Agencies are going through a dramatic transformation. Traditional Ad Agencies will scale back staff between now and first quarter. Media agencies, at the top of the pile, are choking on word of mouth marketing because that discipline does not behave like all of the paid channels out there. Public relations continues to grow and not because it is the "cheap" medium. PR works really hard for clients and is more efficient at selling and building brand at the same time. With all this change, what is the shape and role of the agency of the future? Sure, the marketing and PR silos will crumble into one 360 pile. But there is another opportuntiy for agencies as the next innovation lab for clients (and themselves).
Google spends a tremendous amount of time and money on innovation (the fabled "20%" of everyone's time and the expression of that effort via Google Labs.) Agencies struggle to follow suit due to the business model of the big conglomerates (mine is WPP). Considering my entire business - 360 Digital Influence - is a boot-strapped innovation within Ogilvy/WPP, innovation does happen and it can be quite impactful.
The People's Innovation Lab
We plan and deliver some pretty intense workshops for clients to help them understand or simply get more out of social media and word of mouth innovation. We just held a 2-day word of mouth marketing workshop for a major client and consumer marketer. This was done essentially in partnership with Word of Mouth Marketing Association (member) to bring the best thinkers and doers together to help the 315 brand marketers in attendance understand and apply WOMM to their marketing efforts.
We also have the beginnings of a digital innovation lab across the Ogilvy eco-system. We plan to participate more in that this year. The model is very locally driven which means good ideas from local markets being shared across the globe.
I want to take that a step further. I want to create a consumer-driven lab experience that comes together at the point of sale: retail. Let's create an Ogilvy storefront where we apply some of our best thinking not simply in terms of retail experience but all of the marketing that surrounds the products and services we "sell" for our clients. The store/lab would have an intense digital layer that engages a cadre of advisors and influencers to engage them in ongoing feedback and to be the seedbed of outbound word of mouth on new innovations at the Open Lab. And we will integrate our clients into that store/digital experience. One month, the partner would be American Express, another Kaplan University, still another the Lance Armstrong Foundation (all clients). Clients would subscribe to 6 month episodes.
Episodic and Continuous Innovation
Many companies have their own innovation labs. Certainly the CPGs all have the fake stores where they work behind the scenes to optimize the selling experience. Ours would be different. First of all, the Open Lab, would be, literally, open to the public.
Look at what Urban OUtfitters is doing in Hollywood with Space 15 Twenty. They have created a retail experience that accomodates a number of brands in a new collaborative retail experience. Or there is the creative marketing agency - Neverstop - that also runs a barbershop storefront. (You can read about it in my favorite magazine - Metropolis)
They wanted to add some "social" street-level experience to help them stay in tune with other consumers. Let's take that a step further and create a storefront which can be designed around a brand (rolling "pop-up" episodes with a single, street-level storefront). Digital programs - word of mouth, social media and digital marketing would all be launched to drive traffic and engagement.
What's the Point?
Certainly this is not a reach play or a volume sales play. This is about innovating around influencer marketing. That's who would come here. That's who would susbcribe to our Facebook group. People who want to know what is next, who have something to contribute (for spotlight, social capital and to try a product experience), and who love the brands that would be featured in the Open Lab (I know, we have to work on that name....).
This is about innovating from the outside in. Brands get the benefit of the real world exchange with people and the creative thinking from the agency "creatives" who try these ideas out. For me, it's where these Idea Bar ideas could see the light of day for test and insight.
For every 6 month "epsisode," brands would have 2 month-long positions in the store plus a full digital influence program to support it. These would include planning and reporting. The promise would be to deliver 3 tested marketing innovations that could each move the needle on their business.
One of the great advantages of brands working with agencies is to get the benefit of fresh thinking from marketers who work across different clients and have a built-in methodology for being creative*. I want to extend that role to product and service marketing innovation. No one can afford to go back to the "old way" of marketing even in this full-blown recession. We must go forward. We must innovate in that quick and dirty way that let's us try something quickly, refine it, and deploy it. The days of camapign cathedral-building are over (plan a program for 6 months or longer, then deploy, then start over). We all need a source of continuous innovation and much of it had better come from outside the organization or we haven't learned some of the most enbduring lessons of this crowd-sourced era.
Everyone inside the agency would work in teh Open Lab at one point or another. It would not be its own sequestered group. It could become more than a retail lab and become a place to try out new creative, put together experiences (you know, arty stuff like poetry slams and origami jams).
We need a nice pedestrian city - Chicago, Philadelphia, New York. We need 5 clients at $200K initial subscriptions with a modest investment from the agency side.
Oh, the things we could learn. Oh, the ideas we would launch. Oh, the agency business we would transform.
Related Pop up stores information:
*creative must be defined differently. Now it includes a strategic view, an eye toward channel and platform complexity. The "big idea" is not enough.