NEW MEDIA: Web Words - New economy ad agencies cannot offer old methods

It's about time someone admitted advertising agencies have not known how to service new economy clients.

It's about time someone admitted advertising agencies have not known how to service new economy clients.

After all, everything used to be so much easier. As Maurice Saatchi used to say to clients: 'It's not naive to believe you'll run an ad one day and the next day customers will come flocking to your door'.

Sadly, things are now a bit trickier. New economy clients have not got a door for customers to knock on, a shelf to choose a product from, or a till to pay at.

Trickier still is the media fragmentation that is making it harder and harder for advertisers to reach their potential market.

Today's customer is switched on, aggressively discriminating and networked.

To make matters worse, there are few secrets in a networked marketplace and customer scrutiny of companies is getting intense.

Just look at how hard one consumer, Naomi Klein, has made life for established players such as Nike, Shell and McDonald's. 'Little brother' is now watching us and people are very unlikely to take our word for anything.

So when new economy clients came knocking on ad agency doors, what did we do? We welcomed them with open arms, told them that nothing much had changed, what they needed was a particularly attention-grabbing campaign and took their money. (Some say the only mistake was not asking for all the money upfront).

But the real mistake was that such fundamental changes in the marketplace were not met by fundamental changes in the way ad agencies operate. In the meantime, companies such as Agency.com, AKQA and DoubleClick stole a march on ad agencies by owning the area that clients were most scared about investing in - the technology.

It is only now that everyone has realised new economy companies can no longer rely on conventional marketing models. The old rules dictate a large-scale advertising campaign to build credibility, generate awareness, educate the consumer and then convert. But new economy clients can't wait to see if the traditional model pans out. In a world where cost of customer acquisition is everything, the budget risk is too great.

To engage consumers we've got to interact and integrate, not fire communications at them. Creating positive conversations is critical to success. We need to look at what influenced a particular audience and how they influence the audience around them.

Customers want to be treated as individuals. Sounds obvious, but companies like Barclays still don't manage it. Strange that for a supposedly comprehensive service you have to deal with about four different people and none of them seem to know what the other is doing. And the fact that Barclays spends big sums of money on big actors in big ads does little to inspire me to stay with it, let alone try its online banking service.

Lord Bell put the point across more tactfully when he recently said: 'Brands can no longer be masters, they must become servants.' The best way for ad agencies to assist new economy clients is to help them establish a position of genuine value to consumers, understand what will encourage customers to change their behaviour, and construct an integrated direct-response programme designed to encourage a dialogue.

But the real key is for new economy companies to stop looking at the marketing and business plan separately. After all, the influence of new economy marketing directors has changed dramatically. Take David Magliano from Go. He hasn't just got to worry about the ads for a new destination - he has to decide on what the new destination is.

Crispin Jameson is a partner at HHCL.



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