In this opinion piece, Carat strategy director Andrew Hardeman (pictured below) challenges agencies to focus on solving client problems in the most simple and effective way, rather than adding unnecessary complexity. Because in the timeless words of Avril Lavigne, ‘Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?’
Over the past few years, the advertising landscape has become increasingly difficult to navigate. Media fragmentation, consumer advertising scepticism and the commoditisation of ‘unique selling propositions’ have meant reaching the right person, in the right place, in the right context, and with the right message, has become somewhat of a scientific miracle.
At the same time, the role of marketing teams has become busier with the addition of more moving parts.
As a result, marketing teams are placing greater value on agencies that filter what they say and share, so that only the most relevant and required information is delivered.
Unfortunately, as David Ogilvy put it: “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”
I’m sure you have all been in a presentation recently where you were baffled by the unnecessary addition of detail, depth or complexity that was delivered for what seemed like a relatively directive request, brief or problem to solve, right?
Agencies need to appreciate now that their role is shifting to that of expert filterers – rather than simply experts. Delivering less – but better – work has never been more appreciated.
So, why are agencies overcomplicating things and what can they do about it now?
Situation #1: increasing access to data and information
Rationale: agencies have had unprecedented exponential access to data that has provided opportunities to be better equipped and informed to solve problems. However, data is only good if someone knows what to do with it and how to represent it.
Data at its most basic form is defined as “facts and statistics collected together for analysis”. Unfortunately, too often agencies are representing data as insights, rather than using critical thinking to understand the ‘why’ behind it.
Solution: use critical thinking to present the right information, not all the information.
Everyone will have access to data. Successful agencies will be the ones who know how to use it. Agencies would be wise to bolster and promote strategic divisions that have strong critical thinking and analytic skills, as this will become the point of differentiation when data becomes commoditised.
Those that can effectively present and develop meaningful and actionable insights from data – present the diamond without the rough – will be in high demand.
Situation #2: demonstrate breadth of capabilities and thinking
Rationale: many agencies would say that in the search for finding solutions to client problems, they have had to add complexity and rigour to their approach, and many could be within their right to believe that.
However, adding this layer of complexity is often actually self-serving behaviour. It is selfishly showing off capabilities, prowess and skill when they are not required.
It is self-serving behaviour, not client-first thinking.
Solution: listen to what is required, not what your agency wants to deliver.
Presenting a cool new idea, macro landscape analysis, piece of tech or newly-minted client offering as part of a recommendation when it is not truly relevant is a waste of time. Articulate and re-articulate the problem – and what needs to be done – to make sure each stage of any response ladders back to the original requirement and task at hand.
Situation #3: agency partner competition
Rationale: in an increasingly competitive market where all agencies are competing for the same shrinking budgets, agencies constantly feel like they need to deliver more to justify the value they offer.
While this ‘more’ can be worthwhile, it is in fact adding more complexity to clients, because it is often being delivered for less (or nothing). This artificially sets an incorrect value on what is provided and represents a big problem, because value and worth is often determined by what is exchanged and paid for it in return – if it costs nothing, it is often perceived as worth nothing.
Solution: identify and work with agency partners rather than compete against them.
Media and creative agencies are increasingly being pulled closer together as a result of clients wanting an easier integrated solution. Agencies within larger operating models will benefit from working as a singular entity, while those working as separate agencies would be wise to become good at providing an integrated solution or risk being left for agency partners that can.
Where does this leave us now?
Richard Branson put it nicely by saying: “Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.” Or as George Lois put it simply in his book Damn Good Advice: “Think long, write short.”