“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ― Leon C. Megginson
Darwin’s concept of the survival of the fittest is well known to most people. What’s less well known is how easily and significantly this concept can be applied to the world of marketing and advertising. The marketing world is place of intense, messy competition where the fittest come out on top and the less fit fade into nothingness. This doesn’t sound that different than the wilderness or the untamed competition of nature, does it? First, let’s talk about a few components of Darwinism that can be applied to marketing.
This principle of Darwinism makes itself very important in the competitive world of advertising right from the get-go. The marketing campaigns that are most well-suited for the product environment succeed, while those that are less suited are left in the dust. This competitive pressure is almost identical in function to the process of natural selection that Darwin discussed in The Origin of Species.
Nowadays, advertising, like nature, is a competitive environment where only those with the right combination of skills can sustain themselves and grow into dominance. The others become weaker and fail. Consequently, the phenomenon of competition in the advertisement industry can be considered an analogue to the phenomenon of competition in the natural world.
This comparison might seem less obvious at first, but it’s very intuitive once you think about it for a while. A large part of Darwinism is the concept of genetic mutations, which deceptively occur almost randomly and proceed to give some organisms a competitive advantage in their environment. When a genetic mutation occurs, the organism passes down its new genes, which can be fitter and more capable of the act of survival than the old genes the organism was made up of. This is a major moving force in the whole cycle of natural selection.
Likewise, in the world of branding and marketing, there are small but significant differences in products. They can be a matter of functionality or aesthetics, but these differences are the mutations that will make some brands more suited for survival and success than other brands. Because of this, we can see product differentiation as the industry equivalent of genetic mutations, for they are very similar processes that result in nearly identical effects.
Finally, there are adaptations. In the natural world, it’s sink or swim; you either change yourself to fit your environment or your environment defeats you. This cold reality is what ultimately drives evolution; organisms change because they must change to survive. They simply have no other choice, short of their own extinction!
Just like the natural world, the industry is also an unforgiving place of constant adaptation. Its people must constantly change and reinvent themselves to match up the changing circumstances of their environment, or else the company will undergo turnovers, lose clients, relevance, revenue, and fail. It’s the exact same process, only happening to institutions rather than organisms. Adaptation, just as in the natural world, is what drives change in the industry; there is barely improvement because companies must innovate to survive and then thrive.
“The universe is transformation: life is opinion.” Marcus Aurelius
In the era of massive technological disruption, old ideologies have been thrown out the window. It’s no longer “slow and steady wins the race”, but rather:
Who can innovate fast enough?
Who can change the fundamental nature of the industry first?
Who can and who wants to change their skills set?
What new miraculous invention can we reach before anyone else?
How many times again should we change?
Software, technology and a new generation of multidisciplinary people has changed the structure of the industry forever therefore, we live in a transformation era that we can now call Digital Darwinism.
What do companies need to know to properly market their services and keep it alive in this climate?
Big Changes are Necessary
With the new reality of Darwinism, small and incremental changes simply aren’t enough. You can’t just add a relatively new and cool piece of tech to your old product and call it a day; there are no cutting corners here. If you want to adapt to the new industry, you must think in terms of big and permanent changes.
Real innovation is a matter of either inventing or reinventing something in a forceful but defining way. You can’t try to stay safe in the middle of the crowd: You must rush to the front and lead the charge! Ironically, the best way to survive in this industry is to do things that feel less safe. Those who try to keep themselves stable and protected will be the first ones to fall victim to the sweeping tide of innovation. The riddle is, if you haven’t changed yet “is change still an option?”.
Transformation is Key
Digital Darwinism has made transformation the way of success. Like above, radical changes are necessary; what this means is that you can’t just try to rebrand yourself. You should transform yourself! You must become something you weren’t before. Think about it, it’s a process that will take a long time and involved changing many of the things you might have thought fundamental about your industry, agency, and people.
