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Where Will the Marketing Architects Come From?
By Mike Carlton

A Metaphoric Building

Let’s say you want to build a building. Likely the first thing you do is hire an architect. You’ll probably select him based on the work he has done in the past and his ability to inspire and instill confidence in achieving your desired goals.

A good one will quickly and skillfully gain a deep understanding of why you want the building and the outcomes you expect from it. He will grasp not only the functional requirements, but as importantly, the psychic values it should deliver.

If he isn’t already experienced in your field, the architect will then probably carefully study buildings with like purposes. And then go on to learn more about how people use buildings like that. And their feelings and opinions on them.

He may dig deeply to gain obscure user insights that can make your proposed building delight those who will see and occupy it. Ever with an eye to making it more desirable than the buildings of your competitors.

Creating the Design

Only after completing and documenting this discovery process will he begin strategizing and creating design concepts. He will approach the challenge with a sense of holism. At this point he is not concerned with the bricks or the windows or the roof. He is focused on the overall outcome.

The selection of the individual elements will come later. And the specifics of those selections will harmoniously support the function and spirit of the integrated design concept.

Your Approval

With his design concept in hand the architect then shares with you his vision for the building with its overall functionality and aesthetics. He shows how all the various components work together to support the singular theme of the design. How it all works in harmony. And the behavioral influence it will have on its users.

He also prices out what the building might be expected to cost and a preliminary timeline for construction.

You like it. And approve it.

The Construction Phase

At this point the architect shifts gears. The design is done. He may assist in hiring all the various contractors. And you would certainly want him to oversee the work so that the outcome he has envisioned for you is achieved. That the plans are faithfully and harmoniously implemented.

This should lead to a successful building that accomplishes your goals.

So, What Does All This Have to Do With Agencies?

Quite simply this. Creating a successful building and creating a successful market communications program have a lot in common.

Let’s look closer at those commonalities.


Architects and agencies share similar responsibilities.

First, each is charged by their clients with creating a concept for a building or communication program that touches the spirit and changes the perception of those who will experience it. Of course, that concept must also be functionally effective, too.

This is the primary responsibility of each. It is the highest value that architects and agencies bring to their clients. It is in this conceptual area that outstanding architects and outstanding agencies differentiate themselves from mediocre practitioners of their craft.

But both do more than just conceptual work. Both take those concepts on to designs. These are the representations of what the final building or campaign will be like. They transform the concept into a vision of what the deliverable will accomplish.

With client approval of the concept and design, the next step is supervising the fulfillment of those designs. Architects supervise the contractors. Agencies supervise production, media and suppliers. Both have the same objective; assuring that the concept and design are faithfully executed.

Both are ultimately outcome based. Both are held accountable by their clients for the realization of those outcomes. This is at the core of the architect or agency compact with their clients.

Buying the Yet-to-Be

The clients of architects and agencies have a lot in common, too. Most are prepared to spend considerable amounts of money to achieve their building or marketing objectives. They expect to spend only a minor portion of that for the conceptual and supervisory services of their architect or agency.

In both cases they are betting big time that their architect or agency will be able to deliver the outcomes, both practical and psychological, that they want. They know that the intellectual and managerial capabilities of their architect or agency are crucial to success.

Thus, they select their architect or agency largely on faith.

For they are buying an outcome that doesn’t yet exist. So the reputation, imagination and skill of the architect or agency are the primary criteria in their choice.

So Much for the Similarities

With so much in common, there is one gigantic difference. And that is in their respective business models.

Architects only sell professional services. They do not sell bricks. Or windows. Or roofs. Or anything else that is tangible. Their work is all intellectual and managerial.

Agencies sell professional services too. But acting as an agent, they also provide completed advertising stuff. Like finished ads, commercials, brochures, etc.

Like it or not, this has muddied how marketers see agencies. Unfortunately, many marketers view agencies primarily as vendors of ads. So while it takes a lot of intellectual work to create successful advertising, the end product is often seen as just ads, or commercials, or brochures, etc.

Many marketers just see agencies as a source of stuff, providers of advertising.

And, before we point the finger at the marketers we need to remember that agencies and their people often play right into this misconception.

Too many agencies are seen as being self-indulgent about their craft. Often viewed as having an obsession with advertising awards. This can lead marketers to the conclusion that agencies primary interest is in the ad itself rather than the solution of the client’s business problems.

Now, being primarily focused on making ads may have been ok when advertising was the principal way to communicate brand values. But that’s not the way things work today.

Advertising is only a part of a holistic market communications solution. Kind of like bricks are to a building.

A Changed Marketplace and a Changed Need

It used to be a lot easier. Media advertising was the flagship in any brand building communications program. While other tools were employed too, advertising was the primary vehicle.

And since media advertising was the expertise of advertising agencies, the marketer could look to her agency to orchestrate the brand position and in effect lead the direction of the other communications methods.

But that has changed. The role of media advertising has shrunk while a myriad of other ways of communicating with consumers has exploded. So while media advertising is still part of the armada it may no longer be the flagship.

And with all the new ways of commercially communicating with consumers, someone has to orchestrate or architect a holistic, harmonious and successful program. One that employs more than traditional advertising. More than traditional PR. More than traditional web sites. A solution that is more complex and more tightly integrated than ever before.

