Agencies, Creation, and The Almighty Customer

29 Aug 2011 4:39 PM | Deleted user

“The American consumer is changeable. He wants X. No, he wants Y. Never mind, he wants Z."

"We used to quiz him with focus groups and mall intercepts. But these days, he's not sure. It's not that he won't tell us. It's just that he can't. “

These are the opening contentions from Grant McCraken’s post on Harvard Business School, What Marketers Can Learn From The Food Truck Trend.

McCraken goes on to argue that marketers must look at the aggregate in order to detect the patterns that will ultimately reveal what consumers want, using the recent food truck craze/trend as an example:

“What can we learn from the food truck? What are the cultural trends and trajectories in evidence here? Consumers are telling us that they prize drama over utility, scarcity over ubiquity, novelty over the guaranteed sameness of the national brand. They want brands that are porous to the world, that integrate with the world. They are prepared to embrace brands that take a little more effort, especially if that effort rewards them with something that is exciting and rare."

"Yes, consumers are willful and contrary. But in the process they are signaling us that the old rules of innovation, marketing, and retail (keep it simple, make it cheerful and unmysterious, lay it on everywhere, and lead with the functional benefit) are now in shambles. The world is changing.”

McCraken, who keynoted our #AdClubEDGE Conference (video above), is a smart man. His insights, especially the “scarcity over ubiquity” part, are spot on. In fact, I might argue that ubiquity is dead – at least to some consumers.

Admittedly, the original thoughts that you’ll read below have very little to do with McCraken’s - I can’t quite draw the connection, but I think there’s one somewhere... Either way, what lies below was definitely inspired by McCraken’s post:

There are and will always will be consumers who don’t know what they want. Some of the greatest products and services that have been created are the ones that nobody asked for, or - even better - the ones that most people thought would fail until they were actually made.

But we are marketers. We communicate on behalf of brands. Seldom are we given the opportunity to create our own products and services inside our workplace. But why is that? Marketers are constantly analyzing, discussing and delivering presentations on popular trends, products and services - that’s why the levels of creativity and strategic thinking in agencies are so high. So why is it that there are more examples of individuals leaving the advertising world to create things than there are agencies fostering their employee’s creativity and autonomy? Why are so many cool start-ups being created inside companies (not agencies) like Google?

What if it were the norm for agencies to have an in-house start-up incubator? Imagine the new agency portfolio being a combination of client work and completely original, and, most importantly, launched products – how awesome would that be!? These start-ups may be products, toys, services, websites - whatever – and they don’t even have to be profitable! Their cost can be justified as part of corporate culture, community service, new business initiatives, or just plain old fun.

The only agencies that come to mind who believe in this – creation for the sake of creation - are IDEO, Breakfast NY and The Barbarian Group, or what they call “non-traditional agencies,” but there must be more.

We’d love to hear of other agencies that support this behavior, and your thoughts in general - please share your examples with us on Twitter, @theadclub. We welcome any and all feedback!

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