Agencies must adapt to a marketing world based on open systems


John Winsor, CEO of crowdsourcing-based advertising agency Victors & Spoils and Chief Innovation Officer at global marketing conglomerate Havas, has long been an innovator and provocateur in agency world.

He gave the keynote at the Future of Crowdsourcing Summit I ran in San Francisco and Sydney in 2010, and his agency was featured as a case study of crowd business models in my book Getting Results From Crowds.

John has just published an excellent article on HBR Blogs titled The Future of Marketing, as Seen at Cannes Lions.

He reports that there was a marked change at Cannes this year. Last year he observed the event was predominantly populated by dinosaurs, yet this year there are, among the dinosaurs, many of the next generation of marketers, all based on open systems.

The shift to open systems in marketing disintermediates traditional agencies, most importantly giving companies direct access to their customers and community, and the ability to drive their own agencies.

John notes three things that brands can do to take advantage of open systems:

1. Adapt your business models to exploit new opportunities rather than try to apply your existing one. As discussed, open-system species are agile in part because they see opportunities and create new models to go after them.

2. Take more control. It used to be that brands needed an agency to communicate with customers. Today, with the falling price of media and the real time nature of the two-way conversation with consumers, brands can do more of this themselves. Some of the best-known brands including Patagonia and Apple are building their own in-house strategic agencies, taking control of strategic and creative leadership while using an open system to collaborate with great outside talent. Those brands realize that one of their most important assets is their relationship with consumers. There will still be a place in the ecosystem for lots of players and collaboration, including agencies, but brands increasingly can take the lead.

3. Seek out great ideas wherever they are. Companies and their brands need to get away from idea myopia, the notion that one outside organization, usually an agency, must be the sole creator of marketing ideas. Not only do your most passionate fans have great ideas and the tools to communicate them but there are ideas to be found from retailers, distributors and other outside partners. Likewise, internal team members have some of the best creative ideas but are sometimes afraid to participate.

The shift to an open world is highly challenging for traditional agencies, that look to be the conduit between brands and their customers.

Yet it is providing massive opportunities to agencies that understand this new world, can facilitate the connections between brands and communities, and tap the most relevant talent and insights from across the planet to bring a brand to life in a networked world.