Our industry spent the last decade adapting to change
This change we are witnessing is massive. It is the most exciting one since not only the Mad Men days 50 years ago but the days of Gutenberg 500 years ago.
Gutenberg is credited with the invention of the printing press that allowed him to print the Bible, the first official mass-media artifact of mankind. It’s one of the most successful “marketing” items that we’ve ever seen.
Someone had a story to tell about God. Then there was Jesus Christ. That story was told by priests in churches and parents at home - literally, a word of mouth campaign.
Then printing technology - the most cutting-edge and advanced kind of its day - came about. It made possible for the story to be printed on paper, duplicated thousands of times and then distributed to the masses.
Since then, we've invented many technologies that essentially became what we call media. Starting with print, there is now radio, TV, the Internet, mobile and, most recently, social media. Jesus Christ even has a Facebook page with 1,368,465 fans. You can be a fan, too.
The media choices have multiplied many times over since the days of Gutenberg. Yet, there are two fundamentals that haven't changed. One, humans continue to tell stories. Storytelling is what makes us unique as living things in this world. And two, we continue to use technology to distribute those stories.
We've been smart enough to leverage technology as media to monetize. Brands have products and services to sell. As advertisers, we create stories around them. We then distribute those stories across media to emotionally connect with consumers and make them fans of brands, with the hope that people would buy stuff.
In the last decade in our industry, integration has been preached by many. We've been obsessed with breaking down the great divide between what we call traditional and digital. Traditional agencies are hiring digital superstars like crazy to desperately prove to clients that they get digital. Digital agencies are trying to prove to clients that they get big ideas.
Everyone is trying to be TraDigital.
The good news is that even in this age of TraDigital, the formula that we used back in the days of Gutenberg still applies: Come up with a story around a brand/product/service. Multiply and distribute that story through as many media channels as possible. Make sure the story is integrated between traditional and digital. And voila! You sell more products.
The bad news is that it doesn't quite work as well as it used to. Some powerful people in the industry (i.e. CEOs and CMOs of major brands) are saying that they don't need media agencies anymore. Some even say advertising is the price you pay for having bad products.
Just as we thought we were getting this integration thing right, it's back to the drawing board again.
But why is this? That's because we are still telling'still shouting brands' stories that people might not care about'at the masses. Even if these stories are integrated across a myriad of media channels, as advertisers, we are just telling.
Integration of media or, integrated storytelling, is no longer enough. What we really need to integrate isn't traditional and digital anymore.
The next evolution of integration lies between communication and product development.
The real power and possibility of digital is its ability to turn products into communication vehicles for brands.
There aren't that many examples yet of this kind of work out there. How-ever, a few promising efforts are emerging. They are the types of work that show promise that agencies can be relevant again for clients do exist.
Take Twelpforce Best Buy for example. Their story is about helping customers. Instead of telling that story, they created a very simple forum, using an existing platform, to connect with their customers. It isn't just about telling that story, but rather enabling the story.
It's what I call 'Storyenabling.'
Another example is Eco:Drive by Fiat. The company's mission is to become the world's most eco-friendly automotive brand. They could have made a commercial to tell people that. However, they thought of a way to prove that story to their customers.
What's interesting about Fiat Eco:Drive is how the idea began. A group of engineers at Fiat were working on a USB drive that would port music files from people's laptops to their cars. In the process, they knew that they could store the driving data from the car onto the USB drive.
One of the engineers mentioned it to a marketing guy he knew in the company. The marketing guy then went to his agency and asked if they could think of an idea that would leverage that driving data somehow, which eventually led to Eco:Drive.
And this happened because there was integration between product development and communication. In this case, all it took was a conversation between a product and marketing guy.
The days of integration between traditional and digital may not be over just yet. But the dawn of a different kind of integration is upon us, the integration of product and communication. That is the life after TraDigital.