This paper argues the case for what is described as an "outside-in" approach to brand management. In effect, that brands should not think of consumers as people to be targeted, but people to be "employed" to work for brands.
Trends such as the increasing proliferation and fragmentation of media, along with the rise in consumer sovereignty gained through technology such as Sky+ and the internet, mean that, increasingly, consumers are forming their own powerful channels that they control.
This should not be feared however, because as long as consumers get something in return - such as licence to customise the product themselves; a richer brand experience that entertains and engages; the right price; knowledge that they are buying an ethical or socially responsible product; or just by saving them time - they are proving willing to "work" for brands.
To adopt an "outside-in" approach it is proposed that brands 'hire' consumers into different departments, including: marketing, sales, administration, corporate social responsibility, new product development, creative, senior management, PR, IT and research. And that the successful brands of the future will be those with the most productive and efficient mix of consumer employees.
With this in mind, agencies will need to think of themselves as '"recruitment consultants" for brands. They will need to focus on maximising consumer involvement and engagement, harvest consumers for ideas, not just insight, facilitate consumer-brand dialogue, gain consumers' consent and desire to work with them, and think of consumers as media.
The structure of agencies will have to change, accommodating a closer partnership with consumers when it comes to directing the future of brands. Research and measurement will require an ongoing holistic approach that gains clear insight into the consumer-brand relationship, along with an understanding of the full value "consumer employees" add to the bottom line.
It is argued that an outside-in approach will help raise agencies' profiles with clients, enabling them to make a strong case for fair payment by results, by demonstrating the win-win-win-win situation for agency, consumer, brand and client of adopting an approach that does not fear consumers' desire for control, but embraces it.
It is an approach that gains control by first giving it away, getting consumers to work for the very brands they purchase.
1. LEARNING FROM MONKEYS - THE FORMATION OF A THEORY
Standing outside the Apollo, we stared at the huge line of people, the pockets of friends meeting with excited hellos, and the touts circling groups, sharking for spare tickets.
"I am here on research. You don't have to come in, if you don't want to," I said.
"Yes I do. It's the Arctic Monkeys, you idiot."
With my friend's comment hanging in the air, we walked up to a tout, and ten minutes later we were a lot poorer, feeling a bit too old and uncool, but one step closer to watching a band whose rise to fame has both gripped and shaken the music industry. A band that has helped shape my theory for this paper. A theory formed in three parts.
First, a month previously, while listening to a friend tell a group of us in a pub that "we had to buy The Killers album", I thought of the Burger King subservient chicken e-mail I had sent on to each of them. Later, while reading a book I bought because of its rating on Amazon, my mind drifted on to the Hasbro Action Man activity I'd managed that let children direct the creative end of the ad campaign, and I began to form the first half of my theory for this paper.
I began to wonder whether it would be the brands that manage the "work" we do for them most successfully that will succeed in the future.
Second, two weeks later, my dad called me to tell me he had just downloaded his 1,000th iTune onto his iPod. The result of this iPod is that he no longer listens to what I thought was his beloved radio. Instead he has become the master of his own music channel, unreachable across the airwaves by would-be advertisers, a 60-year-old DJ.
With a second thought forming, I told my girlfriend that we were getting Sky+ for "research purposes", experimented with sending video clips via 3G, discovered a staggering number of fans' own sites for the brands I work on, and remembered the direct mail I had read and kept from a company purely because my friend works for them. As I suspected, the thing with these channels was either that they were being directed and built by consumers, or, that, like the direct mail I opened, many messages we receive are binned, because they have not yet entered our sphere of relevance; our "own network", so to speak.
With this thought, the second part of my theory formed: that, increasingly, consumers will create and control powerful channels and networks of their own. Agencies will have to understand how and why, in order to effectively employ channel planning and creative that can enter "our" networks.
Finally, while talking to a colleague about consumers "own networks", and the fact that consumers are doing "work" for brands, he mentions the band Arctic Monkeys. Intrigued, I look them up online and, to my surprise, find they are playing a gig in town a couple of days later, so decide to embark on some research.
As the crowd spilled out of the Apollo, I put on my best NME journalist impersonation and approached my first of three focus groups that evening. As with others I spoke to, this was "their band". Emily informed me: "George even has one of their demo CDs they handed out at a pub before they were signed." It was true, George, while mute, was squirming with pride.
What I learnt that night was that the Arctic Monkeys have taken the UK charts by storm with a rise to fame that has been championed, not by a record company, but by their fans. Fans, like George, who took CDs the band members gave out at gigs, uploaded them on to the internet and fuelled a frenzy of excitement by sharing files, building blogs, and singing the band's praises in chatrooms before they were signed.
