There has been a lot of talk about convergence, a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. As the CEO of Razorfish, one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing marketing and technology agencies, I use convergence to describe the coming together of three irresistible forces—media, technology, and creativity—to meet an immovable object: the enterprise.
Convergence has opened up great opportunities for consumers who are more demanding, more fickle, and more exacting than ever. They expect brands to be everywhere they are. They’re often disappointed.
Too often, businesses are far behind consumers in embracing technological change, a problem that has everything to do with how they’re set up. It’s time for enterprises, and their marketers, to get moving if they want to thrive in an age marked by constant disruption.
But enterprises and their agency partners can’t do this alone. Today, deep partnerships–with platform and media developers, publishers, and more–are absolutely mission-critical to connect with consumers and manage those connections on an ongoing basis.
We’ve recognized the power of these partnerships at Razorfish. We have strategic partnerships with such companies as Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Adobe (CMO.com's parent company), all aimed at bringing our joint customers the full benefits of our symbiotic offerings.
Regardless of your perspective, ultimately it comes down to client organizations embracing this evolution. In my new book, "Converge," I describe how enterprises must adapt.
Here are five key principles:
1. Put The Customer At The Center
Being ready for convergence isn’t about spending a particular amount of your marketing budget on Facebook or building an innovation lab. It’s about embracing a customer-centric mindset and making your organization responsive to the customer journey. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for larger, well-established companies whose scale has mandated the creation of complicated organizational charts. What gets lost in all of that structure is the importance of catering to the customer experience.
Part of this involves listening to the customer—and not just on social media platforms. Strategies need to be based on data from actual consumer activity, not abstract gut feeling. That data should dictate not only what brand experiences you serve, but where, when, and how you serve them. And the retail environment must be made omnichannel, giving shoppers the same experience whether they’re in a store, online, or on the phone.
2. Think Of Your Brand As A Service
You’re no longer in the business of selling stuff; you’re filling consumers’ needs.
Marketers now create new products and apps and always-on ecosystems, not just a series of campaigns based on a calendar of product launches. Nike is the classic example with its ecosystem of fitness apparel, gadgets like FuelBand, and services like Nike+ that immerse the user in the company’s innovation and create an end-to-end fitness solution. Special K, one of our clients, is still in the cereal game, and it sells a ton of it. But it’s also in the health, fitness, and weight-loss games. It took its Special K Challenge and turned it into a digital weight-loss platform.
To create and maintain this ecosystem, you’ll be investing in marketing operations, not just working media, bringing in more designers and developers. In the past, marketing ops were largely limited to the maintenance of an internal marketing team and the hiring and firing of agencies that produced the creative work. People were accountable for spending the dollars, not for how effectively they were spent. In a converged world, it will be about those activities, but also about investing in people and systems to ensure that the marketing spending is optimized.
3. Reject Silos
Media, technology, and creativity are no longer discrete functions. Better collaboration between marketing and IT is essential. To get there, your C-suite might have senior roles, such as chief digital officer and chief marketing technologists, filled by experts in both functions catalyzing innovation throughout the organization and fostering cooperation. Or you might try bottom-up solutions, such as internal account management. In this structure, marketing folks have counterparts in IT and vice versa.
The overarching point is that it’s no longer enough to simply come up with an idea, then throw it over the fence for the IT department to understand and implement. Ideas themselves will become more and more seeped in technology. That means it’s time for marketing managers to make time to understand technology. While you don’t need to learn how to write code, you do need to understand the limits of the technologies you’re using and dive-deep into technologies you’re not using, especially around the cloud and data.
4. Act Like A Startup
We’ll be the first to admit that we’re not the only ones out there offering this advice. But there’s a set of common misconceptions about how established enterprises should learn from startups. It’s not about moving into flashy new digs or having free sushi for lunch.
Adopting the startup mentality, like becoming customer-centric, requires much deeper and more meaningful change. You have to uproot many old assumptions and habits, especially those around tech infrastructure, and do things the way a newer, leaner company might.
Acting like a startup in this sense means the following:
- Your enterprise deploys—or at least experiments with—cheap, fast, and flexible tools, such as cloud computing, social media platforms, and open APIs.
- You think like a product manager, accountable for particular aspects of the consumer experience, just like Facebook has tasked someone with oversight of the newsfeed.
- You employ agile methodology and rapid prototype. (Agile isn’t just for software development anymore. There’s a burgeoning agile marketing movement that’s a breath of fresh air for anyone used to the long planning cycles of campaign-based advertising. Marketing now is 24/7, which means that you need the faster, more iterative approach that agile provides.)
5. Embrace Diversity
Every organization needs specialists and experts, but in the place of environments where everyone fills one role and thinks about nothing but that role, there needs to be cross-fertilization–a coming together of various fields, disciplines, personalities, and cultures.
In practice, it’s important to get a wide variety of expertise and perspectives around the table—marketing and technology, of course, but also HR, legal, and finance. But there’s more to it than just getting all of the right people around the table. You also have to incent collaboration, getting multiple functions to rally around a shared set of objectives, and a shared method of measuring process—that’s a big change, and it has to be tracked cleanly and carefully. This entails getting your systems to feed a dashboard that tracks a manageable set of metrics. Then you have to get the team to check in regularly, or at least pay attention to the readouts they’re receiving.
In closing, as you begin to adapt your organization for convergence, you’ll quickly grasp the reality that this job is never really finished. It’s a constant cycle of testing, learning, building, and destroying. Keeping up with all of this might seem like a dizzying prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Winners in the 21st century won’t be distinguished by how fast they master buzzwords or how many new faddish digital marketing campaigns they undertake. Those winners will be organizations whose main focus is on their consumers’ journeys and who possess a relentless desire to understand and improve that journey from beginning to end.