Every product, service and aptitude must be thought over in painstaking detail. You can’t just assume that anything can remain the way it is. In anything, you should be assuming the opposite! Assume that everything you thought you knew could be wrong.
Word of advice…
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something”, Woodrow Wilson.
How to Make Change Happen
It’s not enough to just think about how to change: You must make it happen. While it’s, of course, necessary and useful to focus on analyzing possible changes, at the end of the day, the difference is going to be how you make those changes a reality. Because of this, your goal should be how to take those changes you’ve perfected in your head and apply them at your agency. It can’t just be about imagining them; it should be about bringing them into the world and staying “ahead of the curve”.
This won’t be an easy thing to do and it will involve a whole lot of trial and error. However, if you believe in self-transformation and changing not just yourself, but the whole industry, you can implement those changes and not only survive, but thrive in the era of Digital Darwinism.
“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” Carl Sagan
The digital era has become an inescapable reality for businesses. No matter who you are or what industry you operate in, it inevitably happens that one must face the fact that they are part of this new era whether they want to be or not. So, how can you survive knowing all of this? How can you keep your agency/brand alive in this ceaseless torrent of new technology and innovation? Here a few steps to endure the onslaught!
Like it or not, digital culture exists and is with us permanently. It’s not about traditional media and digital media anymore, digital media, is, traditional media. Yup! you can drag your feet and resist it, but that will only result in your own disadvantage. What you have to do now is embrace it and grow up!
The important word to note here is “embrace”. You can’t simply adapt to digital culture and roll with its punches. You must truly live, breathe, and consume it. It has to become an organic part of your agency/brand and what your agency/brand represents. The sooner you accept and learn to love this reality, the sooner you can began to succeed in this ever-changing digital landscape!
Cut the Bullshit
This is something any good business must do regardless, but it is critical in the advertising industry. If you want to succeed and beat out your competitors, you have to be focusing on building the best customer experience possible. Every single question you ask about your business should begin and end with: What will this look like for the customer? and/or What would we like our customer to say about us?
If you’re not doing this, true success is impossible. Your customer or client is the reason that you need to be surviving in the first place, not awards!
Trial and Error
Finding the path to success is extraordinarily unlikely without a few failures along the way. Don’t be too timid to try to experiment and don’t be shaken when some or many of those experiments fail. No one has ever forged a path without encountering some obstacles along the way and your business is not going to be any different!
Once you feel that you’ve perfected a new idea or course, the only way to find out if it will hold up is to test it. Put it into motion and see what happens; if it fails, start the process again!
Finally, you must measure your own progress. There is no real way to determine how well you are responding to the digital age if you aren’t keeping detailed metrics and analyzing everything you can about them. Every single useful metric needs to be monitored; the more vital, the more frequently and intensely you need to be looking about. The important thing to remember this: You can’t just rely on your gut here like traditional (past) creatives, you need to have the data to back it up!
Note, you have two ears and one mouth, adapt or newer mutations will eat you up.
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. – Charles Darwin
What many companies don’t understand is that disruption is an inevitable reality. And what even fewer companies understand is that disruption, every now and then, must and should be inflicted ‘dangerously’ on themselves. The only way to transform yourself is to interfere with your current functioning. There can be no progress without first having a little upset and chaos.
“Sometimes, mutation must be forced.”
With that said, here are a few things that companies should keep in mind when it comes to self-disruption.
A Holistic View
The thing you need to understand to begin embracing and investing on self-disruption is the holistic nature of disruption in general. In all of life (and certainly in the digital era), disruption is endless and inevitable. There is no way to escape the destruction of the old ways and the invention of the new; this will always lead to a certain level of disarray. Many companies try to cling to the past in a desperate attempt to avoid commotion, and this only leads to disadvantages and the stifling of their own business advancement.
