I was reading Thomas Friedman's Sunday's Op-Ed "One Country, Two Revolutions" and loved this portion, which described Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, definition of the social world we now live in.
Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, a cloud-based software provider, describes this phase of the I.T. revolution with the acronym SOCIAL. S, he says, is for speed — everything is now happening faster. O, he says, stands for open. If you don’t have an open environment inside your company or country, these new tools will blow you wide open. C is for collaboration because this revolution enables people to organize themselves within companies and societies into loosely coupled teams to take on any kind of challenges — from designing a new product to taking down a government. I is for individuals, who are able to reach around the globe to start something or collaborate on something farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before — as individuals.
A is for alignment. “There has never been a more important time to have all your ships sailing in the same direction,” said Benioff. “The power of social media is that it is easier than ever to both articulate, and reinforce, the vision and values that create and inspire alignment.” And L is for the leadership that does that. Leadership in a SOCIAL world has to be a mix of bottom-up and top-down. Leaders need to inspire, enable and empower everything coming up from below in a company or a social movement and then edit and sculpt it with a vision from above into a final product.
What I find most compelling is that this description is true for all industries and all companies. Whether you're a consumer brand company, a retailer, a traditional agency, a media company, a communications company, a content developer or an agency (traditional or digital), the digital revolution has directly impacted your business in some way or another.
Brands are struggling to figure out how to connect with their consumers - the convergence of social media, the proliferation of mobile devices, the ability to access content and information quickly, seamlessly and easily through "the clouds." They're struggling how to create products, services and experiences (and communication strategies) that provide value, that are relevant to their consumers' daily and busy lives. And agencies are (or should be if they aren't already) figuring out how to support the brands (their clients) in their efforts. On both sides, it takes an understanding of the new technology realities, the connected experience that these new devices and content provide, the changing consumer and shopper behavior. It also takes companies that are transparent, innovative and design driven. It takes companies that "think like consumers." It takes companies that understand the convergence of brand, experience, design and technology. And it takes leadership that inspires all of this.
Apple is held up (and rightly so) as being one of the very best in delivering a consistently, authentic consumer experience - and there is no brand out there that wouldn't do anything to create the kind of brand loyalty that Apple has engineered. But it takes more than cracking the code of developing loyalty. It takes innovation - and leadership. (Whether you have a Steve Jobs at the helm or not.) Something I read from The Designful Company: How to build a culture of nonstop innovation by Marty Neumeier:
What if you focused on designing great customer experiences. That’s exactly what Apple has been doing, and the company’s stock price has risen 1,273% over a ten-year period, beating the averages of any given tech market. When The Wall Street Journal asked CEO Steve Jobs how Apple will stay on that trajectory, he replied, “We intend to keep innovating.” Apple can keep innovating because it has a CULTURE of innovation.
Clearly, not all brands can or will be Apple - but there's nothing wrong with aspiring for the ideal. So while brands strive to evolve by instilling a culture of innovation and more "design thinking" into their organization - some succeeding more than others - I wonder whether agencies are doing the same thing. And if they're not (and I don't think many are) - why not? Will an agency that doesn't inspire a culture of innovation be relevant - or even around - in 5, 10 or 15 years?
As is obviously clear, the world is changing at a rapid pace. And the faster it moves forward, the harder it will be to catch up. In the agency world, this is especially true for the traditional agencies who offer "commodity services," those that don't truly understand (or haven't embraced) the digital landscape and how this affects consumers' perception of brand, their decision to purchase a brand, their reason to choose to wear (or not) the "badge of brand" on their sleeve - or facebook page, as it may be. These same agencies that haven't embraced these new realities, or incorporated new services to reflect their clients evolving needs, seem to be the same ones that aren't creating a culture of curiosity, creativity or innovation. I think it goes hand in hand.
The agency landscape has been shifting for years, and in many ways it is still a land grab as agencies try to offer the new services that brands require to compete. As innovation, collaboration, design thinking and transparency have become the new realities for brands, I believe they also need to become the new realities for agencies, if they are to survive to the next phase of the digital revolution.