Agencies can be awesome, but they can't do it alone. They need real people to help build a brand.
Brands have agencies for everything... well, almost everything: Creative, PR, Media, Social, Promotions, etc. The list goes on. Each is (usually) great at solving a specific client challenge. Do you need to hone your brand identity and strategy? Set up your annual intensive off-site meeting with Ogilvy. Need new TV creative for your holiday campaign? Get in touch with your creative director over on the other side of 11th Avenue. And don't forget about media—the folks over at OMD are eagerly anticipating their brief.
This process—as inefficient as it is—is still pretty darn effective. You need this series of checks and balances, and parties assigned to each task at hand, to ensure the advertising and marketing plans are carried out. That said, as many creative minds as there are working on behalf of your brand, it's really a one-way conversation all along.
"More brands need to be open to listening to their customers."
Client and agency partners determine a brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats: a creative agency decides what messaging will resonate with their much-researched consumer; a social agency puts words in the brand's mouth; a PR agency gets in the pockets of any outlet with a voice to speak their piece; and a media agency plans to reach their target as effectively as possible. And so on. The boxes are checked and everyone feels good (or, you know, finds a way to spin the data to make everyone feel somewhat accomplished).
The reality, however, is that no matter how much research or knowledge is behind the decisions and executions of plans, the vast majority of advertising and marketing uses a push strategy—or, devising and pushing out a brand message. Again, this is a one-way conversation.
With so much control required over the message, advertisers lose the opportunity to truly LEARN about their consumer and what their needs are, why they use their products, and what BETTER ways the product could be useful in their lives.
So what's the point? More brands need to be open to listening to their customers. Marketing research, focus groups, and the like are too contrived and controlled to ever tell the whole story. Give your products out for free... or better yet, pay people to test it out and provide and socialize honest feedback.
Let them experiment. Let them write negative reviews, but then LISTEN to these insights and take them into consideration. Try user-generated content and DON’T be afraid of someone not adhering to your ten pages of talking points. Showcase the good and the bad in your marketing materials. Be human and humble. You never know what you might learn or what opportunities may arise when you step out of the comfort zone of your agency army and give a voice to the people that matter most.