution-managing’ role. But frankly, that’s where they should be anyway.

How can they do it? Lots of ways. One that I experienced was when Rich Lalley, then director of allied brands at Miller, locked me and Bob Hawthorne from the promotion agency in a room with Nelson Martinez and Randy van Kleeck from the advertising agency and said: ‘Don’t come out until you have something that works everywhere.’

I’m sure there are other, less draconian, ways. But I guarantee all of them have this in common – the strategy is ‘idea-centric’ or ‘target-centric’ and is avowedly not ‘ad-centric’ or ’60-second-TV-spot-centric’. And who makes sure of that? You guessed it, the client.

Step Two – Everybody get back in their own sandbox. Sounds like a flat-out contradiction of 360° marketing, but it’s not. Look, account directors don’t talk to each other because they all think they’re gonna steal the business. Why do they think this? Because they’re all trying to steal the business.

So the second step is for the client to tell all the players to get the hell back into their own sandboxes – you’re the promotion agency, bring me promotions, you’re the ad agency, bring me ads, you’re the guerrilla agency, bring me guerrilla ideas, and so forth.

Of course, this will mean that the client will have to have a firm grasp on what his brand is – and not delegate that responsibility to his ad agency. But that’s okay. And then they’ll need to make it stick in the only way that agencies know you’re serious – tell them that you’ll fire the first agency that brings you concepts outside its discipline. I know, that sounds harsh, but it focuses the responsibility for the unity on the client. I know, that’s tough. But nobody ever said being a brand manager was easy.

And Step Three – Shut up and play yer guitar. One of the nice things about everyone standing around chatting about how great 360° marketing would be, and how it’s just around the corner, and how it’s going to revolutionize the industry, is that no one ever has to actually do it because they’re too busy talking about it.

So stop talking about it and get to work.

Martin Bihl is the creative director of the Renegade Marketing Group in New York. Like a classic hand saw, Renegade Marketing has a distinctive knack for cutting through the baloney that impedes success. Renegade is a sanctuary for unconventional thinking, devoted to finding fresh approaches to age-old marketing problems. Bihl can be reached at mbihl@renegademarketing.com.