Since there is no way to truly avoid disruption, the best way to adapt to it is to embrace its inevitability and allow it to affect your business. You must accept the fact that potentially everything could be thrown off course for a short while as you try to figure out what you want your agency/brand to become. This is the first step toward a self-disruptive mindset, to innovate and reinvent yourself in a world of technology.
A Drive to Transform
To thrive in the process of self-disruption, you need a drive, a reason, to transform yourself. You can’t only be doing this because you understand the unavoidable nature of disruption (though that’s also a requirement). You also should want to become an entity of change and chance. If you drag your feet in the cycle of self-disruption, you will never get anywhere!
Only those who have a real, palpable desire to innovate their own brand and transform into the best possible version of their business will survive. Otherwise, they are merely fooling themselves and imagining a transformation that will never be able to happen!
A Forward-Thinking Understanding
Another required component for successful self-disruption is forward-thinking. While wanting to transform yourself, you also must understand how this transformation will fit in the big picture. You can’t think where do I want my brand/agency in five years? You must think: Where do I want my brand/agency next year?
Real transformation can’t be a blind process. It’s crucially important to have a vision in mind when you’re engaging in the process of self-disruption. The big picture view can only come into focus when the long-term goal has been established and when you have your eye on the future.
The past and present are important, but the future is what’s going to guide you in your cycle of transformation and self-invention.
Most people find the vision of the future rather disturbing. The rise of Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality seems threatening. People can’t help but fear the unstoppable technological developments that would risk their jobs or careers, and threaten their privacy and their sense of ownership and stewardship – think advanced robotic systems threatening to takeover humans in various industries, the self-driving cars, and emotional robots among others.
Humans like to be in control, but the advent of advanced technology has caused fears to develop among individuals who are afraid of not being in control. We often fear change and we will do what we can to stay in a comfort zone. But the thing is, technology always moves forwards, even though some humans remain stuck in their places.
In other words, technology advancement, much like change is inevitable.
Over the years, have men not stopped innovating or evolving? From developing easier ways to hunt their preys in the wild to using computers to do repetitive and time-consuming tasks – people like to see things not only done right, they want things done conveniently and quickly. Therefore, humans learned to care for technology, since it will help them improve their lifestyle and enhance their day to day living experience.
Boon or Bane
Changes in technology happen from time to time. What used to be the fastest today will be the slowest one tomorrow and the most convenient ones now will be completely useless later on.
While some people will gladly embrace these changes and find other opportunities from them, there are also others who view these technology advancements as real and imminent threats. Some people see automation and Artificial intelligence as disconcerting and threatening to the human’s reign.
As machines are taking on more and more of the attributes and skills that were previously deemed as uniquely and exclusively for humans, people are also now beginning to question what consequences these radical technology transformation will bring.
Pioneering in today’s industry is every bit as new and untested as settling the unknown landscapes of yesterday. Every new inventor and entrepreneur is setting out for an unfamiliar place and bravely charting the course to the future. In this environment, it’s necessary for us all to understand the principles and mechanics of modern pioneering. We must understand what it takes to find or create something truly original in this modern, technological era. Only then can we join the ranks of the true pioneers. Here are just a few of those principles!
Carve Your Own Road
In this unforgiving terrain, the successful pioneers are those who learn to make their own way and find the best course forward. This is not an atmosphere for followers and imitators. It’s an atmosphere for creatively picking out and building your own way ahead of the competition, learning a new trade every other month and becoming a polymath while discovering new solutions in the process.
Just as the pioneers of every era before didn’t let others direct their way for them, so too the pioneers of today must be resolute in their own vision. They have to decide where they should go themselves and not let others decide for them. Otherwise, they risk getting trampled in the struggle to lead the charge and become completely lost and aimless in their travels.
Build a Culture
The modern pioneers must also build a culture. Marching to the beat of your own drum is great, but it can also have a true impact when others began to see the merit of doing things your way. Therefore, you can’t only invent and find the way forward, but also must convince others of this way by creating a culture out of it.