Since that night, I have collected countless articles stating just this, and if you are a music fan you will know they recently won Best New Band at the Brits, along with two awards from NME. As The Guardian put it: "The simple fact that the internet allows fledgling bands' music to be heard without label assistance has heralded a joyous new musical socialism."1 What this means is that the music labels used to the traditional marketing routes, are having to catch up in this new world. As Laurence Bell, the head of Domino Records who signed them, later said, "I think the bands are in a stronger position, as they are not so desperate for the record company to magic up the numbers. They come with an audience."2
After interviewing Emily, George and the others, I considered Arctic Monkeys in line with my earlier research, and the three parts aligned into my theory:
I believe the brands and agencies of the future will need to utilise what I call an "outside-in" approach. They will need to access consumers' "own networks" and get them to "work" for them, and it will be the companies that manage and measure our "employment" most effectively that succeed.
I believe this approach to be applicable not just to Arctic Monkeys, or my clients Walkers, Hasbro Toys, Esso and Bridgestone tyres, but to all brands. I believe that the concept of "consumer employment" can work on many levels, and I will explain how it can be applied to all. It is an idea that does not fear the rising power of consumers, it embraces it. A route that will require a new agency set-up and a new approach to brand management, research and measurement. To explain my theory, I have structured this paper as follows:
- Why consumers are forming their own networks and working for brands
- Outside-in brand management - an approach to gain control by giving it away.
- Channel planning and creative - how it will work.
- Research and measurement - how it will work.
- The outside-in agency of the future - how they will be structured.
2. WHY CONSUMERS ARE FORMING THEIR 'OWN' NETWORKS
It didn't take long to understand why people are creating their own powerful channels; it is a reflection of the society we live in and the media environment we have created that makes them want to avoid the channels employed by adland.
We are drowning in choice - we live in a society where consumers have learnt to filter out messages because supply is greater than demand. Everything has become a medium and the value of advertising has decreased.3
Technology is giving them control over message reception - as the bandwidth becomes available to consumers, many specialised technologies will become powerful enough to perform multiple functions across multiple platforms, all talking to each other in a network.4 While broadcast TV is a "push" medium, the internet is closer to a "pull" medium. You can screen out messages, so that nothing comes to you unless you choose it to. The implication of this shift from "push" to "pull" is a radical increase in consumer sovereignty.5 Soon the boundaries between gaming, mobile, TV and online will cease to exist, and consumers will indeed be their own DJs, schedulers and programmers. They will rule the channels.
Consumers are finding faster and cheaper ways to get content - more and more content is being sold directly to consumers, or being pirated free online. In fact, once consumers get online, they don't want to pay for anything.6 As with iTunes, artistic and technical talent of performers and production companies are finding ways to benefit. At the same time the gatekeepers, such as Sky and iTunes, will be able to emphasise their relationship with consumers7, while advertisers will be faced with the problem of losing their route to market, effectively pushed out of our networks.
Consumers want and feel they can have their 15 minutes - Big Brother, The X- Factor, Heat and OK! fuel our infat-uation with fame and desire to be famous. In this environment, it is no surprise that people want to control their own channels; that more and more people are creating blogs, their own websites or even their own reality TV shows through webcams. People want their 15 minutes and believe that they can have it. They want their own channels.
We trust each other first, branded messages second - when thoughts, emotions and feelings are in the balance, emotions win.8 These emotions are closely linked to our interaction with others and, because traditional research studies the individual, we neglect the importance of interaction between people.
As Mark Earls says, we are "herd animals"9, and, through word-of-mouth, consumers instinctively create and own the most powerful communication channel there is, one capable of rapidly spreading ideas, products and behaviour.10
In summary, what we are seeing is that the consumer is actively taking charge of channels. Agencies have let themselves slip behind in terms of innovation because they are paid in volume and execution, not intellectual capability. 11
The challenge now is how we embrace consumers' desire to take control of channels, and get it to work in our favour. I propose that we can do this by getting consumers to actively "work" for brands. An idea I believe possible because consumers are proving willing to do just this.
3. WHY CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO WORK FOR BRANDS
Customisation is aiding individualism - people seek self-actualisation through retail therapy12. Because brands are social markers that consumers use to define who they are, consumers are looking to personalise their consumption; be it a pair of jeans, insurance, or the online news updates they receive in the form of "The Daily Me"13.
