Ed Cotton: Are Ad Agencies Now In The Product Development Business?

Ed Cotton: Are Ad Agencies Now In The Product Development Business?

In our tech savvy age, it has become the job of the agency to help less advanced companies create products to help navigate this new landscape.

Ed Cotton, BSSP
  • 13 march 2012

In one of Richard Huntingdon’s blog posts from January of this year; he explains how looking through the lenses of product, brand and communications can help to identify the area of focus and to help inform the direction of the creative brief.

However, as is the case with many posts, the gems are often hidden in the comments, where there seems to be an interesting line of thinking emerging that challenges the ability of ad agencies to solve client product problems.

“The area of what you do when there is a ‘Product’ problem is the most interesting right now. Product difference is more important than ever before in our ZMOT, like button, Amazon review, TripAdvisor world. This is the area which ad agencies are least equipped to deal with – we’re generally pretty good at helping with Brand or Comms problems.

“If we in ad agencies don’t have a strategy for how we can advise clients in designing outstanding products then we will be marginalising ourselves even further from what is the most important step in brand-building.”

Advertising was at its zenith in the mid-1980s, when technology wasn’t the force it is today and agencies were being tasked with using their skills to help consumer products, which were often at parity with their competition, to differentiate themselves through building stronger emotional connections; as we all know great creative advertising can do just that.

Fast forward to 2012 and while many of the same problems of parity exist for classic packaged goods brands, the brands with energy and momentum right now are those that technological products and services- think of apps, search engines, social networks, handsets, operating systems, e-commerce sites. All things where the product and the product experience do make a real difference.

In this world of technological opportunity, agencies need to get involved in product development. This isn’t about creating a new beer, or launching a clothing line, but instead, helping non-technology based brands to embrace technology and to help those with technology, to make their experiences better.

Account Planning was born in the last great moment of consumer change, the 1960s, by people who felt the industry had become removed from the realities of its customers. Account Planning was created to build a bridge and bring insight from the consumer to the creative process.

The world has moved on, but the core principles of Account Planning that exist in agencies, should be flexible and adaptable enough to help those agencies develop and enhance technology. It’s a skill that’s basically all about understanding people and trying to anticipate their wants and needs.

The insights gathered during the process are boiled to their core and the output is always a simple idea that’s very concentrated and powerful which becomes the building block for advertising.

If agencies are doing all the hard work to understand consumers and throwing away 90% of it, we now have a use for it, because to help our clients develop products for the technological age, we need to think expansively about possibilities.

(Read original post here.)

Ed Cotton is the Director of Strategy at BSSP, and is curious about all things relating to brands, marketing and culture. Read more at influx insights.


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