What do brands need from mobile and what sort of agency is best to deliver this for them?

“Very few companies are spending enough in mobile – perhaps one in 10 are spending enough. They need to be rethinking their products and services using the mobile channel, building apps and sites and then spend money promoting them so consumers will use them. But first, they need to make the mobile experience better,” – Mark Read, CEO, WPP Digital.

No one is going to argue with this sentiment – the stats clearly show that mobile expenditure is failing to keep pace with consumer adoption. But why aren’t companies spending more on mobile?

The agency world, the advisers to business on all matters marketing, must take their share of the blame for failing to provide a coherent leadership on mobile. All types of agencies are getting into mobile, in a big way. But they’re all coming to it with different philosophies, analyzed below, depending on their background and (often highly specialized) expertise. There’s little wonder that so many companies’ mobile strategies often seem disjointed, underfunded and rarely focused on long-term customer engagement.

The cure for this ill also lies with the agencies. There’s a growing realization, even among the large, traditional agencies, that they must broaden their mobile/digital skills, to be able to provide what clients really need, rather than modeling mobile initiatives around what agencies are able to supply.

Agency soup

There are so many different types of agency – advertising, branding, communications, CRM, digital, marketing, media, mobile… endless genres and sub-genres – it must be totally bewildering for clients when they are trying to choose which is the best partner (or partners) to get their mobile strategy on track.

At the Mobile Media Summit in London last week there were speakers from AKQA, Ansible, Fetch, Havas Media, Joule, M&C Saatchi Mobile, Manning Gottlieb OMD, McCann, McCann Worldgroup, MEC, MEC Interaction, Mediacom, MediaCom iLAB, Omnicom Media Group, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest, UM G14, WPP Digital… All familiar names, but what exactly do all these agencies do? If industry watchers, such as mobiThinking, struggles to catalogue them, then what hope is there for those businesses that are new to mobile?

Want to know a secret? Most of these agencies are owned (or part-owned) by the same four groups: WPP; Interpublic; Omnicom; and Publicis. In recent years these groups have had a voracious appetite for acquiring digital/mobile specialists. In fact the mission of Mark Read’s WPP Digital is to seek out such acquisitions for WPP.

This means you have vast groups with the broadest range of marketing expertise, from branding and advertising to digital marketing. All agencies have largely retained their unique identities and specialism, which is logical from a general marketing perspective, but doesn’t necessarily suit mobile, which straddles multiple marketing disciplines and requires a broader skill set and, more importantly, a holistic perspective than individual agencies have historically been able to provide.

Talking shop

Then there’s the language. All industries have their own lingo, but mobile marketing is the convergence of the marketing, digital, mobile and “adtech” (advertising technology) worlds and, unfortunately, it has inherited the jargon from all its parents. “Do you think our business has too much jargon?” asked Ajaz Ahmed, AKQA, chief executive officer founder & CEO, sagely, as we departed the Mobile Media Summit. Yes, in deed, it must be baffling for clients.

One speaker at the event said, with no trace of irony, that his job was to “demystify” the technology for clients. Why is this necessary? It’s hardly rocket science. It’s just been made inaccessible by wrapping it in a veneer of industry buzzwords.

The nutty thing is that the buzzwords mean different things to different people. Take “native”, for example. In the mobile/Web business, native is used to describe an application that is downloaded to and resides upon the device, so you’d be forgiven for thinking native advertising is ads that are shown with mobile apps. But the ad world uses native advertising to describe “featured” or “sponsored” posts on Twitter/Facebook and stories and video content on Websites prepared by and paid for by the advertiser. It is what is called advertorial or advertising features in the print world. There’s nothing native about it at all in the true dictionary sense of the word; it’s actually an imposter.

How agency DNA influences mobile campaigns

In mobiThinking’s simplistic view of the world, all these agencies are converging on mobile from two very different directions:

1) Traditional/creative/advertising – this determines what a brand represents and delivers that in pervasive, often brilliant ways, via media (TV, print, billboards etc) that are usually one-way and unquantifiable.

2) Interactive/CRM (customer relationship management) – i.e. the new-age world of digital marketing and customer engagement, with its vast databases of customer information, analytics and targeted messages, designed to elicit a measurable response.

When you look at mobile campaigns, the DNA of the agency is clearly visible. There’s still a big distinction.

1) The eye-catching, beautifully-crafted, brand-led campaigns that typically do well at Cannes, are usually proffered by the traditional agencies. Of late, there has been a trend for one-off “native” apps, perhaps a game, that’s more about branding and grabbing media attention, than selling product or accruing loyal customers. Results, if they are measured, are in terms of downloads, media impressions, articles, tweets etc, rather than hard metrics such as product sales, sign-ups to loyalty schemes or store visits.

2) The results-led, targeted campaigns, designed to shift product, drive footfall (i.e. store visits) and building marketing databases, are usually the remit of digital/mobile/CRM specialists. These campaigns don’t tend to get the acclaim they deserve, because a) clients don’t like to share their success stories; and b) the creative and media used – e.g. banners, search, SMS, email, vouchers – are often less glamorous. You’re more likely to gleam information about this side of mobile from reading the company’s annual report than hear about it in the press or at award ceremonies.

The fact that clients need a converged type of marketing, mixing both these types, is blatantly obvious to an outsider, but it requires bringing together the mods and the rockers of the marketing world and making them work collaboratively, preferably within the same integrated agency. Today it is still common to find one agency coming up with a concept for a branded app, then a second agency being employed to develop the app, then a third being employed to run the campaign to promote the app and drive downloads – which never seems like the most efficient use of mobile expertise or client funds.

Even at the oldest creative agencies, this new reality is dawning. At 102 year-old McCann, London CEO, Zaid Al-Zaidy, recognizes that traditional agencies have to embrace “performance marketing” – this is what the marketing business calls the results-based marketing described above. Agencies need to be able to provide both the transformation ideas, i.e. those slogans that say: this brand stands for X, that made creative agencies’ reputations and the ability to use data analytics to market the client’s products in real-time to the target customer, which traditionally have been the remit of the CRM-specialist agency.

“Digital technology is the new enabler of brand behavior, the final step towards making brands living breathing things,” Al-Zaidy declares.

He wants to bring creative, developers and database specialists into the same room to devise the optimum mobile campaigns for clients.

Bravo… it’s about time.

Mobile is marriage of marketing and technology, or what Google calls Art Copy Code (if you haven’t already, check out the html5-based interactive/targeted video). Clients need their agencies skilled in both. Clients certainly do not need to be confused by different agencies evangelizing different mobile strategies based on their historical philosophy and expertise.

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