Control freaks need not apply

Control freaks need not apply
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Technology makes things simpler, but also more complicated, for the creative world. As it changes the way we work every day, the only guarantee is that creativity remains our point of difference, writes DDB chairman, Marty O'Halloran.

Alex Ross, Hilary Clinton’s Senior Adviser on Innovation, warned that, “The 21st Century is a terrible time to be a control freak”.

Only marketers who accept this and adapt to the new speed and effects of technology will thrive in 2013, because things are about to get a lot faster and a lot more interesting.

Historically brand communications were solely one way – from business to consumer.  Without doubt these traditional channel brand building vehicles are still powerful brand equity builders, but alongside the traditional mix, we have seen the rise of brand dialogue between business and consumer, and in the future we will see brands having a constant relationship with the consumer. Reacting to consumer rather than dictating to them.

To that point 2013 will continue to be driven by social media. We are seeing a continued decline in how people trust traditional media and a corresponding increase in consumers seeking recommendations from a friend or using customer reviews before making purchase decisions. Going forward, the most successful brands will be those with the desire to learn from their customers and the willingness to interact in new, meaningful ways – understanding the needs of consumers and responding with relevance. 

The challenge I have noticed is that organisational structures and behaviours must be put in place to ensure that brands can truly engage with consumers.

While our clients are evolving organisational structures, technology use and changing marketing channel mix, agencies need to also invest and evolve the model. For example, in the future we will need to demonstrate that we can organise our resources to deliver CRM platforms to join offline and online strategies. Agencies must demonstrate the ability to aggregate media, customer intelligence, customer data, media performance and CRM performance to truly evaluate and make marketing investment decisions.

While the DDB Group already has one of the industry’s largest digital, technology and data teams we will be ramping up our investment in talent in these areas. As well as hiring more people with technology and data expertise we are also looking at strategic acquisitions in this area. Importantly agencies will also have to work harder to prove they can collaborate with other partners that our clients use. Agencies will never be able to offer all the specialised data services, for example, but we must prove that we can apply our creative fire power to solve business problems.

The future is bright and for many the future is in data and the way that we use it to our advantage. For instance more contextually aware platforms will enable better targeting; connecting the retail and digital worlds by combining data from Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS and Bluetooth. Those that successfully leverage today’s technology and rich sources of data will be able to deploy more informed, real time acquisition strategies and brand engagement strategies.

Into 2013 our collective challenge will be to get the mix right. Technology change and data access make this the most exciting time to be in the industry. We must all promote an adventurous spirit where we try new things and invest in brand building R&D to create market advantage.

Technology is making it easier to communicate to the consumer, but ironically, it’s becoming more challenging to truly engage with consumers. For example, the major issue for 2013 will be the phenomenal speed of change. Consumers are embracing and enjoying technology which delivers simple and intuitive solutions that enhance their lifestyle. But often marketers are moving too slowly to capture these opportunities.

More than ever before 2013 will become a mobile world. We will continue to see the shift from desktops to mobile and will need to adapt to consumers’ needs and expectations. This continued proliferation of multiple platforms means that successful brands will be those that have a strong and consistent tone of voice across every device and every platform. Which is a lot harder than it sounds.

Technology brands have changed consumer behaviour and given marketers an incredible opportunity to disrupt markets and change the rules of competition. In Interbrand’s 2012 Best Global Brands ranking the three top risers were technology brands: Apple, Samsung and Amazon.

I find it fascinating that agencies and marketers are now flocking to CES in Las Vegas every January. The Consumer Electronics Show brings together every major tech company including top social media organisations like Amazon, Google, Groupon, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube. 

Also in the technology space an exciting trend is the rise of the manufacturer as the media owner. Samsung is one of the best examples of this shift through their Smart TV development along with component and processing development that make mobile computing possible. 

Smartphone users today are totally attached to their devices and as a result they are becoming more sophisticated in their desires.  New generation processors will increase speed while consuming less energy.  So start thinking about engaging with manufacturers and leading telecommunication companies like Telstra as you make media investment decisions.

During CES categories predicted to be ripe for change during 2013 included healthcare, education and travel. In healthcare we will see an expansion of training technology by leading sports brands like Nike and Adidas. People like using technology to track, view and share fitness and in the future we will see more ‘life sensors’ being introduced to help people lead healthier lives. 

One fun example is the HAPIfork – an electronic fork that is programmed to manage weight loss. It will tell you if you’re eating too quickly and it will help you manage portion size to better digest food and maintain your weight loss programme. We are predicting that more brands will use technology to advance health credentials.

While most of our industries are excited about change and the opportunities in front of us, we still have pockets that have not fully embraced what technology and data can now deliver for brands.  As Jack Welch said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

However, as a caveat to this I will say that this has to be tempered with the human equation. We can never let technology out run the way that people actually use it on a day to day basis. Great marketers keep up with their consumers; they do not out run them.

In this world where technology and data are opening up new opportunities to build brands, the one that remains constant is the need to apply creative thinking to build brands.  Creativity remains our point of difference, what excites me is that we now have a larger canvas for our idea creation.   

Marty O'Halloran is chairman of DDB Australia and New Zealand

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