Every successful and innovative company in this modern era has built a culture around their image and vision. They haven’t just quietly done things their own way but also broadcast this way as original, unique, and great. Through this broadcasting mechanism, they’ve taken the first and most important step in stamping their unique way as a movement and their own culture. In this way, building a culture is how an innovator becomes a pioneer!
Learn to Love Uncertainty
Pioneers of the past not only put up with uncertainty, but they grew to love it. No pioneer can truly live a lifestyle of uncertainty and the cold unknown without learning to embrace and love it. After all, if you’re constantly forging a new path, how can you keep going with longing for the feeling of complete unreliability? This is the true quality pioneers are made of!
This is the reason that you have to give up now and forever any aversion, fear, or distaste you have for uncertainty. It has to become something you look forward to and truly hope to appreciate. Those who settle in unknown lands can’t be certain of anything, no matter how simple or basic, and neither can you. You must confront the unknown head on and enjoy every second of it. Otherwise, you would be reluctant and unwilling; unfortunately, no pioneer has ever found their way with those two qualities!
Scientific studies suggest that the dinosaur era abruptly end when a large asteroid struck the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Remarkably though, it was not the comet’s impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, but the after-effect of the impact where the Earth’s skies were choked with debris starving the planet from the sun’s energy. Without the sun, photosynthesis was impossible causing a domino effect on the food chain. The dinosaurs weren’t able to survive the lack of heat reptiles like them needed and the climate swing has wrecked havoc on their food sources, thus, the end of Tyrannosaurus rex’s reign.
For decades, old-school ad agencies were largely dependent upon mass media channels as their primary sources of revenue, much the same as how the dinosaurs completely relied upon the sun’s heat source.
But gone are the glorious and overly abundant days of million dollars’ worth of advertising revenue from the giant television companies. With the rapid digital revolution, the gigantic television institutions were all, but without a warning, left blotted out by the internet’s dusts.
The rise of the internet era has undeniably shaken up the industry of media advertising much like how the large asteroid that hit the planet millions of years ago have affected the dinosaurs.
Today’s companies are no longer pouring their advertising budgets into television networks, and even printed medias like the newspapers are faced with bigger challenges. Companies are now becoming wiser, particularly considering how much dollars they must spend on a very short prime time commercial spot. Instead, they are pouring their resources on the digital media agencies that were more budget-friendly and yet much more far reaching. Just imagine the number of consumers a social media ad can reach with the way majority of the people spend over the web nowadays. How much time would an average person today spend watching television shows anyway, compared to the hours these same individuals would spend surfing the web.
The thing with the old-school ad agencies is that they are unlike the digital specialists who are pretty much leaner, smaller, more resourceful and creative; polymaths. Instead, just like the dinosaurs they have relatively huge bodies. They need to fill in huge pockets from their executives down to their large number of staffs; they will need big offices and generally require more resources, which are translated into huge amounts of dollars.
Needless to say, old-school ad agencies need to evolve, else they vanish. Remember, not every dinosaur had tragic fate. Some were able to adapt with the new environment and continued to survive today. Birds with roots from the reptile family, the alligators and crocodiles, for instances are still thriving.
The new advertising industry is more focused on bigger and performance oriented diverse ideas. As the competition in the media is growing, resources are very scarce. Nonetheless, if – and only if – these old-school ad agencies learn to adapt, or afford to be smaller and wiser, then most likely they’ll be able to thrive in this ever-changing advertising landscape.
It is said that, reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Would you agree? And, how did we come to be this way, anyway?
In the book, “The Enigma of Reason”, cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber point out that reason is an evolved trait. Reason has become the hyper-social man’s way of adaptation as everything around him continues to evolve.
It is important to note that compared to the other species, humans have the biggest advantage with their ability to cooperate. Cooperation is hard to establish and is equally difficult to sustain. Hence, reason is not developed to enable humans to solve logical or abstract problems or to help the man create conclusions from data that were unfamiliar; instead it is developed to resolve problems that commonly exist in collaborative groups.
