People theorising about the future tend to fall into two camps: the “everything will stay the same-ers” and the “there’s massive change ahead-ers”. We youthful lot at BBH are no exception. When the APG asked the industry’s under 30s to finish the sentence “the future’s bright the future is…” for their Noisy Thinking event, one of us thought the answer would lie in what exists and the other thought that what exists would pretty rapidly evolve. To settle it, we asked a third person, but unhelpfully, he decided that his view sat exactly in the middle.
To save ourselves awkward coalition negotiation talks, we’re turning to you, readers, asking you to decide. In a general election blog post special, un-edited and uncensored are the three sides of the debate for your reading pleasure. Who would you vote for?
Melanie Arrow: Strategy Director and steadfast stay the same-er.
The future is so radically indeterminate, so fast changing, so different, so obtuse, so totally beyond our grasp that it can’t be planned for. Today’s under 18s code, they programme, they hardwire and they delete the phone app – because who uses phones as phones anymore anyway? In fact, somewhere between 40% and 65% of jobs that children in primary school will do in the future haven’t been invented yet. In short, let’s give up now.
But then, that’s not quite right is it? The future isn’t something to be viewed passively it is something to be invented. So, the real question for us Strategists is not what the future is, but how can strategy master it?
As I see it, strategy has one core strength – one role to rule them all, as it were – and it’s something I believe transcends now and future, no matter how complex that future is, because it represents something fundamentally true about the role of brands in our society.
Strategists make sense of the new, they narrate, articulate and contextualise. They distil and reduce. They simplify the complex and help brands to establish themselves as simple digestible, meaningful constructs in people’s lives. We sit on the precipice between technology and humanity, tethering what is changing (tech) to what never does (emotions, desires, feelings).
The key to our inventing the future, then, is the thing that has always made us strong: Answering how does this new thing help people? How can it entertain them? Why should they want to use it or be part of it? Because without making this connection back to humanity – technology and new things are nothing.
So, to finish the sentence “the future is bright, the future is…” well, in truth, I have no idea, but I would bet on strategy to be able to simplify it.
Lucian Trestler: Strategist and sincere somewhere in the middle-er
Orange, 1994 – ‘In the future, you wont change what you say, just how you say it.’
In the future a lot will be different BUT some things will be the same as they’ve always been. And some of these things will continue to be the fundamental tenets of planning. In my opinion, some of these things being;
Hard to believe this will become any less important.
What makes a great idea
‘At BBH we aim to deliver intelligence and magic. We don’t believe that an idea is great unless it’s delivered off the right strategy and we don’t consider a strategy worthwhile unless it leads to inspiring work. Intelligence AND magic are mutually reinforcing’.
Understanding this process will continue to lead to great ideas.
The art of creating power
Sir Lawrence Freedman defines strategy as the art of creating power. Notably, not a science. And in order to do this it must be continuous. It must carry on after you get punched in the mouth. Strategy (over planning) is ‘the evolution of the big idea through changing circumstances’. Changing circumstances being the operative phrase here.
“A brand cannot be distinctive if it is not consistent.” And communications will not increase a brand’s fame if they aren’t distinctive. Which is not great seeing as increasing brand fame is the most profitable objective for communications. And although this pattern is reflective of the findings of the marketing book du jour, ‘How Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp, it is a pattern that has long been known by brands. Just look at the Catholic church.
In summary, what we have learnt will not one day become useless when some one proclaims that ‘X is dead’.
Quite the opposite.
In an uncertain future, knowing how to apply certainty will make strategy more valuable than ever.
Uncertainty + Certainty = Opportunity
Shib Hussain: Strategist and dedicated massively different-er
It’s expected that by 2020 more than seven billion people and businesses will be connected to the internet. In the face of so much change it would be foolish to assume that our clients businesses won’t change shape, some more radically than others.
The one’s setting the pace are already elevating their brands to offer more than their core product, becoming multi-layered businesses that service multiple customer needs in order to unlock further revenue opportunities and / or to lock them into said brand. Simply put they are becoming star shaped. A central brand proposition, surrounded by complimentary services.
It would be naive to assume every client business will move this way, of course this is much more suited to some business categories that others. We’ve all seen the Charmin toilet finder app after all.
Similarly to future facing clients, future facing agency models are becoming more star shaped too.
Gone are the days of silos such as ‘digital’, ‘crm’, ‘atl’ – agencies either add value across the full customer journey or they’ll lose out to competitors who are wise enough to see that an agency’s responsibility doesn’t start and end when the campaign / site/ app/ promotion is delivered.
This is something we’re seeing great success with at BBH, the full service mix is what clients need and want to service their complex (and often confusing) business models.
Finally it begs the question for staff.
What is the ideal agency staffer?
I’ve always been a hater of labels such as creative, planner or, worse, creative strategist.
In a world where ideas will be more complex and multi-layered, staff need to understand the whole value chain to and be able to create solutions that range from new service models through to tactical ads.
Sure, we’ll have specialist skills, but the future agency pioneers won’t take on silo’d tasks, they’ll be able to see identify the right problem and suggest the right solution, without defaulting to however their agency makes money – admit it, we’ve all been there.
So, what can we do prepare for this future where we’re expected to do more (probably for less) and with more stakeholders and more complex businesses?
I suggest hanging out with those you normally don’t in your agency. Make friends with tech. Have a coffee with UX. Go for lunch with the data analysts. You’re going to need those guys more and more going forward.