Where will the marketing architects that can do that come from?

The Marketer’s Dilemma

Recently, a McKinsey study contained this ominous finding: “Most advertisers expressed frustration at the small number of ad agencies with the skills to manage both traditional and digital campaigns. Many advertisers have no choice but to employ separate agencies and to coordinate cross-media efforts themselves, which makes it more challenging to manage – and evolve – their marketing mix.”

This argues that the marketer is being forced unwillingly to assume the architect’s role in creating a holistic and harmonious communications program. But do-it-yourself, of course, is only one avenue open.

The big consulting firms have entered the game. Earlier this year Advertising Age headlined. “Ford Recruits Accenture for Marketing Plan.” The story went on to say, “that could dramatically change its (Ford’s) thinking on launch-ad spending and media mix – and therefore, potentially, affect the work done by Ford’s agencies.”

While at the other end of the spectrum entrepreneurial brand consultants and a new breed of firms calling themselves marketing architects are re-shaping the category too. They are saying things like, “We are marketing architects. Unlike advertising agencies or traditional consultancies, we are not wed to a medium or ideology.”

These newcomers are carving out a new category of service patterned after the architectural model. They create the plan and then may supervise the implementation by the client’s agency and other suppliers. But, they don’t make or sell ads. Or for that matter any other tangible.

And their model is gaining increasing attention from senior marketing executives.

Category Flux

So, like it or not, the traditional tidy category of the advertising agency business is being rethought by marketers. Agencies are no longer automatically seen as the marketer’s brand custodian.

While it used to be that putting the brand’s market communications solution together was the responsibility of the agency that has changed. Increasingly, agencies are being moved out of the marketer’s inner circle.

As Jack Trout said recently, “Agencies are not in bed with client CEOs any more.”

In this confused environment, who can the marketer rely on to orchestrate an integrated and harmonious market communications solution?

Clearly marketers need marketing architects to help them. But the role agencies may play in this is very much open to question. Do agencies have the skills and experience to do this? And if they do, are they organized to deliver this service?

Is the agency that used to create buildings now just selling bricks?

Regaining the High Ground

Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

1. Do you want to be the architect?
This is far and away the most important question. An immediate response might be, “sure, we should be doing that.” However, being a marketing architect is fundamentally different from being a traditional advertising agency. To add this capability to the mainstream of an agency that is primarily focused on creating and placing advertising is not easy. And in fact, may not be wise.

Stuart and Bob Sanders of Sanders Consulting have been suggesting that agencies wishing to follow this course consider establishing a separate consulting unit. Thus minimizing the enormous disruption possible when introducing an alien business within an established agency.

2. Do you have the CMO/CEO’s ear?
Within every marketer there are people who can create budgets, and those who can spend budgets. Marketing architecture engagements only happen with marketing executives high enough up in the organization to be able to create budgets.

These are typically the Chief Marketing Officer or the Chief Executive Officer. They have business problems. Solutions to those problems would yield additional revenue. Their perspective is one of investing in ways to achieve the desirable business outcome. At the core of their thinking is return on investment.

Without a direct trusting relationship with the CMO or CEO, selling and implementing a marketing architecture engagement is almost impossible.

3. Do you have the ability?
Marketing architects need to have an up-to-date understanding of all the various ways a marketer can influence the perceptions and behavior of its customers. And more importantly, how to create an optimum mix of the various tools available.

Traditional agencies usually have keen skills in understanding the consumer and creating messages for them in traditional media. But to be successful marketing architects they must be able to seamlessly orchestrate messaging using traditional as well as non-traditional means.

4. Will your business model support it?
Marketing architecture is a very high value service. Ideally, compensation for it should be value based. That means that the reward the agency receives for its contribution is linked to the economic benefit the client receives.

This is a whole lot different from selling hours to create and place advertising. Hours that are priced relative to their cost. Thus, real care must be taken in assuring that the agency has a way to be fairly compensated for this kind of strategic work.

5. Can your people support it?
Marketing architecture engagements tend to have a finite life. They have a beginning and an end. This is quite different from typical agency of record client relationships in which continuing activity is expected.

This requires a different mindset on the part of all the people involved in a marketing architecture assignment. They are creating the holistic plans. But they may not be responsible for the implementation. For some, the kind of work juggling and collaboration needed can be very difficult.

6. Will it be fun?
Finally, nothing is worth doing unless it is fun. Creativity – in all of its forms – and fun are inexorably intertwined. This is at the very heart of what the advertising agency business is all about.
Marketing architecture too can be fun. But only if you set out to expect it to be so. If you cannot see the fun and pure sport of this, then it is probably not for you.

Marketing Architects Needed

There is no question that successful marketing programs need a lot more than just traditional advertising. And someone has to design and orchestrate the holistic solution. Marketers recognize this need and are groping for the best way to satisfy it. They are looking for marketing architects.

The key question then is; where will these marketing architects come from?

How this question is answered will depend to a large extent on business choices agencies make today.

  Is the agency that used to create buildings now just selling bricks?  
“Agencies are not in bed with client CEOs any more.” Jack Trout
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