Why Facts Won’t Necessarily Change the Human Minds?
The Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency for humans to be selective in embracing only the information that supports their personal beliefs and rejects the information they deemed as contradicting to their perspectives. Confirmation bias may lead people to dismiss or disprove evidence of new or less acknowledged threats.
But the same cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber prefer to call it “myside bias”, pointing out that humans are not randomly credulous or naïve. Oftentimes, when we are confronted with someone else’s argument, we are adept to singling out their weakness.
Sociability and the Human Minds
Interestingly though, humans tend to bend their own reasons in order to avoid getting screwed by the other group members. But this may not be surprising at all considering how our ancestors used to be concerned about their social standing to have the better chance at survival. Simply put, humans found that reasoning clearly is of little advantage compared to gaining more by winning arguments. This further supports that somehow sociability is the key to how the human mind’s function.
The Illusion of Explanatory Depth
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, who are both professors and cognitive scientists also have their own theory which they called as the illusion of explanatory depth. This refers to humans’ belief that they know way more than they actually do, when what allows them to persist in that belief is other people. This is drawn from the fact that from the time men learned to hunt, humans have been relying on one another’s expertise to thrive. We are thriving well in collaboration with others to the extent that we can hardly tell where our very own understanding ends and just about where other’s begins.
How Science Tends to Correct People’s Natural Inclinations on Reasoning
With varying views and perceptions, it would have been easy for a field to be dominated by squabbles. But essentially science has become a system that corrects for people’s innate inclinations. In science, methodology prevails.
In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us”, psychiatrist Jack Gorman and his daughter and public-health specialist Sara Gorman probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. They found that oftentimes, providing people with the right information don’t seem to help and appealing to their emotions may work better. They also added that the remaining challenge is basically on how to deal with the tendencies that can lead to false scientific beliefs.
What does the future hold for ad agencies?
This is a common and increasingly urgent question being raised by lots of individuals today especially those who are in the advertising and marketing sector. With the increasing clients hunting for consultants, it cannot be denied that lots of these agencies are striving real hard to advance on their own turf and remain relevant.
Business is historically straightforward and marketers hire agencies to create 30 second spots, place them in TV and adapt them to magazines, radio and out-of-home media, make and send direct mails to addresses that are stored in big databases and more.
However, the needs of clients have changed or let’s say, increased – maybe into unbearable terms if you hired an agency that isn’t digitally savvy, 5 years ago. Not that you have 3 or 4 experts on the matter but that you have digital and technology all around your agency ecology.
Clients are requesting their agencies to manage their marketing across devices and essentially serve customized advertisements to specific audiences reliant on real-time analysis on data that’s constantly changing – and not on gut-feelings nor the emotive magnetism with an awareness focus or goal.
In all these continually evolving and clouding mashup of marketing and business operations – are the clients who need a reliable partner to help them out and who/what/where/when will this partner be?
Opinions coming from different individual are pursued of regarding this subject including experts and most of them said that ‘whatever’ agency will take in the next five or ten years, it must be client-centric (business-partners).
More agencies will re-bundle capabilities like media and creative, production and digital, influencers and more for individual brand needs. There would be dedicated and reliable client teams and greater open-sourcing degree of capabilities and talents. However, the challenge for businesses in this leveled playing field is to bring something new to their clients.
As far as the future of ad agencies is concerned, these agencies will be established around consumers and clients and not by channels or brands. There will no longer be lead agencies but multi-disciplines that sit as equal partners in a more fluid and better structure.
All ad agencies and creative departments will need to have the same ending points.
Both Small and Big
The world will certainly accommodate the different types of lead agency but not everyone should be generalist in future. In part, this future is believed to be driven by what the culture supports best type of thinking. Individuals might just end up having these flatter organizations and some even foresee having numerous leadership communities instead of having massive and big hierarchies.
