Third in the Ad Industry Innovators series is Alain Thys from Futurelab in Brussels. Very smart marketers in Brussels–and the beer’s not bad either. Futurelab also has offices in Moscow, Munich, Hamburg, Shanghai, Athens, and Kiev.
I first heard of Futurelab by stumbling on their blog. Then through Google searches I kept finding these wonderfully insightful slideshare presentations and PDFs and quickly realized that many were coming from Alain’s company.
In Alain’s words
Futurelab is a marketing strategy consultancy focused on profit, customer-centricity and innovation. We help marketers get a higher ROI, CEO’s to get their business focused on the customer and innovators to build innovations that make a difference in the market.
We also have a – not so secret - agenda to make our contribution to changing the marketing landscape. We believe that the mass-marketing era is coming to an end. The symptoms of this can be found everywhere. Billions are wasted. Marketers have acquired a bad reputation as “frivolous money spenders”. Consumers are tuning out. As a result, we believe that – as a collective – business needs to “re-invent marketing” so it can actually make the contribution it should to both the customer and the bottom line.”
Pretty smart, huh? Keep reading, it gets better.
1. What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been”?
When my business partner (Stefan Kolle) and I realized that the message we were spreading on a new way of marketing was actually being heard and repeated by others. We decided we had to grow from a two-man band to a movement hell-bent on encouraging a conversation on a new type of marketing. And that this could be profitable for all concerned.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
Right now I’m reading Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. On the blog front, all the contributors to the Futurelab blog, but I also have a fondness for PresentationZen. And of course Dilbert.
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
The bakery in my street. They only go for unique products, know every one of their customers, actually create products on customer demand, participate in every village event with an original little detail and in the 2 years they’ve been open have taken the market (like in people standing in line outside to pay a premium of 20% over the bakery 200 meters down the street).
I think this is brilliant because in contrast to many large organisations these people “get” what great marketing is about: truly understanding your customers, making a promise that is relevant to them and then overdelivering against this time and time again.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
I don’t believe that the RFP process is broken at all. It’s just that people needs to re-adjust their expectations of what it can deliver. In the mass-communication culture, big budgets went to big agencies which spent them at big media. In those days an RFP that said “run my communications” made sense.
But today, only very few agencies are capable of delivering against 100% of a brand’s needs. If we would compare building a brand to building a house, each agency is like a “contractor” who specializes in one part of communication or the other. So just like you wouldn’t ask your plumber to give an opinion about the windows in your roof, you wouldn’t ask a traditional advertising agency to have an opinion about the integral structure of your brand. But I regularly see that some brands still expect this to happen (or agencies presuming they can do this). That is where I think the disappointment comes from.
But just like when building a house this doesn’t mean the RFP process goes away. It just means that it becomes more focused. In short, brands need to be much more specific in their briefings to agencies and how they fit an overall picture (or employ “architects” like us to do it for them), while agencies need to let go of the illusion that the advertisements they come up with will “move the world” for the brand that commissions them.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
I think the industry will evolve to resemble the movie or construction industry.
- A large number of micro-specialists. Forget about the PR agency or the digital agency. Think about the Agency specialized in leveraging short message social media for spreading positive customer experiences in the banking sector. Just like the guy who knows how to set up a particular type of solar panel which is government subsidized, they will be contracted on a project basis. They can be creative, they can be production oriented, it all depends
- A medium number of project management shops. These probably best resemble the agency of today, be it without the in-house creative and possibly even production deparments. They take the briefing of a client and ensure that the variety of micro-specialist implement this to excellence levels. This may include creative, but mainly in a sourcing capacity (the role of art director in these environments is to ensure that the creative that is sourced meets the client need, not “come up with new stuff” inhouse). Just like movie houses these project management shops may have privileged relationships with micro-specialists & creatives to provide them with a competitive edge.
- A small number of strategy shops: These will be the “architects” of the trade. They will be a lot smaller than the project management shops and assist brands to formulate their strategy in a way that project management shops can implement it. They are much more “numbers” based than most agencies of today and in style probably are more comparable to the McKinsey’s and the Bain’s than the McCann’s or Ogilvy’s.
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
The number one thing that marketers are looking for are solutions to business and marketing issues (grow sales, protect margin, ensure customer loyalty, …) while they typically receive “campaigns”. For other examples I happily refer to our report Bridging the Brand Agency Divide.
7. Who do you admire and why?
Muhammad Yunus. For not only coming up with a theoretical concept to fix poverty in a structural way, but also pushing forward to making it happen. In short, for making a difference.