The Idea CMOs Need Now

It’s time to blow up the advertising agency model and start over. Let’s face it: It barely worked for us on the agency side, and it no longer works for the chief marketing officers we’re engaged to support.

Over at Fast Company, Shawn Parr references the changes in the brand relationship—some caused by technology and some just revealed by it—that pose new and unique challenges for the modern CMO. Clearly, brand leadership at the highest levels and for the leading brands is not what it used to be. And just as corporate marketers have learned to adapt to this new normal, the role of the agencies that support and champion those brands has evolved as well. Witness these facts:

Of the major practice areas that make up most global agencies, more than half of them did not exist 10 years ago. The departments that defined agency disciplines a generation ago (account management, media, public relations, research) have themselves been divided into so many specialties and subspecialties as to make their original labels almost meaningless.

As brand leadership has grown more complicated, agencies have added expertise to support CMOs in everything from word-of-mouth and street teams to motion editing and experiential marketing.

But it’s not enough.

These capabilities and these investments in talent at the agency level may be our new normal, but it’s just the price of admission if you want to stay on the RFP mailing list. They are a means, not an end.

The old agency model was constructed around broadcasting a brand message to the masses. Later we learned to target demographics and psychographics and lifestyle cohorts and all the other buzzwords from last year’s dead presentations. All this narrowing of focus was leading us toward a single destination that the technology just made evident: the individual.

What CMOs need from their agencies—and what builds successful client/agency relationships—is the idea; the white-hot spark that focuses consumer attention, makes the brand relevant to the consumer, and keeps the audience engaged beyond a simple transaction.

The market needs all the tools and disciplines that define brands and make them unique, familiar and recognizable. But unlike the abstract “market” and all the demographic models and audience segments, human beings are not affected by brand platforms or corporate style guides. Ultimately, they’re moved by relevant ideas. A relevant idea is channel agnostic. It transcends when and where a person encounters it, and it lasts beyond the consideration funnel or the purchase decision.

Dominant brands used to be able to, well, dominate by simply outspending or outshouting the competition. Obviously, those days are gone. To help CMOs succeed today, their agencies need to bring all the tools. But a tool is useless without its handle, the thing your customers can grasp.

That’s what makes your brand relevant and what creates a connection with the consumer.

And that’s the idea.


by Adryanna Sutherland
President, gyro Cincinnati

Follow Adryanna on Twitter @Adry99.


Cross-posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network