Customisation is evidence that consumers want to be partners, not pawns14. And, as soon as consumers start telling companies the exact product design, features and benefits needed to make a sale, the "consumer employee" is acting as the company research, marketing and new product development department, all in one.
Branded experiences offer greater involvement - consumers are both rational and emotional, they don't just want a cup of coffee, they want the whole Starbucks coffee experience.15 As brands focus on the full "experience engagement process"16, it is companies that set the stage and give us the props, but consumers who are the actors that ultimately bring the experience to life. The "consumer employee" is the one working for the company to complete the experience.
Buyer-centric marketing gives consumers a better deal - Alan Mitchell in Right Side Up speaks of the high and wasteful go-to-market costs of traditional "just in case" production, describing his view that the future is in matching supply to demand, not demand to supply.17
Examples include "consumer agents"; companies that work for consumers, to best match their needs to company supply. In this model, gone are the days when we market goods to consumers, it is the consumers who market themselves to companies. If this be the case, the "consumer employees" become the companies' marketing department, telling companies what they want, and at what price, not the other way round.
Corporate social responsibility has increased - no longer can a company simply bring a product to market, consumers want brands to be "citizens".18 Companies are "the ultimate accountable institution"19, whereby consumers judge them by the values and ethics they live and breathe. If they are to trust and work with a brand, the "consumer employee" demands emotional and societal benefits as well.
Consumers want things in their own time - our time-pressured lives give companies two options; speed things up, or slow things down20. No longer do we take the time to visit our local bank, now we go online and do it ourselves, both saving time and reducing a company's payroll costs, because the "consumer employee" happily does the company's administration for it.
We stick together in tribes - the majority of the time we are balancing our desire to be individuals, with our conflicting desire to fit in.21 We form online communities around interests, join societies and read certain papers because we want to be in the FT, Guardian or Independent tribes. Our very nature leads the "consumer employees" to segment themselves into groups.
Research at OMD has shown how children, in particular, are very inclusive. They have what Mark Earls describes as a "herd instinct".22 In this environment, a brand's "playground currency" is crucial, for it is through the "herd" that "ideaviruses"23 spread from one child to another. When this happens, once again, the "consumer employee" is working for companies, doing their marketing job for them.
In summary, the more you look at the trends of our times, the more one notices the work consumers are now doing, often through networks they are creating. As a result, I believe that the evolution of marketing has moved on a step from that which Marty Keumeier describes in The Brand Gap. In this environment the consumer is becoming the new channel planner, not the agencies. However, I believe that advertisers need not fear consumer control over media content - they should embrace it.24 Meabh Quoirin touched on this in a recent nVision study when he said: "Rather than worrying that marketers may be a dying breed, companies should be looking to the potential for enlisting consumers to the marketing effort."25 They should be employing the consumer. With this in mind, I will now look at how I believe the theory can be employed.
4. OUTSIDE-IN BRAND MANAGEMENT - AN APPROACH TO GAIN CONTROL BY GIVING IT AWAY
To adopt an outside-in approach, you need to embrace consumers' desire for influence; their desire to own their own networks. It is my proposal that agencies think like "recruitment consultants" for brands, and consider how they can encourage consumers to work for brands, by embracing their desire for control.
I believe that every brand can benefit from this approach, because consumers can be employed to work in any number of departments:
Marketing department - we touched on how "consumer agents" can aid the marketing process above, and Arctic Monkeys have proven, through their fans' own channels, how consumers can be powerful champions of brands. At every step of the way, brand managers need to consider how they can get consumers to aid the marketing process and market our products to other consumers for us.
As regards Hasbro, we recently took the thought on board, running a campaign for Furby in which we employed consumers within the marketing department. Two simple insights were that (a) children have incredible imaginations, that in their world they do not just play with their toys, they have the power to control the characters, and (b) fame is central to children's lives. It is hard to find a child that doesn't have a famous idol or want to be famous.
With that in mind, we realised that children would want to work with us if we gave them the opportunity to use their imaginations and actually dictate the campaign story, and if we could somehow make the product characters famous in the process.
To do this, we partnered with Nickelodeon and Capital Radio, and built a campaign in which the different Furby characters competed for the prize of "Furby Star". Having followed the characters' development on air and online through interviews and singing performances, more than 30,000 children voted for their favourite Furby. Following the announcement of the winner, we went on to release the "single" as a ringtone, of which 5,000 were downloaded (the maximum our budget would allow), and release a Furby movie.
