I have a friend at a big digital agency. And the talk in his firm is about becoming the agency of the future, and “obsoleting” all the other agencies in, as they say, the “offline” space.
He and most of his colleagues are too young to remember Marshall McLuhan, the author who coined the expression, “the medium is the message,” a breakthrough idea that revolutionized communication theory in the 1960s and 1970s by espousing the premise that the medium conveying a message has become as important as the message itself. McLuhan was mainly applying his theory to television, but it could apply just as easily to the internet today.
My friend insists that the digital experience is such a revolutionary medium, it requires this whole new way of communicating. But you'd be fooling yourself and doing your client a disservice if your agency believes any single medium is the most important or only media.
As the web becomes more integrated into our lives, it's less of a revolution and more of a tool. It takes its place alongside the multiple other channels of marketing communication, as a way to convey something even more important than flash—substance. The meat of an effective brand message.
The agency of the future knows medium is important, but message and substance—the meat of a brand—matters more. What's the meat? It's more than the message, more than the medium in which it's conveyed. It's the essence, the truth, the main attraction of a brand. It's that combination of content, visual identity, and emotion that embodies the spirit of your brand: the reason why a consumer connects with any brand. The meat matters even more than the medium.
The agency of the future will need to be media-neutral. Insight-based. Customer-focused. Adaptive and able to operate in a post–digital-revolutionary age, where multiple channels of communication reach various audiences. Technology is sexy, but a sustainable brand needs to build on a strong foundation to reach multiple channels and audiences.
The agency that can take the raw ingredients of a brand, help define and create its essence and personality, then serve it up across audiences and across channels—that's the agency of the future. All the positioning, the messaging, the writing and content creation, the testing, the programming, the design, the media strategy—all of it flows first from understanding what you are trying to communicate, not just how. Barry Schmader is EVP, chief creative officer, at Dudnyk