An old and oft repeated parable speaks of the experience of a few blind men trying to describe an elephant from different perspectives. One touches the ear and perceives elephants as light, flappy creatures. Another touches the sides and imagines an inflexible wall of solidity. So on and so forth. Of course, none of them are wrong, but missing the big picture, they are wildly inaccurate.
In a nutshell, this is the challenge facing the mammoth organisations of today. Business functions need to be highly specialised, and external partners are brought in to help with specific parts of the business. However if the organisation is to accelerate and grow, it needs to be able to visualise the big picture. Additionally, it must possess the chops to execute across many different kinds of touch points. Adding to the complexity is the fact that leveraging emergent growth touch points needs specialisations in new areas like digital technology.
The opportunity presented by digital technology pervades all areas of business today. For companies to experience rapid growth, they must find ways to leverage new channels of business such as e-commerce. They must build brands on new age media platforms like Snapchat. They must make innovative products that are designed for humanity’s first generation of digital natives. Furthermore, 2020 has taught us that ‘digitally agile’ organisations are the best suited to respond to the perils of a black swan event like COVID-19. So the view that digital technology merely serves to improve efficiencies, or is a new communication medium, is woefully outdated. It is said that digital is a mind-set and not a medium. One would push that idea further and say that it is a growth imperative.
The modern advertising agency is uniquely positioned to address this new era of growth. It is one of the few partners with a truly holistic view of the client’s business. As digital capabilities allow agencies to expand their arsenal of solutions, this has meant that the advertising agency is in direct competition with the management consultancy. The lines are blurring, and it is no surprise that the last decade has seen the rise of companies like Accenture Interactive and Deloitte Digital.
In addition to the conventional services advertising agencies are known for, today there is a whole new stack of solutions an agency provides. As a consultant, it helps clients identify new sources of business and understand new markets. As a technologist, it helps set up new channels like live commerce. As an innovator, it helps deliver new experiences like virtual product launches. As a market intelligence specialist, it deploys sophisticated tools to keep a pulse on the consumer’s voice.
The agency’s value lies in being able to make these different solutions work together in a way that drives business growth for the client. In that sense, an agency works more like a technology system integrator, making different solution stacks work together to drive a common goal.
Building a culture of collaboration, of course, is a key to unlocking this value. Agency culture is shifting, and it is not an uncommon sight to find a business analyst, an art director and an e-commerce specialist working together to solve a common problem. What this also means is that the agency is working with client teams beyond the marketing function. Functions such as innovation, new product development and sales are beginning to see the value of a sit down with the agency at the early stages of ideation and planning.
In the early 2000s, information technology revolutionised business by bringing about the age of efficiency. Today, we live in the age of acceleration. Business moves at the speed of thought, and the power of digital technology makes it possible to drive growth in ways that would have been unthinkable at the turn of the millennium. The leaders of this new age will be those who realise that the old rules no longer apply, and are striving to push towards new horizons. In the midst of this change, the advertising agency’s new role is to be a business accelerator for its clients, leveraging the power of technology to drive growth.
The management thinker, Theodore Levitt once urged all companies to think about what business they are really in. At Cheil, we are in the business of growth.