The SXSW event in Austin Texas last week seems to have matured from the super hip event of a few years ago and captured lots of the energy that Mobile World Congress seems to have lost.
This year the starts ups were joined by many brands – and consequently lots of agencies showed up too. And whilst there wasn’t some clear break out as in previous years ( Foursquare and Twitter both gained attention when they blew up at previous SXSW) there was lots to think about.
Essentially there are two strands worthy of attention – the thinking and the tech. The model where people propose panels and then whip up social buzz to drive voting on PanelPicker does lead to quite a lot of froth – over 100 events on storytelling? But there are a lot of smart people sharing some smart thinking.
Our favourite was probably John Hagel of Deloites talking about narratives as an alternative to stories. There is no video yet but these notes get the point over. With a book on the subject due we expect this to be very influential over the coming months. (one of Johns books from the 90s – Net Gain – still influences our thinking around community)
On the tech front there was lots to look at too and this review is really useful. We’d agree that brands should be experimenting with things like Leap Motion, proximity communications like NFC, Vine and Android, but they need to do so within a strategy. For a fuller picture of the hits of SXSW this Verge feature is pretty comprehensive.
Future of Agencies
As you might expect there is some cynicism over the Agency attendance at SXSW and this Digiday piece on the Real Reasons Agencys Go is really cutting. And AdAge have an odd piece on SXSW suggesting that digital agencies days are numbered as startup tech has the undivided attention of the world’s largest brands. Who knew?
There is an increasing recognition from some brands that Tech is important and in our conversations we find an uncertainty over where to get smart advice on how to navigate the GAFA ecology. But whilst some digital agencies are getting over excited over the new new thing, a few are looking at the business transformative effects of tech and using their knowledge to add value, rather than just extract a fee for building some new artefact that will be redundant in a matter of months.
The idea that Traditional agencies now get digital and therefore the role for digital specialists has come to an end is an enduring myth. But it is a myth. New data from the UK shows that the income of many traditional agencies has declined sharply in the last 12 months. The analyst view on why?
“growth had come from boutique players with digital offerings and decline from mature traditional players hit by the macroeconomic background”.
Despite talking the talk (Big Data, agile, social, blah blah) the business model of most agencies is around charging clients for the output of their factory. And most of those factories are designed to deliver TV commercials, TV buys or big websites. One question we’d like to see in industry reviews is the proportion of agency revenue that comes from digital. WPP make a big thing of their 30% – but that’s an average as they have some businesses which make all their revenue in digital, so they will have others that make rather less than that average. Back in our DLKW days, digital was around 20% of the total revenue – despite digital was unfashionable then. We wonder how many traditional agencies would pass Saul Kleins 8% test today?
So we are seeing new entrants into the space. Former UK publisher St Ives has added digital agency Amaze to it’s growing Marketing services business. As we have talked about in the past, tech firms like Adobe, Oracle, IBM and Salesforce are acquiring marketing capabilities – those four alone have invested over $20bn in marketing based M&A in the past 2 years. Consultancy firms like Deloitte and Accenture have substantial teams devoted to marketing services too. And increasingly brands are taking the skills inhouse; the latest example being Ladbrokes who are building their own digital marketing team.
Design agency Landor have shared their view on the future of advertising and they recognise the challenge
The ad agency of today must therefore become the “marketing maestro” of the future—leading the vast communications industry as curators of best-of-class ideas and their implementation
And of course there is an infographic on the Agency of the Future – which concludes;
Many marketers will rely on agencies to help them evolve. The agencies that embrace this new technology now will soon find themselves in the possession of a huge competitive differentiator……
We believe the jury is still out as to who will earn the right to be a brands trusted advisor – and there is a lot to play for.
One of the downsides of social is that a story can quickly get shared around, without always attracting the scrutiny it deserves. So this story in the Harvard Business Review has been heavily shared, Did eBay Just Prove That Paid Search Ads Don’t Work?
Well, no. They didn’t.
Essentially the article reports that eBay have realized that paying Google for a eBay ad to be shown when someone searches for eBay isn’t really that necessary, if the top organic listing is eBay. Rather than giving the user two places to click to go to eBay – one of which means Google gets paid – they have decided to rely on just one; the free one.
For any other search eBay, like every other brand, can measure the effectiveness of paid search and make a decision. And as just about every smart brand has found, search tends to be a very good investment.
As this article points out eBay have been big users of search over the years. Both they and Amazon used to blanket Google with search ads using Dynamic Keyword Insertion – meaning that whatever you searched for, an eBay or an Amazon ad would appear with your search query in the ad, suggesting they probably had it. Now this does give you some unusual results - but it did build the brand for both companies by reinforcing the breadth of their product offering. And because most of the ad don’t get clicked on, they did this essentially for free.
There is more evidence of just how effective mobile search can be in a new report from Google – with one fact jumping out; over half of the actions or conversions from mobile search happen within an hour of the search.
Publishing being disrupted
We spoke at the excellent Measuring Ad Performance conference this week and focused on tablets. In researching the talk we found that tablets now account for a higher proportion of web traffic than smartphones. We also saw that aggregator app market remains buoyant – with Flipboard continuing to innovate and Pulse seemingly about to be bought for upwards of $50m.
Our main point was that the established media brands have done little more than port their existing business onto the tablet and that all the innovation is coming from new players – many of whom are curating content from established media, but finding ways to add value. We ended with a picture of a wrench – as this was used in a DW Griffiths film in 1911 as one of the first examples of the close up – the technique that defined film as a medium, which prior to this was essentially theatre captured on one camera.
Our point is that we have yet to work out the defining use of tablets – but it doesn’t look like many of the established media brands have the ambition to truly innovate. One exception is the New York Times who have a new site design coming – which we expect to heavily influence their tablet strategy.
And they are extending their Richochet ad format to other media brands (including Conde Nast). This format enables an advertiser to attach their message to specific stories and share them in social
Google have launched an initiatve to blend creative and tech. Building on the archetypal agency creative team of copywriter and art director pioneered by Bill Bernbach in the 1950s, Google propose Art Copy& Code and amongst the thinking is the very clever Smileage from VW.
A Coke campaign from a couple of years ago has resurfaced to show the potential for mobile when you combine a good idea with technology
One thing we were surprised didn’t catch attention is Austin is the excellent Google Field Trip app – which is now available on iPhone having been available on Android for a while. This is the future of mobile – location driven information delivered politely in the background.
The FT have taken a good look at the Mobile Ad Gap – the shortfall in spend on mobile that threatens the content creation industry.
Out & about
Next week we are speaking at Sapient and at the Mediatel Media Playground event where we are doing a live Mobile Fix review of how tech is disrupting everything. There are a few tickets still available. If you are at either event do come and say hello
Book of the week
We are going to share some of the stuff that inspires us, with a regular book recommendation. If you agree or disagree with our choices let us know. First up is the new book from Dan Pink. Everyone in the marketing business is essentially a salesperson – we are all selling our ideas to our team, our clients and ultimately to real people. To Sell is Human is a typically smart book from Pink and really useful – and a good read too.
Finally….Seth Godin makes the point that tech has evolved and is now ready for us all
So, what’s everyone waiting for? It’s time to experiment and its time to learn.