As a result, Furby became the number-one toy in its category for Christmas 2005. The strength of the campaign, I believe, was in our conscious employment of the consumer; they dictated the creative by voting; they encouraged their friends to get involved by passing the site on; and they downloaded the ringtones that further marketed the product once the campaign was over.
The internet and mobile are clearly powerful tools for any brand, facilitating word-of-mouth more than ever. At every step brands should be looking to use them to enable consumers to market our products to each other for us.
Sales department - a major challenge for FMCG companies is the rising power of the trade. Retailers such as Woolworths, Tesco and Asda have huge power over brands such as Walkers and Hasbro. As a result, both are often forced to offer discounts and promotions, devaluing their brands, while the retailer compounds their problem by producing own-label brands as direct competitors.
To combat the issue, companies should look to "employ" the consumer into the sales department. We need the consumer to work for us by requesting our brands.
Ads help us differentiate products, but there is an opportunity to build a relationship with consumers in a way that they enjoy and makes them want to work with us.26 A simple idea could be to have Hasbro establish a loyalty scheme with consumers. By giving consumers a reason to actively request our products instore, we could limit retailers' justification for discounts. In effect, consumers could do our trade sales job for us.
Administration department - a simple way to employ the consumer and reduce costs at the same time is to get consumers to do the administration for you. Where possible, we should be enabling consumers to fill in information online, place orders, and complete the job previously fulfilled by others within the company, themselves.
Corporate social responsibility department - working with brands such as Esso, Hasbro and Walkers, you soon realise the importance of corporate social responsibility. Social responsibility is about problem-solving, not brand reputation27, and if the Government's White Paper and constant negative PR around snack foods, kids and health say anything, it is that the issue is not about to go away. I believe companies such as Walkers need to face the problem head-on by getting the consumer involved.
In a similar way to that in which Pepsi framed the competitive issue with Coke around the "taste challenge", Walkers should move the debate away from their products alone, and towards the real issue; the need for a more balanced diet in combination with an active lifestyle. They should take the proactive step of working directly with consumer groups and the government, promoting balanced lifestyles. They should get consumers to work for their CSR department by getting them actively involved with the campaign, by associating themselves with sport, the Olympic bid, or by running a yearly "Walkerthon" in conjunction with the marathon. They could support increased sport in the curriculum, even tackle the problem head-on with balanced-lifestyle roadshows.
These examples, championed from the top down, require a determined CSR vision, but it would get consumers involved. It would show what Hamish Pringle describes as "corporate social leadership", and demonstrate a genuine partnership with consumers, towards the co-creation of a healthier lifestyle. A task that cannot be completed by Walkers alone, but possibly can with the help of the "consumer employee".
NPD department - egg, the online bank, actually recruited consumers to design the brand strategy for the company.28 Similarly, I believe that my client Hasbro could encourage people to work for their NPD department by giving away free toys to those who come up with imaginative ideas that we put into action. What kid, if we ran a competition, wouldn't want to be the proud designer of the next Action Man or My Little Pony?
Creative departments - The Star Wars Kid is an example of consumer-created content that further built the Star Wars brand. As we did in the Furby case above, we need to look for ways to involve consumers in the creative direction of brands.
With this in mind, and embracing the incredible explosion in consumer creativity arising from digital photography and video technology29, Hasbro have recently partnered with Empire magazine to deliver a Star Wars competition in which people have to re-enact or spoof a scene from the movies using the action figures, and send in their clips to be judged in the brand's own mini-Oscars.
Senior management - taking the idea of consumer employment on a step further, we could metaphorically "sell the company" to the consumer.30 In effect, give them control of the brand, by asking them what they would do next if they owned it. I wouldn't be surprised if Lego did this when they thought of opening a theme park; Lush, when they designed their wonderful stores; easyJet, when they thought of the no-frills flight option; or swapitshop.com, when they designed a site that allowed kids to swap their toys with each other online. Ultimately, the consumer could evolve the brand for us.
PR department - because the press monitor popular culture and consumers are embracing non-traditional information sources, we should encourage consumers to issue their own press releases through conversations they have and reviews they leave on websites, chat rooms and blogs.
We should both help them seed news to the press, and help them be the press, by allowing key consumers to have access to our thoughts first. As regards Bridgestone, for example, why couldn't they give advance warning to car fanatics of the improvements they are making to their performance tyre ranges?
IT department - for years, Microsoft received criticism from technicians picking faults in their new software releases until they made the conscious decision to employ them. By allowing the very same people to beta-test new products, they have been able to solve complex problems quickly, achieving substantial cost savings before the product goes to market.31
By harvesting consumers' opinions and feedback, companies can keep abreast of product grievances, allowing them to respond quickly, before issues escalate.
