Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies

Enter the Hybrid Marketer: Where Mad Men Meet Tech Nerds

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Allison Mooney
Allison Mooney
At the Apps for Brands event this past Wednesday, I moderated a panel that looked specifically at how marketers should attack the construction of a branded application. But one question we didn't get to address was: How much do marketers need to know about app development anyway?

The truth is, advertisers and brand marketers are entering a brave new world -- one where code is on par with content. The 21st-century ad isn't something to be looked at, it's something to be used. Our reliance on mobile tools, such as apps, position them as the perfect vehicles for brands. "Consumers" are now "users." So are "marketers" now "developers"?

"In order to make a successful app, you need to have these core competencies, or work with companies that have these core competencies, that are beyond marketing," said Ad Age's Nick Parish during the pre-panel call. J.B. Holston, president-CEO of NewsGator, saw this as his company's role. "Our clients would rather not have to worry about keeping up with latest and greatest [in platform releases]," he said. "They can focus a lot more on the brand, more what is the right expression of the brand here, rather than 'How do I use the video capability of the next generation iPhone?'"

But Matt Galligan, CEO and co-founder of CrashCorp, also a tech company, said that having someone who at least can help a creative team understanding how the software should look is very helpful. "I think having somebody like that, even if they are not the ones coding the app, helps bridge the gap between the technical and the creative," he said. "As we talk to various brands and agencies about working with our technology, there is sort of a disconnect."

AKQA gets around this with a "creative developer" role, which I've also heard referred to as a "creative technologist." People in this hybrid position work directly with developers to oversee the realization of an idea. "Pure creatives don't have the language to speak with developers," said Rei Inamoto, AKQA's chief creative officer. "These people act as translators."

Inamoto also pointed to the need for brand managers to have a new hybrid mind-set. "We need to educate and cultivate a new breed of people who understand tech from a marketing and brand perspective, who have a consumer mindset." These "brand technologists," as Parish called them, also lend a software company vibe around an agency.

This idea of agency as software company was the founding principle of The Barbarian Group, a boutique digital shop with offices in New York, Boston and San Francisco. Co-founder Rick Webb believes that the advertising industry has only had one major take-away from the web 2.0 world: User-generated content.

"What they should have been taking away all of this time -- and have increasingly begun to -- are the concepts of the constant beta and agile development," he says. "Marketers need to abandon the time-limited campaign online and start to think of it as a constant application of a rigorous discipline. They should think of their marketing the same way that Facebook puts out a new feature every two weeks, tweaks it, changes it, and re-releases it. It's not a coincidence that's brought Facebook 400 million users and Twitter 40 million. We've been applying them to for three years now and have seen results beyond anything that a single campaign could do on its own."

These hybrid employees that can bring digital know-how to Madison Avenue should not be hard for companies to find. Rising college grads have grown up using digital tools for their creative expression and academic pursuits. Even established employees are taking up code in their spare time, not only recognizing its value on the job, but also to realize their own ideas.

Agencies need to recognize that this digital and mobile literacy is essential to their survival -- both on the creative side and the account side. They need not do the building in-house, but they need to know how the bricks are laid. Just as Salvatore Romano, Sterling Cooper's Art Director, transitioned from drawing storyboards to producing commercial, this generation's mad men will need to make a similar leap into Advertising 2.0.

Allison Mooney is VP-director of trends and insights at MobileBehavior, an Omnicom Group Company, and runs their blog Next Great Thing.
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