To think, to advise & to do? How brand, agency & consultancy can work together to create engagement

Working toward ENGAGEMENT in digital marketing

After a 16-year career at L’Oreal — managing a brand worldwide (Redken), running a subsidiary (Canada) and as head of business development & digital marketing (ExCom Worldwide) — I was lucky enough to work with some of the best agencies and consultants in the world.  Now that I am on the consultancy side of the business — observing and sometimes working in conjunction with certain agencies — I thought I would try to plot out how the general eco-system works between these three players.

With the key ingredient to any successful social media marketing strategy being engagement, there are often major failings by brands.  The reasons are multiple.  And, as brands and their managers get to grips with an ever-changing landscape, it is normal that there are many trials and errors.  The key is being able to launch oneself with a certain humility, accept the possibility of failure and, above all, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.

Below I wanted to represent graphically the different situations in which brands, agencies and consultants find themselves as they attempt to reach the Valhalla of engagement in their digital marketing strategy.

Ignore Listen Create Engage

Brands get stuck in internal bureaucracy

Brands don’t listen and engage, individuals do.  Brands too often get bogged down in corporate bureaucracy and politics, where managers are managing first their own career and/or short-term business pressures.  Top brass still have other prerogatives than upgrading their digital education.  The freedom for an individual employee to create and engage with his/her own voice is rare.   As such, many brands look at social media as channel of communication, for messaging and, at best, passing along brand content; but, they struggle enormously when it comes to creating engagement.  Another issue for brands is that, faced with the extreme financial pressures and a plethora of choices, there is little time for truly listening to the customer, much less strategic reflection.  For the brand, the leadership must first be able to rally its own employees around a singular mission.  This is no negligible task.

Agencies struggle with their own economic model

Agencies, depending on whether they come from the traditional background (“advertising”) or are of the upstart digital variety, are generally hands on to the extent they must come up with the communication plan (creative, planning, media buying…).  The biggest challenge for traditional agencies is figuring out their own economic model in creating an effective and efficient digital marketing campaign for a client.  Agencies, also, too often lack an appropriate understanding of the managerial tasks inside the client company, that which is critical in making a blended off- and online marketing strategy work.  Moreover, looking at how some of the larger agencies (dys-)function, there is little coordination between the different units within the agency, making the ability to provide strong overarching strategic advice for the brand a challenge.  Furthermore, it is just not advisable to outsource community management to an agency (at least, not as a long-term solution).  A question I would encourage to pose to your agency: how is your own social media strategy for your own brand?  Too often, the agency does not manage its own digital campaign and/or social media presence.

Consultants are hands off

Consultants are known for not being operational.  They talk, without having to do.   Moreover, typically, they are not equipped to execute.  They have never seen any execution through, nor do they even execute well for themselves.  At best, they have had managerial experience in industry.  On the good side, they may be able to provide strategic reflection.  But, in today’s world it is hard enough finding staff who have gained true and successful experience in digital marketing, much less a consultant who has.

So, each group has its own foibles and failings.  Of course, there are exceptional examples in each case.  What does it take to get the triumverate to work?  Probably the single most powerful action that can galvanize the forces together is to have a greater focus on the customer.   By starting with the customer, listening to his/her needs, creating brand content that is relevant and engaging in an authentic, humble fashion, brands, agencies and consultants can work together to accomplish what is needed.

It’s not an easy path, but it is probably the only one.  What are your thoughts?  Please do not hesitate to drop in your own conviction!