What the Present Future Holds

A lot of things have changed in our field, but I’ve never been more optimistic about our future as an industry. Success is here for the taking, my friends. Let’s dig into what that future looks like.

To start, we have smarter people in marketing firms than ever before. You may not like their work habits, but these people are great thinkers and world citizens with a light touch. Personally I love their commitment to work/life balance and their relentless questioning. And if they are in this field, they want to be in this field. There are so many options for them and so little stigma from switching careers.

But clients are less qualified than ever before. They’re being promoted faster than is prudent and have less grounding in the basics of research and application. They are hungry for your leadership and insight. I still find myself walking out of these F1000 behemoths, shaking my head that they are as successful as they are with such incompetence at every turn. If you can’t stand out against that background of gray, you really do need to move to another field. Quit taking orders from them and start telling them what to do. If they won’t listen, find a new audience.

Contrary to what we all thought (with the advent of digital two decades ago), there’s less certainty about marketing effectiveness than ever before. The proliferation of marketing channels leaves us scurrying from one to the next, faking it when we must. The best evidence that we still don’t know what effective marketing looks like? There are thousands of “best sellers” in marketing and they are either not substantive or say the same thing. Just like raising kids, no one really knows what they’re doing.

This perfect storm is dumping more and more busy work on your firm as your CMO clients blindly throw things at the wall to see what will stick. Or they just tweak last year’s plan and hope for the best. There’s less origination and more iteration. Less thinking and more doing. More voices to listen to and fewer who make sense.

So where’s the good news? It’s that your “signal” is easier to spot in the “noise” and that S/N ratio works in your favor.

What to do? Here’s what I would suggest:

  • Do less but do it deeper.
  • Design a suite of services and focus on clients that use all of them instead of mixing and matching. Think more prix fixe and less buffet style.
  • Swap some designers for writers.
  • Convert some UI people to UX experts who understand CRO. Please understand that every designer who includes “UX” in their title doesn’t really know what they are doing.
  • Close those silly remote offices and concentrate again.
  • Find ten people who know what they are talking about and read everything they write instead of chasing all those shiny rabbits.
  • Charge more to make the same money in less time, and use that extra time to get smarter every day.
  • Be real. Be honest. Work with clients where knowledge transfer happens both ways, where each party learns from the other.
  • Get over this notion that it’s great when employees work for you over a ten or fifteen year period. Swap them out for a constant stream of fresh ideas and experiences. Quit feeling so threatened when they leave. Use it to force a better and more transferable methodology that works when team members exchange themselves.
  • Collaborate more with your competitors to expand your world. I do a podcast with a competitor and friend and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
  • Shift as much work to your client as possible. See your role as working yourself out of a job, over and over.

Your competition isn’t IDEO--it’s your old way of doing business.

You need to be writing, too, and publicly. Without that process you won’t articulate a POV precisely enough…and you won’t leave a digital bread crumb trail to steer for a different future. I received this email 45 minutes ago this morning from a digital firm in Florida:

“Quick agency update–the podcast and email/content marketing work we’re doing is ACTUALLY working (I’m not sure why I’m surprised by that). Once again, I’d like to say thank you for your counsel. Our work with you has been transformative.”

Be grateful for the opportunity in front of you. If you don’t see that opportunity, switch out of the field where you are energized again.

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