Surviving digital: How not to be eaten (by the fast)

When Canada's adverati converged on postcard-pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake for two days in May to learn from their U.S. and U.K. peers at ICA's Future Flash, they heard several tales of reinvention, including how to bring order to working model chaos and how best to integrate all the new digital possibilities into smart cohesive solutions.

When Canada’s adverati converged on postcard-pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake for two days in May to learn from their U.S. and U.K. peers at ICA’s Future Flash, they heard several tales of reinvention, including how to bring order to working model chaos and how best to integrate all the new digital possibilities into smart cohesive solutions.

While the locale was eerily undisturbed by time, the content was anything but, rife with predatory predictions like ‘the fast eat the slow’ and threats of the imminent demise of the non-fleet, non-innovative members of the herd.

Jeff Swystun, chief communications officer at New York-based DDB Worldwide, quantified the volume of change required for the agency execs in attendance by saying, ‘the entire industry has to innovate or face irrelevance.’ Swystun says we live in an advertising world where a small number of people can influence a thousand, or a million, so brands must now market to both the herd (passive ad watchers) and the swarm (social networkers). He observed that although you can’t lead a swarm, with a carefully mixed concoction of ‘conviction, collaboration and creativity,’ you can influence them. So, as per Swystun, ‘the real new media is people.’ And if that thought makes you tired, don’t read on. There are bigger challenges ahead.

Colleen DeCourcy, chief digital officer for TBWAWorldwide, advocated an approach that was both fast and slow. To help sort the craziness of working amidst a dizzying proliferation of platforms and content, she shared a model for ‘advertising at the speed of culture,’ which entails a 24/7 digital fast track balanced by a more slowly crafted storytelling arc.

DeCourcy says the ‘need to own the conversation not just the creative’ entails creating new ad expressions to engage the audience, and the process TBWA embarked upon to feed that need is ‘constant communication.’ It entails planning, anticipating and reacting to opportunities for the brand to somehow touch people every month, every day, or even more often. A technology infrastructure is at its base with the end game being useful content and interaction, such as Adidas supplying sports scores to fans, with tallies crediting which sneaker models scored points.

To get there, media platforms have to change, and agencies have to get acquainted with a 365-day pace. DeCourcy described the thoughtshift as moving from a campaign to a newsroom mentality. But you need a balance, and she pontificated that the division of labour at agencies will see some moving fast on the constant communication grid, and others moving slow – crafting stories. To get there, she says agencies need to make shifts: from heavily resourced to highly resourceful; from executing a plan to capitalizing on the unplanned; and from defender of the brand to deliverer of the behaviour.

On the other side of the branding relationship, marketers, as well as all of us folks who are the real new media, may need to clone ourselves to keep up.

A recent U.S. survey by Heidrick & Struggles found only 16% of the senior marketers polled were ‘very satisfied’ with their ability to respond quickly to new opportunities in digital media. Many marketers are dealing with several agencies or suppliers in the digital space alone – web, mobile, search, social media, there’s even some Twitter shops now – and as digital evolves it’s only going to get bigger in terms of opportunities and breadth of programs. So help sorting it all on the agency side is key. Media agencies, creative agencies and digital shops all vying for ownership of brands’ digital strategies isn’t helping. Brand managers have enough on their plate without managing inter-agency turf wars. All of this certainly makes a case for adding a digital CMO (or two). And depending on how fast your audience is moving into cyberspace, the digital CMOs and the new brand conduits they design may well be the most important role going forward.

cheers, mm

Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant

P.S. This issue, which also goes to the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, contains the first print edition of stimulant, strategy‘s creative site and e-news sibling. Check it out to see who’s mastered the arts of swarm/herd influencing.