Advertising professionals love to juxtapose traditional and digital agencies, but the truth is that all agencies will face the need to reinvent themselves in order to succeed with their clients. In this interview, David Deal, VP of Marketing at iCrossing, shares an insider’s experience for how iCrossing, a digital agency, has refreshed their vision.
To engage clients in a deeply meaningful way, iCrossing is going through big changes in terms of their involvement in online publishing, developing proprietary technology leveraging real-time data, and have sharpened their focus on the “connected CMO.”
Tell us about what you’ve been up to at iCrossing.
I have been helping iCrossing solve an intriguing business problem: how do you position your company around the needs of the new breed of digitally connected CMO? iCrossing is a digital agency that helps our clients build connected brands, and we apply services across paid, owned, and earned media to do so. The emerging breed of connected CMO is going to be increasingly important to our business as she assumes more influence and prominence.
The connected CMO is different from old-school CMOs in an important way: the connected CMO gets her hands dirty with digital. She immerses herself in apps on her own mobile devices. She expects fresh ideas for using digital to innovate and solve business problems with digital. She is more of a social media participant than the old-school CMO.
I’ve been helping iCrossing build our brand with the connected CMO through thought leadership, influencer outreach, and empowering iCrossing employees with social media. Since the connected CMO wants ideas to get smarter about digital, we are doing just that on a daily basis through our company blogs like the Content Lab, Great Finds, and Connect. And through our relationships with influencers, we sharpen our own thinking.
Empowering employees is the most exciting aspect of my job right now. Each day, I act as a hybrid coach and idea publisher by helping our people find their social voices. In turn, iCrossing employees have been publishing insights ranging from the lessons marketers can learn from celebrities on Twitter to the future of search marketing.
With the support of iCrossing’s own CMO, I am also helping iCrossing take some different approaches to connecting our own brand to the marketplace, such as a recently published exclusive interview with Guy Kawasaki that examined issues ranging from the nature of creativity to communicating effectively in the digital age.
You recently announced the launch of Live Media Studio. How does it enhance your strategic planning services?
The iCrossing Live Media Studio is the interactive industry’s first-ever resource dedicated to real-time marketing.
In the studio, you plan and manage the daily editorial production and publication of branded content (such as videos, infographics, articles, blog posts, and Tweets) to engage our clients’ communities in real-time. Our researchers use analytics-based approaches to understand the interests and behaviors of our clients’ audiences, including analysis of how people search and find brands. Their insights inform the content we develop and community management approaches we undertake.
The launch of the studio represents a major shift in the way agencies work with their clients. Yes, we provide strategy and analytics-based insight to help our clients understand how to build connected brands real-time. But with the studio, we also implement our ideas by becoming a multi-media content co-publisher with our client.
As such, we’ve staffed the studio with people like Todd Pruzan and Cory Bortnicker, who won an Emmy for his work on the Hoofy & Boo’s News & Views animated shorts. These skills are different from what we’re seeing across our digital agency peers.
What are some noticeable changes in ‘influencer outreach.’ How is iCrossing growing with these emerging trends?
The most noticeable change occurring in influencer outreach is treating your own employees as influencers. As Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler wrote in their book Empowered, progressive companies like Best Buy are energizing their employees to act as their brand advocates.
Every single iCrossing employee is a potential brand ambassador. iCrossing empowers our own people to build the iCrossing brand especially through social media. For instance, our employee social media guidelines go beyond providing social media etiquette and give tips for how to be a more effective blogger for a CMO-level audience. We’re also being more thoughtful about involving employees when we have company news to report or when we want to support the public launch of client work. For example, we ask employees to Tweet about company news and make it easy for them to do so. Getting the little things right can go a long way to empowering employees.
As you may know, I am a blogger, too. I am accustomed to asking the well-known influencers to Re-Tweet my posts. Well, why not asking the hundreds of influencers who work for my own company? But one aspect of influencer outreach has not changed: influencer outreach is about building relationships helping other people. Doing so takes time and a genuine interest in others. Influencer outreach is not about finding people with the highest Klout scores and following them on Twitter.
How are you differentiating yourselves when you’re talking to CMOs?
I believe iCrossing has a particularly compelling mission: iCrossing helps companies build connected brands that are aware, active, and agile. Our differentiation surfaces in the ways we fulfill that mission. Every agency likes to rattle off a laundry list of predictable competitive differentiators. iCrossing differentiates ourselves in three ways.
- We combine talent and technology.
- We share compelling thought leadership.
- We help clients become effective real-time marketers.
Our talent makes it possible for us to build connected brands across the entire digital world. A long time ago, we built off our legacy expertise in search marketing to develop expertise paid, earned, and owned media – in areas such as social to mobile.
But we also do something that few agencies can provide: a technology platform to support our services. Our technology platform is known as the Connected Marketing Platform, which helps clients attribute customer behavior across multiple digital touch points such as display ads and search. The Connected Marketing Platform helps the connected CMO figure out how where to allocate her digital spend, among other benefits.
To be a successful digital agency now, you have to think like a services company and have the means to scale your offering like the best product firms do. But compelling thought leadership is also essential for helping the new breed of connected CMO understand what’s around the corner. At iCrossing, we’ve created a thought leadership program that supports our mission of building connected brands. For example, in February, we released a report, Building a Connected Brand: How Brands Become Publishers in a Real-Time Marketing World. We also launched a new blog, The Content Lab, to engage in a conversation about how companies can use content marketing to build connected brands.
Jeff Ernst of Forrester Research recently issued a report asserting that thought leadership is the next area of differentiation in business-to-business marketing. In his report, Jeff cites thought leaders like UPS and iCrossing was the only agency discussed. Jeff wrote in a blog that “iCrossing is a marketing agency but is becoming a recognized thought leader in how CMOs must engage consumers across the digital world with content.”
Thought leadership is a major battleground for differentiation across many businesses including UPS, Xerox, and Cisco, all of which Jeff discusses in the report.
Finally, iCrossing helps our clients be effective real-time marketers by combining analytics-based research about people with branded content and community management. The Live Media Studio is not a production facility. The Live Media Studio is really a means for iCrossing clients to make their brands more responsive and relevant by sharing branded content that engages communities instantly.
Anything else to add?
CMOs who can master real-time marketing will own the future of marketing. I urge everyone to read a recent blog post about real-time marketing written recently by Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo. In the post, he says that he’s staking his whole career in real-time marketing. Companies ranging from Toyota to Facebook are getting savvier about using events to be real-time marketers either through content provided by the brand, a co-marketer, or the consumer.
Facebook was practicing real-time marketing for its own brand by hosting a town hall with President Obama in April. That town hall was all about Facebook providing useful content (a conversation between Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama) in real-time to its own community. And recently Toyota embraced real-time marketing with its Prius Records Event.
With the launch of the Live Media Studio, iCrossing is going beyond event-based marketing by helping connected CMOs become real-time marketers all year-round.