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The death of the ad agency

Published on Wednesday, 20 February 2008
One of the key factors in delivering a successful product is research and development. This research and development may take many forms, either from an engineering perspective or from a creative perspective. If a product is designed to look good, but fails to meet the use the consumer requires, it will fail. If a product is designed based on an engineering perspective alone, it usually will have a poor consumer response. So the dilemma remains. What is the best design to capture the consumer?
Within an ad agency, most design work is done on spec, on the understanding that such work will not be delivered as it remains conceptual. Within a design agency, the mentality has to be different. In order for designers to gain value from their work, there should be little speculative works. Projects should be always delivered, always sent out into campaigns, in order to test and gauge the validity of the branding style and visual memes they employ.

Within most corporates, designers are simply seen as people who 'make things pretty', not as people who have the ability to guide, develop and transition the business into new markets and new customer service streams.  This sort of feedback is anecdotal, where people mistake a usability designer as someone who just 'makes things pretty'.  A designer, such as myself, who focuses on usability, does more than just deliver 'pretty'.

Usability and accessibility is both an art and a science unto itself. Drawing upon both engineering principles ("How do I build a better widget?") and design/creative skills ("How will people react to the widget designed this way?), it requires analysis, testing, scoping and tracking of user behaviour.

Such analysis, testing, scoping and tracking takes time. Time and effort that an ad agency would neither understand or grasp the value of. As ad agencies are primarily paid through media commissions on throughput of material, such agencies would not be able to either gauge the value of the online brand, as they would be focussed on simple 'response' rates. They would not have time to analyse the consumer in any way further.

Having worked as a market researcher in a previous life, these response rates do not effectively measure or correlate a successful marketing campaign with a successful, happy customer or end user. There will always be a significant margin of error due to what is being measured by marketing and sales versus what is being recorded by customer support and service channels. Even the best statistical analysis of the response rates will not explain how the customer feels or uses the product. There will always be feedback channels outside of just a marketing campaign.

Therefore, in order to be an effective designer, the ad agency must die. Designers should not be delivering work on spec, even within corporates. This requires change, both from a traditional media perspective and from a business process perspctive. To transition from basic metrics for response to something more usable requires skillsets across business, finance, design and marketing. If one person cannot fulfill this role within a business, it will require the collaboration of many people across many departments to grasp how the business brand is performing. As a designer, it is in your best interest to make sure the brand is performing the best it possibly can.

Unfortunately, most businesses do not allow collaboration of results across departments in order to measure such things. Due to the way capitalism works, most departments end up in competition for resources out of the business budget. That competition for budget reduces the capacity for collaboration, as departments end up segmented and tribalistic towards those around them. It's also how you end up with your standard office politics, as people aim to protect their role against those around them. This is typical human social behaviour, unfortunately. The office water cooler chats do matter on the political landscape of any business.

So what should replace the ad agency and restore the brand credibility ?

Having a brand strategy, developed based on usability analysis of brand reputation, consumer behaviour, staff behaviour and current budgetary measures, is the best outcome. It fulfils the financial needs to increase return on investment in the brand. It takes a snapshot of the reputation of the brand as it stands and forecasts where it can break into new markets. It takes the feedback of your consumers and potential customers and predicts where customer service channels need to adapt and change. It also changes the culture of the staff as staff learn and collaborate to increase brand value.

Absalom Media has been involved in the development of many brand strategies for many businesses, both locally and overseas. If you believe that your brand needs to succeed and not waste valuable time and resources on ad agencies that do not provide effective metrics of your business, by all means, contact us.
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