I’ve Got a New Job–and So Do You

Today I started a new job.

Luckily, I’ve had the chance to write my own job description. And since I’m self-employed, I know the boss has my back.

For the past three years I’ve  worked with one of the largest interactive agencies in New York City. The leadership of the company, based in Europe, is focused more and more becoming a network of interactive marketing agencies, with an emphasis on marketing. They believe that there is a lucrative future in that strategy.

I respectfully disagree.

I think it may be a good way to extract money from client budgets, at least for now. But I believe that’s missing the very very big, historical turning point about how we communicate that we’re just beginning.  As a result, yesterday I quit my job.  Vote with your feet, I say.

We can now see the tectonic shifting in the communications landscape. Yes, we’re becoming more wired and more socially active and connected online, so who we communicate with and how we communicate is much more in our own control. As a result, were listening to and watching less and less broadcasting, especially attention-interrupting advertising. Even if it’s online advertising.

I won’t spend time telling you my version of what this all means. If you’re reading this on my blog you get the general idea–especially if you got here through a Tweet or Re-Tweet.   I’m just saying that I don’t think this is a good time to be betting heavily on interactive marketing for a living. Maybe you can succeed if you offer the very best work across a wide range of services, and are willing to settle for commodity pricing on most of what you make and sell. Razorfish.  AKQA.  RG/A.

Go big or go home.

Ameriprise last week selected R/GA as their marketing agency of record (AOR) which is huge, and not just for R/GA. For the first time a digital agency is responsible for managing the brand of a large American corporation. The advertising and media agencies will be directed by R/GA. Good for them.

I believe that the growth of bandwidth and distribution of the Internet and the social networks it has spawned are in the process of becoming the primary system of communications within companies and with their customers—and more important, between their customers.

The Internet is no longer another channel from marketers to potential customers, in fact it’s value as a broadcast channel is becoming less and less important as social networks and search engines become the primary means by which we connect with companies and their brands.

The effects of this on traditional communications organization within a company are becoming disastrous.  I used to be an executive with Knight Ridder newspapers, so I know.   Marketing can’t reach customers as consistently with the “reach and frequency” of messaging through the volatile combination of broadcast media, in-store experience and online content and networks.

Money is being pissed away right now on broadcast and print media and direct mail marketing that cannot deliver the awareness and engagement they promise. People are communicating with each other too much, and when they hear marketing messages they discount them by 75% as more marketing BS.

But since we’re in a recession, management becomes more conservative. People in business tell themselves to “to do what we do best,” instead of do what’s best.   For most senior marketing managers that means relying on broadcasting messages through interruption media.

Communicating to customers is going to become much more atomic and interactive. This will require companies to begin building their communications strategies by building strong communications internally. Companies will first have to decide what “the walk” is, and then they will have to communicate and re-organize and re-vitalize themselves to actually walk that walk.

The primary way that marketing messages will be communicated in this new social landscape is through the products themselves. Every product and service will include communications with it, and the purpose of that communications will be to introduce and explain the produce and support the customer.

What I think this means is that marketing, advertising, public relations and customer service will all fall under a broad communications strategy which will be the plan by which a company will execute business strategy. This is why ideas like “design strategy” and “marketing as a service” are beginning to circulate as the primary process for selling and servicing customers.

I think there needs to be agencies or consultants to help companies think through their business strategy in this new landscape and then translate that into strong, internalized communications strategy. That’s the work that I want to do.

I think this new type of consultancy will take business away from traditional business consultants like Bain and McKinsey, who are giants of left-brained thinking, but have no emotional or creative bones in their bodies. This new business will be about aligning companies internally and then helping create and evolve the ideas and language the people of that company will use to explain and tell the story of the products and services they sell.  So it’s still creative people thinking strategically about messaging—and now, content strategy.  It’s about the on-going discussion that needs to be organized and fed by on-going content strategy.

These creative ideas should be integral to the product design and the service that supports products. I’m beginning work with clients now who are smaller companies that communicate primarily through the Internet with potential customers. Many companies like these are seeing their products and services become commodities in the new global economy. Even when they can leapfrog competition with new products and services they’ve only won short-term gains in “arms races” of technical innovations.

The only sustainable competitive advantage is for the people of the company to join together to examine and align as a company internally, and building on their existing strengths, create “the walk.” And if they can walk the walk, the rest of communications strategy follows.

(Have you noticed it’s always “management” and “employees” anytime we talk about business? That’s a relic of the 20th century we have to break apart. It’s the people of a company, working in a social collaboration that actually comprises almost all the work a company does.)

There are early adopters already in the marketplace. IBM has seized the leadership position in Information Technology through just this kind of process. If they continue their innovations in social communications they can sustain a reputation as the best choice for customers to make. That’s the beginning of what the new social enterprise walks like. Other, newer companies are doing this as well—Zappos, Best Buy, and CapGemini. And now it looks like Ameriprise, a company of more than 40,000 employees is going to try to begin this slow transformation as well.

In the midst of that movement, that’s where I want to work. It’s not a tactic or a channel. It’s about who companies are and who they need to become. Yes, that’s strategic consulting. But I think in it’s heart it’s strategic communications planning. So I’m a strategic communications planner. That’s what I do for a living now.

The thrilling part is the amazing, open collaboration of ideas I have with you. People who are thinking about this new social landscape are so generous and willing to share ideas. Some of that is frankly about personal survival, but the poetic justice of these social networks is that they naturally create collaboration, most of all among people like us who are creating them. I’ve had long talks with tremendously generous and thoughtful people like Paul Isakson, Albert Maruggi, Kip Voytek, Aya Karpinska, Joseph Reuter, Andrew Eklund, Kim Garretson, Michael Bingham and dozens of others.

I”ve heard brilliant provocative and sometimes just weird thinking on blogs and at seminars.

You know how we roll. We’re working hard every day in this open, collaborative world.

Thanks for reading this. I’ve got business cards now, so I guess this is official.

Please let me know what you think. And I’ll try to return the favor.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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