Monday, August 9, 2010

Lean Advertising

Economic crisis, time, and some illuminated minds have brought considerable change to the advertising practices and to the way companies are positioned and services are offered to clients. However, some of the old time methods are still getting in the way of adopting Lean Advertising.

The Obsolete Discussion
The problem with some advertising people is their inability to let go some of the obsolete practices that made their fame and fortunes. In the absence of any regulations or reforms that favor accelerated change, we are all adopting the “Moses Strategy” – waiting in the Sinai desert for the time factor to do its job while the “One-Stop-Shop” and the “Full Service Advertising Agency” continue to be part of our daily business even if their structural fit with future markets is questionable.

The world is changing, business is changing and consumers are gaining more influence over the whole process while the marketing communication industry is still reacting to various types of situations instead of leading the change.

If we cannot change the old-time-methods in the near future, at least we want to open new discussions and offer new alternatives to the lengthy and costly advertising processes that are applied. To situate the discussion in the right perspective, we will briefly visit the consumer and the market.

The New Consumer
Advertising was created to Connect a Brand with a Consumer via sending messages from the brand to the so called target audience informing them and inviting them to buy new products and services that will, supposedly, improve their lives. Now that the most important party in this equation is changing, the whole process has to be reviewed.

The New Consumer is much more proactive, more informed and more aware of his rights. The New Consumer is more active, more mobile, and much busier to remember and interact with advertising messages especially the ones conveyed through traditional channels only.

In many cases the New Consumer is the one initiating the communication process and not the brand; whether it is to collect information about a product or to complain about a less than satisfactory service. Consumers are now more in control of the communication process.

Brands and businesses will have to adapt in order to better communicate with this New Consumer.

Lessons from Other Industries
Companies that have gone lean in different industries and service sectors have clearly benefited from lower costs and increased quality. International companies from different industries have finally realized the benefits of Lean approaches in cutting costs, improving quality, and becoming more responsive to customers. Eliminating unnecessary procedures and wastage leading to maximizing end-user value from products and services is an expected behavior from any brand and company that claims putting the client’s interests as its first priority.

From the Toyota Production System (TPS), to retail, banking and industrial institutions applying the Lean philosophy, we have seen this approach leading to increased customer satisfaction and brand value. However, adopting Lean approaches is a not magical remedy for all marketing sins; Lean companies can still make mistakes and even big ones towards both their customers and their brand values. (As I pointed in my previous article about Toyota’s recent recall problems, Fall from Grace).

Becoming a lean enterprise has fundamentally changed how people in these businesses are expected to think and operate, and companies are expected to get more done with fewer resources than they had before.

In a Lean culture, it is not acceptable at all to take all the risks and make all the wastages and make the client pay for it at the end of the day. The same principle can be applied to advertising.

All We Need Is Ideas
For years Advertising agencies kept saying that they all are in the “Idea Business” and this is just what we need for Lean Advertising to deal with the New Consumer.

With the New Consumers, we need to connect and not only to communicate. Otherwise, we will soon loose them to another brand and another activity that will capture their attention and involvement.

Communication and connection are happening through a large number of channels, mediums and apertures that are beyond the control of just one party.

A brand that is offering a life-improving product or service will soon realize that its message has been adopted by consumers and opinion leaders and it is spreading far beyond its initial plans. In the opposite scenario, a company that has a poor service or a bad product will very soon realize that the damage done to its relationship with consumer is worst than what could be repaired by 10 Public Relation agencies.

At the center of this complex process is an “Idea”. A positive idea in most cases, and a life-altering one in few exceptional scenarios.

Ideas are the working materials for Lean Advertising.

The Doctor & the Hospital
The difference between traditional advertising and lean communication services could be illustrated by the “doctor and patient” analogy.

With traditional agencies, every time the patient visits the doctor he/she ends up hospitalized and all kinds of tests and procedures are recommended and done, sometimes without his/her consent. Ironically, the doctor is, in most cases, a co-owner of the hospital or a close collaborator.

With a Lean agency, healing the patient is the top priority. We can end up at the hospital if we need an operation; but in most cases a combination of traditional and alternative medicine will give the best results.

Moreover, the choice of doctor to advise and help us with our health problem should be based on factors like knowledge, innovation, compassion, experience and a very encouraging track record in treating similar cases. The choice of the doctor should never be related to its capabilities in manufacturing medical devices, medications and medical equipments. Still, those are a very important part of the treatment/solution but a doctor that is too much involved with the process and its economics will not be impartial or totally focused on your problem.

Lean Advertising
Why should clients pay for agencies bad decisions in hiring, firing and complex organizational structures and processes? This is without mentioning the wasted time and effort in taking the initiative in developing campaigns that are not based on a Big Idea that can help the client at strategic or tactical levels.
When we talk about Lean Advertising, it is not only the applied processes but also about the role of the advertising agency in the business chain.

The Lean Agency uses only one currency: Ideas – Ideas that can build brands and businesses; Ideas that can reach consumers, touch their lives and connect with them, Ideas that can make life better. Lean agencies will have to focus on their role as providers of marketing and brand solutions through innovative ideas. The Lean Agency is a marketing and communication advisor that provides Solutions; the execution of these solutions could take a hundred face and form.

Lean Advertising is a more advantageous option for the brand owners as they will be paying only for the best advice and solutions that can benefit their business, their brand and their relationship with customers.

When it comes to execution, the Lean marketing and communication consultancy will assist the client in selecting and commissioning the best-in-breed providers of the different types of marketing and communication services without becoming part of the execution to avoid any kind of conflict of interest.

Lean Advertising focuses on Ideas and Solutions and advises the client in selecting the best execution from branding to production, traditional media to digital and new media, from mass advertising to brand activation and one-on-one experience.

In the Lean advertising model the focus should be on identifying and developing ideas-based-solutions for the particular case of the client. At the same time these ideas are shared with the client for alignment and improvement without wasting time and resources on the ones that do not pass the marketing test or the client buy-in.

This approach can make costs lower. It's economical because potential directions surface early in the process, and blind alleys are quickly spotted. The process actually includes a series of brainstorming and idea generation sessions in which clients become active participants. It also saves cost and client budgets by adapting a problem-solving approach and not a menu-based communication where the agency suggest a long list of products and channels motivated by how much commission and mark-up it can make on each and every element of the advertising campaign (TV, press, outdoor, online, offline, ambient and so on).

Brainstorming and idea-generation sessions encourage clients to buy into a marketing communications and advertising direction, which eliminates wheel spinning and multiple directions. Market research is also used to narrow the focus and increase the chances for ideas to connect with consumers. Understanding the client special case, identifying problem areas and selecting the best ideas to deal with the situation before any types of internal or external production will save considerable amount of time and money.

Adopting a Lean culture not only affect the way agencies approach a certain client project, but also the way they are structured and the kind of people they look for. The Lean Agency is heavy at the ideas and creative level but light on the execution front. Agencies will be forced to have a “Lean” and efficient teams.

Lean Advertising virtually guarantees breakthrough in marketing communications and advertising in record time and at a lower cost than advertising developed in the usual way. Clients will get real solutions while saving on their budgets at the same time the agency will have produced work that everybody can be proud of.

Final Thoughts
To replace the current systems, agencies will have the option of adopting Lean Advertising models. Their future structure will focus more on genuine Idea generator and reduce drastically other functions. Execution is better outsourced, while dead-weight and ego-masseurs could be replaced by professional massage services somewhere away from both the agency premises and reputation.

For those who are still confused or hesitating, it is about time to make a clear choice between being the “doubtful Agent” or the “most trusted advisor”.

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