As Danny Van Emden of EMI Records put it: "What a good website repays a band and a label, in knowing who their audience are and where they are coming from, is incomparable in terms of any other marketing and research channel."32
Research department - as touched on above, consumers are keen to work for us, by telling us what they like and dislike about brands, and we should be listening and monitoring what they have to say.
The interesting thing about the rise of Artic Monkeys is not how it happened, but how the record companies missed it coming. Hitwise.com have explained that it could easily have been predicted if companies had been monitoring visits from blogs, chat rooms and online communities.33
With this in mind, brands should embrace the internet and do all they can to track and harvest opinions. They should monitor their online media coverage, newsgroups, the actions of subscribers and voters, search- engine rankings, feedback forums, and links to their own sites.34
All are ways to let consumers work for your research department. As an example, the official website of the band Franz Ferdinand received 20,000 questions in one hour during a webchat with the band.35 Clearly, the internet has fast-forwarded the importance of customer relations in the music industry, just as it can for any brand willing to let the consumer work for it.
To summarise this section, the idea I am proposing fits the old saying that "a company is only as good as its employees". By taking an outside-in approach of "employing consumers", companies will need to think not just internally, but externally as well. It will be the companies that manage the consumer employee side most efficiently that stand out in an environment where consumers are keen to take control.
Having discussed how companies can apply the outside-in approach, by thinking of it in terms of different departments, I will first consider how this approach will influence channel planning and creative, second, research and measurement, and third, the structure of agencies.
5. OUTSIDE-IN CHANNEL PLANNING AND CREATIVE
In order to get consumers to work for us, we need to learn from consumers' own use of channels. We will need to be welcomed to their network, and our media and creative strategies can do this in a number of ways:
1. Less business-to-consumer, more consumer-to-consumer
For no reason other than the fact that someone you respect told you so, every one of us has purchased goods they otherwise wouldn't have. With this in mind we need to think of "consumers as media". Hence, I believe the first way my clients can enter the consumers' network, is by doing all they can to facilitate positive word-of-mouth amongst key consumers. For example, one of my clients, Bridgestone, should be supplying tyres not just to Michael Schumacher, they should supply them, if not free, then at a discount, to the thousands of amateur racing drivers who turn up at race tracks week in, week out. These are the hardcore driving fans, the real-world mavens and salesmen that will champion the product to the masses.36
2. Less "finished", and more "unfinished" marketing
The industry treats consumers like "targets to hit, not people to persuade".37 If consumers are to open up and embrace advertising, accepting their employment, we have to give them more control. Let them co-create the message.
Why couldn't Walkers run a national vote campaign to find the nation's favourite crisp, for example? In this way we'd deliver a more in-depth brand experience, one consumers actually take part in and dictate. To be successful, therefore, we need messages that consumers want to involve themselves with, messages that consumers want to pass on and complete.
3. Less advertising, more content and dialogue
Consumers have a stronger relationship with programmes than they do advertising, so we should start to look at partnerships through the trinity that is content, media and marketing.38 Why couldn't Hasbro fund a "50 Greatest Games" TV show, for example, involving the viewer in the debate, by getting them to vote and actively co-create the programme. The strength of a dialogue is that it requires greater mental involvement, it engages the consumer by getting them to think and work with you to complete the message.
4. Less media brands, more brands as media
We can learn from the fact that consumers are building their own websites and blogs. In the past, we targeted passive consumers, now they are proving we need to work through audiences and communities of interest.39 We need to become part of their network; media they don't just choose to consume, but media they would even be willing to pay us for to be involved.
Hasbro should bring together the abundance of content they have and build websites and programmes that give consumers reason and desire to be viewers, not just consumers.40 At the same time, Walkers should recognise the incredible value they have with a brand that delivers millions of on-pack brand impressions daily. This is of huge value to potential partners, as Hasbro has found through the uplift in sales of Mr Potato Head since the crisps launched.
5. Less intrusion, more permission
Arguably the most obvious way to enter a consumer's network and get them to work with us is to ask. A great example of this is the Tesco Club Card. Having gained the consumers' permission to work with them, they can now harvest the sales data and information consumers willingly pass them, to tailor promotions and become a lifelong retail and media channel for the consumer. Likewise, there is no reason why my client Esso couldn't work harder to promote its customer fuel card, and use the data not just to deliver offers but also to channel positive PR through its loyal customers.
