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Stay Relevant and change the Business Model

James Huang | 2021.08.01

Everything feels different in the world of marketing/ advertising because everything IS different in the world of marketing/ advertising.

We’ve always hesitated to call MERCURY as an IT/ consultant company.  Like a lot of small, independent firms, we solve a wide variety of problems for our clients. Sometimes it involves a traditional ERP system. Sometimes it’s a digital newsmedia platform. Sometimes it’s a series of retail platform. Occasionally, it is a Project Management platform.

In a larger context, however, we are in the marketing business. We make things, write things, design things — all to help our clients sell (or operate) something. And, like most consultant company, we’ve felt a dramatic shift over the last few years. Budgets are smaller. Timelines are shorter. Engagements are looser. Generally, we’re cool with these changes. Our independence and size give us the flexibility that many firms lack. We have some wonderful clients with the bravery to try new things. Even with those advantages, it’s hard not to feel like there’s been a seismic shift in our industry, something deep under the surface that has caused ripples in our business.

It’s a shift that sounds subtle, but will require (r)evolutionary changes for both firms and their clients.

The Old Model

Clients give us money, we give them creativity. Our relationship is centered on the delivery of things—software, program, ads, videos, websites, apps, posters, scripts, images, sculptures, etc. I’d argue that this has been the arrangement between clients and firm for a long, long time. Service agreements, scope of work documents, retainer contracts—they all revolve around outputs. Three directions, two rounds of revisions, two languages, a responsive website with a custom CMS, static banners in 17 different sizes, etc. etc.

If we’re honest, this system has never made sense. It divorces the client-firm relationship from the actual goals of the campaign/ project. But (with the rare exception of some progressive compensation models), this is what we’ve been doing. Whether the project succeeds or not, whether our clients sell more (or less) products/services, agencies get paid to deliver stuff. We get paid for creativity. It’s the service we sell.

The Change

You could have dropped in for more than a dozen different talks, panels and seminars—all centered around digital data and measurement—with such alluring titles as Measuring Up, Big Data/Great Creative, Microtargeting, Rethink Measurement For Growth, Breaking Down Measurement Barriers, Data 101, Storytelling With Data, and The Next Era Of Programmatic.

This is our industry. This is what clients see, hear and read every time.  This is the new reality. This is the seismic shift. Whether these measurements reflect reality—or whether the data can actually be attributed to meaningful consumer behavior/preferences/trends—is a topic for another day. Right now, CMOs (along with their VPs, Directors and Managers) are getting hammered by CFOs, COOs and procurement departments about measurement, data and the Holy Grail of detailed ROI.

The New Model

Here’s the realization: If we want to stay relevant, we have to change the business model. Creativity as a Service no longer works. As long as our client partners are under the downward pressure of Faster! Cheaper! Measurable! (procurement! finance! operations!), relationships based on deliverables and outputs aren’t going to survive. Our model—along with our processes and culture—has to change in an evolutionary, but still dramatic fashion.

Creativity is a product. It’s a tool we use to solve problems, but it is not the service we offer to our clients. We have to become a Results as a Service company. 

Results as a Service means de-prioritizing deliverables and outputs, as well as less focus on bulletproof scope-of-work agreements. It means that a creative brief is worthless without well-defined objectives, measurable KPIs and an executable tracking plan. It means that we should all get comfortable saying What if a new website won’t actually give you the results you’re looking for? or How are we going to know if this worked?. And, as hard as it might be, it means that our pricing models have to evolve—from calculations based on hours/deliverables to compensation that reflects value/results.

Our work still has to be brilliant. The level of creativity can’t lag, not even in the slightest. But we have to understand that our service, the core offering to our clients is to drive a desired outcome. That’s the new model. Results as a Service. Outcomes over outputs. Success before deliverables. Creativity as a product.

We’re already on the way. Stay tuned.

Stay Relevant and change the Business Model
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