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Is It Time to Move Your Agency to Hollywood?

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The secret ingredient to digital success.

Yesterday, I attended the CLICK conference at the NY Art Directors Club in Manhattan. The event had several interesting discussions but none more so than a panel on whether agencies were turning into product manufacturers. As the discussion progressed it became clear that many agency people are thinking of themselves as creators of consumer products (even if all these products are in digital form) from apps to blogs to traditional web sites. Almost all the panelists reiterated a common refrain of the season -- traditional interruption-based marketing is dead (or at least in severe decline) and anything an agency creates on behalf of a brand must give the consumer real value.

Hand in hand with this new common wisdom has been an increased interest in storytelling. Both in the advertising industry and the general public. Marketing gurus like Seth Godin will tell you that advertising has always been about storytelling but there is definitely a renewed interest in the topic among marketing professionals. One of the things stoking that interest is the liberating influence of the web. Freed from the tyranny of the traditional thirty second spot, marketers are creating much more compelling material (like the Johnnie Walker video we've written about previously) and seeing a return in terms of consumer attention and positive feedback. It was notable that transmedia was one of the topics brought up in yesterday's discussions, a concept that heretofore has been applied primarily to the entertainment industry.

Both these trends service an even higher notion, the primacy of content. Without content there are no stories to tell. Without content products (at least digital products) are utilitarian and boring. A calorie counter widget by itself is boring. So is a countdown clock. But a Weight Watcher's calorie counter with daily inspirational messages from Valerie Bertinelli is much more engaging. And a countdown clock to a major movie release can fuel excitement. One of the major reasons for the success of the iPhone was it's marketing as a content delivery device. The iPhone was sold as an iPod with a phone and apps were sold just like any other form of media. For Apple, the ability to monetize app development and distribution through the iTunes store platform gave it a tremendous head start. It's the reason why the iPhone has 85,000 apps while big players like Google and Microsoft look on enviously. In a recent speech, Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL declared "Content Management Systems are the new Ad Network Systems." What he meant was the ability to deliver targeted content to small but receptive audiences was far more compelling to a business than using an ad network and hoping to hit your niche market. Content rules everything these days and if your business isn't offering compelling content then you've got issues.

But what if you're not in the media business or somewhere where this type of thinking comes naturally. What if you sell diapers or garbage bags? The key to success is realizing that content doesn't just mean a funny video short or a flashy video game based around your product. Contnet is everywhere and you don't even have to own it to take advantage of it. For instance, if you were a diaper manufacturer you could team with your retail partners and start a site called "Diapers 24/7", an online resource for new parents. The site could allow a parent to type in his or her address information and find stores near them that can sell them the product they so desperately need at 3 am in the morning (there's a great couponing opportunity there as well). There's a great opportunity for a mobile app there as well. Similarly, if you were glad or Hefty, you could create a text based messaging service that used geo location to remind consumers when they needed to take out the garbage (every wife would want to download this on to their husband's phone). This kind of information (whether it be retail service hours or garbage collection info) is free, public and readily available to anyone smart enough to organize it. It's essentially public domain content.

So no, you don't need to move your business to Santa Monica Boulevard and start producing blockbusters. But you do need to look at how you can unleash the content that's relevant to your business and make your customers' lives a little better.

Where's the hidden content in your business? How can you create digital tools and products to take full advantage of that content? Share it!