6. More emotional media
How we remember things depends on how it is encoded. The more vivid, emotional and original an event, the more likely it is to be recalled.41 The "experience engagement process" proposes that at every step of the consumer decision-making cycle, companies have to build a valued consumer experience.42 Likewise, I believe the future will be in branded contact that consumers choose to involve themselves in, not contact that is forced on them.
To summarise, we need to remember what we all want from our employers: recognition, reward, involvement, respect, development, responsibility, a better way of life, and not forgetting fun. Through this process we can be welcomed to consumers' networks in a way that makes them willing employees of our brands. And in this environment, "share of employment" will be key, not just "share of voice".
6. RESEARCH AND MEASUREMENT - BECOMING AN ONGOING 'INVESTOR IN PEOPLE'
It is my belief that all too often agencies' measure of campaign success is incomplete or even misguided, encompassing an inadequate "basket of metrics" they feel confident they can influence, rather than those most relevant.43 Agencies need to stretch their comfort zones, stop focusing so much on their own, and think more about their client's business. We need to become an equal partner, leading client thinking by taking the commercial high ground and understanding the full implications of adopting an "outside-in" approach. To do this requires agencies to have a close, ongoing relationship with the brand's "employees". They need to become an "investor in people", aiding planning through a thorough understanding of the consumer-brand, consumer-media, and consumer-consumer relationships. They need to think like the brand's "recruitment consultant" and understand the client's needs, and we should know the full value the employees add to brands. To make this possible it is my proposal that agencies partake in the following:
Understand how well your campaign employs the consumer - with reference to the different "departments" a consumer can work in, agencies need to understand where and how efficiently they are employing the consumer. In effect, an outside-in agency needs to be listening to consumers, working on, and monitoring, every recruitment opportunity the brand has.
Become a "citizen brand" 44 - we need to constantly monitor and research the trends, habits and feelings of our employees, while being totally open with them in the process. A brand that is confident enough to engage in debate and speak freely with consumers, will gain their respect. Good examples of brands doing this include Dove with their campaignforrealbeauty.com site, AOL's discuss.aol.co.uk (in this case: internet: good or bad?) and Microsoft, which maintains discourse with consumers through Robert Scoble (a frequently cited blogger for the company). All of these are examples of brands that have been willing to open up debate or answer questions honestly, making the brands feel more human as a result.
Research employees in their own environment - as Martin Raymond argues in The Tomorrow People, we should monitor consumers in their own environment, as this will uncover what we all know, but often neglect: that people rarely say what they mean, or do as they say.45 For example, we should not simply research individuals. To understand exactly how consumers are working for us, we need to take a herd perspective and research the interaction between them that affects their choices as well.46
Use the technology available to you - technology is now able to actively monitor hundreds of millions of natural discussions from blogs, chat rooms, e-mail groups and product feedback sites. This allows companies to implement tipping-point research, by identifying those individuals who most effectively spread buzz and trends among consumers. 47
For example, Walkers should be monitoring the obesity debate online, getting involved with discussions, staying a step ahead of problems and effectively "promoting" the most influential consumers, by speaking to them on their terms.
As mentioned above, we might even be able to recruit them into our PR department, because, as Nancy Vonk, the co-chief creative officer of Ogilvy Toronto, recently said: "With the right blogger at the wheel, bad moments can be addressed quickly and with admired transparency. You have a chance to beat the press to the message, and take control of your response."48
Think "consumer resource", not just "consumer research" - in a recent Campaign supplement titled The World's Leading Independent Agencies James Mackay, of Belgiovane Williams Mackay, stated that "as their focus has moved away from ad-centric outcomes towards idea-centric ones, they have found that the more eclectic their creative department's talent, the higher the level of creative challenge achieved".49 This was a common theme amongst the independents mentioned, but while creativity is clearly seen as coming from anywhere internally, none mentioned the consumer as a potential source.
I believe we should be hosting consumer brainstorm sessions, to monitor how they shape and play with ideas in a group. By whatever means we can, we should be giving consumers the opportunity to feed back their thoughts, get involved and make suggestions.
Integrate research and retail - epos data and retailers' own stores are a constant source of consumer research. Where possible, brands should consider setting up branded environments, even branded stores, that double up as research hubs.
For example, while Esso has its garages, Walkers could have a series of local shops, Hasbro a toy store, or Bridgestone a tyre centre, or even a race track. All of which would help them keep a constant tab on consumer trends and needs, help them try out new products, see consumer behaviour first-hand, and test point-of-sale and promotions. They might even build the brand and make a profit as well.