These days’ clients get as big as about 20-30 people. With minimal silos between the disciplines and t-shaped creative talents that can utilize technology, this team in the next years or months can be as small as four people.
However, small businesses must not diminish or limit agencies.
In conclusion, when talking about future of ad agencies, new competition is part of the scene. As the clients demand newly bundled support across digital content, media distribution and commerce, agencies tend to be morphing to meet challenges investing on consulting, tech capabilities, consultants/freelancers, and media.
Various media companies also invest on content creation services for brands which buy ads on their very own media platforms and on other websites as well therefore, turning a media agency into a competitive business against creative agencies.
“Stay curious because change is not an option anymore”
Gone are the days when marketing heavily relied on creativity to thrive in the industry. Like most other fields, today marketing has become more driven by data and technology. Brand awareness no longer suffices, the need to incorporate enhanced customer experience is imperative. Hence, advertising agencies must compete against its fast-emerging rival – consulting firms. Therefore, advertising agencies are now facing bigger digital agency networks such as Accenture Interactive, Deloitte Digital, PwC Digital Services, and Epsilon.
In a record-breaking result, four consulting firms could manage to rank among the 10 largest agency companies in the world – Accenture, PwC, IBM and Deloitte. Accenture Interactive was even named as the biggest and fastest-growing digital agency network.
Although it may not be surprising anymore because of the current trend, the revenue for the consulting firms has surged to an all-time high. And, it is not by accident. These consultancies have managed to up their revenue through organic growth, mix of acquisitions, geographically-strategic expansions, consolidation of marketing-related services and bringing new products and practices to the table.
Admit it, brand loyalty itself is no longer predominantly significant. Consumers are not prone to be loyal to brands as they once were because generational know-hows have made experiencing with tried-and-tested a pushover gamble.
This is where and how consultants build loyalty with clients. While agencies are still dressed as “snake oil salesman” with their irrational fees and production costs, loyalty will mean remaining the same and not exploring alternatives away from award creativity and into performance oriented business.
As the consumers’ needs and preferences have rapidly evolved, marketing directors now believe that creativity alone is not enough to drive growth. The use of data analytics has allowed companies and brands to determine what the customers want and need and enabled them to improve their products. It has also allowed a more scalable and personalized solutions creating better customer experience. Hence, data-led strategy provided solutions that traditional advertising can no longer solve alone. Therefore, agencies are in big trouble – it is no longer a campaign over campaign marketing, it is a consistent business strategy that wins the fight something traditional agencies don’t even know where to start; or adapt.
Without a doubt, the race is on between consulting firms and the advertising agencies.
Advertising agencies rally their selves as creative entities and are facing the challenge on how they can effectively integrate better and faster consumer insight and data to enhance customer experience. On the other hand, consultant firms are gaining the upper hand in the competition by gaining a foothold across marketing departments and luring CMO’s with their wide array of data analytics, new technology and strategic solutions.
By bolstering their strategic consulting and integrating data in their offerings to provide the one-stop solutions that majority of the customers prefer, these advertising agencies may have a better chance against their newly-found rival.
Mutation by Force
Below are some of the areas advertising agencies may need to consider:
Meta-learning: Integrate consistent strategic solutions and technology to scale customer experience
Data Science: Embrace the data-driven approach
Polymaths: Get the right technical people to do the job
Forward-thinking: Include a wide array of technical solutions
Marketing has indeed gone through a major makeover in the recent years. The rise of consulting firms is but a reflection of this metamorphosis. This is further intensified by the advent of ad skipping, screening and blocking plus the continuous decline of television popularity. Hence, brands must look for other ways to reach out to their customers. This means that traditional agencies should also find ways to adapt to these changes and find ways to innovate their product offerings – else they will surely be left behind, selling ‘snake-oil’.
…and thats it.