Understand the value of your consumer employees - agencies can be slow to measure their impact on the bottom line, preferring to "put a stick in the ground" and measure marketing's "magic numbers" (awareness scores, relative price, loyalty, etc.), or, worse still, just by telling stories about how "marketing works".50
While these have value, to quote Woody Harrelson's character in the film White Men Can't Jump, I believe agencies would sometimes rather "look good and lose, than look bad and win". The judging criteria for the IPA Effectiveness Awards rightly rewards accountability, but the cases represent a relative few. In order to act like an "employer", we need to be able to demonstrate the return our employees add to the business, quantify results against intentions, and keep raising the bar to deliver better results.51
Ensure effective measurement, by agreeing clear objectives - while we recognise that ads work on many mental and behavioural levels, and that they influence the short and long term, too often our objectives and measurement focus on set and limited criteria. The result is that we tend to undervalue the effects of our campaigns because the whole is more than the sum of its parts.52 As an example, it has been shown how awareness studies undervalue the full emotional "hidden power" of advertising in low-involvement categories.53 If this be the case, we will be underestimating the campaign's impact, and limiting our credibility to the client.
With the above in mind, we first need to sit down with our client and establish a shared understanding of the objectives our marketing is to address, ensuring that everyone understands what success looks like upfront.54 Following this, we will want to take a holistic approach and evaluate the full returns resulting from our communication; "the longer and broader, as well as the short-term effects".55
Taking this approach will give agencies more credibility when advising clients on the proper allocation of resources, by encouraging them to clearly and accurately measure the effectiveness and efficiency of activity. In effect, it makes agencies accountable for their work.
Through periodical brand audits that track mental, behavioural and financial brand equity, agencies can evaluate and justify their roles, estimate brand and shareholder financial value and build forecasting systems for brands. The approach will ensure goals are clear and measured, embrace lessons from past campaigns and help build the long-term partnership between client and agency. I also believe that it will help agencies push for and get fair payment for results.
7. THE STRUCTURE OF AN OUTSIDE-IN AGENCY
Just as we all want to work with inspiring people we respect and believe in, so consumers want to work with brands they respect and believe in. With this in mind, outside-in agencies will need the following:
Strong leadership - a company's first customers are its own employees (internal)56, and at present few agencies are ready for an outside-in approach. To help agencies employ the consumer and become more accountable requires training of, and the buy-in from, all those involved. In addition to this, while leading your internal staff, you will need to give added focus to the consumer employee as well. To win both the internal and outside-in respect of "employees" requires strong agency and brand direction.
Flexible teams - consumer "employees" have varied needs and in order to be a good manager of them, agencies will need to be flexible, able to change and adapt, to pull in the right resources to answer the consumers' changing demands.
At a recent IPA training centre, Jonathan Mildenhall of Mother said: "I don't know if agencies will be ad agencies, production agencies or brand content agencies in the future, but what I do know is that it's all about the talent. You need to go where the talent is."57 I'd agree with this. Agencies of the future will need to be able to pool all the creativity at their fingertips, and appreciate that ideas can come from anywhere, even from the consumer.
Closer relationship with consumers - we will need a closer, more holistic and ongoing partnership with consumers, even have them work in-house. A partnership which gives them reason to open up, interact with and want to work with us.
Greater emphasis on measurement - an outside-in approach requires companies to embrace measurement and look for a balance between art and science. Doing so will help us understand the full value and implications of "employing" the consumer, enabling us to speak to clients on their terms.
Outside-in agency remuneration - at a recent debate, Adam Kirby, a former global ad procurement director for Diageo, stated that "if agencies have the wrong set-up, they will make little money". He added that what he "would ideally like is a set-up that makes agencies profitable enough to do the best job for their client", to which Paul Jackson, the marketing director of MFI, added that he cared "passionately" about agency structures, and preferred teams that were "lean, mean, passionate, intelligent, and highly paid"58.
At present, our commission systems fail to reward results, creativity and performance, focusing instead on creative output and total media spend. By charging for volume, execution and craft, agencies do not add cost where they create value, they create cost where they create no value.59
The method of research and measurement described above is important because agencies need to stop giving away free the value they create; stop being paid the same for bad ideas as they are for good, and start being rewarded for the profitability of their campaigns.
The focus of an outside-in approach is the consumer, and likewise, the consumer should be the focus of agency remuneration. Just as a manager is rewarded for the success of his internal staff, so agencies should be rewarded for the profit and productivity of their "consumer employees". However, just as that same manager is rewarded for the success of his employees, so the manager needs a basic wage to survive as well. Likewise, I believe remuneration needs to be twofold:
1. The basic - my belief is that agencies should first charge a fee that reflects their basic resource cost. In essence, their monthly "cost of living".
2. Employee performance-related pay - having covered costs, the only profit driver becomes the delivery of the strongest idea possible to maximise the efficiency and profitability of your consumer "employees". You should be rewarded relative to the success of your campaign and your role within it. By taking a holistic approach and measuring the full return on our investment, agencies will be able to demonstrate the profit and productivity of the "employees".
Once we can demonstrate this, I believe we will be able to stand at the top table with clients, be respected both as agencies and business consultants, and be able to state our case for a new form of remuneration.
A case that reflects the effectiveness of our brand management; a case that will inspire agency staff to both measure and develop the strongest ideas possible; ideas that will encourage us to escape the "shackles of craft creativity and create media-neutral ideas that transcend advertising and address all brand stakeholders"60.
Finally, returning to Adam Kirby and Paul Jackson's comments, it is a route that would deliver a win-win situation for both agency and client, and this certainly feels like an inspiring way to build a relationship and run a business. A business that leaves the profit in your hands.
8. CONCLUSION - AN OUTSIDE-IN FUTURE
Jim Stengel of Procter & Gamble wrote an article titled "Consumers Are Reinventing Marketing", in which he stated that consumers were the ones gaining control. In the last line of the article, he asked the reader: "Will the consumer be your boss, your coach, your inspiration, or will you be out of touch and out of business?"61 It has been my proposal that, yes, the consumer should be our inspiration, but that we need to think of them as brand "employees", so that we do not just "keep in touch", we move ahead.
Brands face challenges going forward. As the frequency and quantity of messages rises, it is no surprise that consumer intolerance is growing and they are forming their own channels. We cannot just push messages on to people and expect them to lap them up. As the Arctic Monkeys case study highlighted, the increasing empowerment of consumers, and their ability to form their own networks, should be embraced.
After all, it is consumers, not marketers, who ultimately encode a brand with meaning, and, in that sense, consumers are not simply employed by companies, they are the brand's founders, chief executives, shareholders and guardians all in one.
Marketers should be looking to create dialogue and consumer engagement. They need to find ways to make consumers willing to "work" with the brand. However, just as a company is only as good as its staff, a brand is only as strong as its "consumer employees". If the "employees" do not enjoy, or feel rewarded for working with us, natural selection will occur via the vote of the wallet, negative word-of-mouth and more. They will look for "employment" elsewhere.
With this in mind, I have identified three key areas of outside-in brand management to aid the process. Firstly, it is my belief that the successful agencies of the future will be those that get consumers to work for their brands in the right mix of roles. This could be through sales, marketing, PR or other, by making the process rewarding, instinctive, valued and trusted.
Secondly, companies will need to take a more inclusive, holistic and ongoing approach to research. Finally, they will need to make sure their agencies are set up to be able to deliver and be rewarded for this approach.
Trust is of crucial importance in our time-crushed, sometimes anxious and soul-searching consumer society. If we can get consumers to work with us by accessing their "own networks" and offering them good reason to, then their energy is what I believe will make all the difference for brands.
And as a final point, I obviously bought the Arctic Monkeys album, and I can't get the song I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor out of my head, so recommend you buy it. If you like it too, why not recommend it to all your friends, write your own blog about them, buy their T-shirt and walk proudly around town singing their songs, suggest some ideas for their next album, tell your local shop they should stock it, sign up for band updates on their site, or even contact their record company, buy the albums in bulk and become a retailer yourself? You might just make employee of the month!
1 Laura Barton, The Guardian, October 25 2005.
2 Yahoo! news. "Rock wannabes turning to the web, but going tough",
3 Julian Sanders, Drowning in Choice: The Revolution in Communications
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35 Matt Keating, "Marketing music on the web", The Guardian, January 30
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51 Tim Ambler quoted in Shaw & Merrick, Marketing Payback.
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55 Tim Broadbent quoted in the IPA's Evaluation - a best practice guide
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56 T Ambler, Marketing and the Bottom Line.
57 Jonathan Mildenhall, IPA Excellence Diploma, Module 6 training
58 Adam Kirby and Paul Jackson. IPA Excellence Diploma, Module 6 client
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60 M T Rainey, In the wrong business, or getting the business wrong?
61 Jim Stengel, "Consumers are reinventing marketing - will you be in
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