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In praise of doing what it says on the tin

By Marketforce
March, 2018

The smartphone is the emblem of the 21st century (so far). It’s the supreme multitasker performing a myriad of functions, some better than others, some more useful, but most all of them done very well. Ever more products are being designed to multi-task, as the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) edges closer from concept to reality.

Companies are multi-tasking too. In the US, the apex is Amazon, recently buying Whole Foods and now finding ways to fully enter your home via its purchase of Ring home security products. Domino’s claims to think of itself as an e-commerce company that sells pizza, with a third of its HQ employees dedicated to tech and digital platforms.

Many in our world of communications practitioners have also gotten in on the multi-tasking act. You don’t have to trawl many agency websites to read several variations on the “we’re not an agency anymore, we’re an (insert lofty vision)” theme.

And yet… is there a danger of losing something in all of this?

Perhaps credibility for a start. Consultant Trinity P3 recently observed that one reason why agencies lose pitches is their positioning is too grand, and the rhetoric simply does not translate to substance.

Recently, I spent time with several senior clients reviewing what material from their agencies they thought provided real value. What I heard was not a plea for ‘more’; rather it was a desire for ‘less’:

  • “Agencies are always bringing me 10 things that are nice-to-know; just bring me one thing, that’s evident in the work, that addresses the brief, that helps drive my business.”
  • “Be a trusted advisor. Give me good advice, based upon sound logic.”
  • “People try to make marketing sound new and different, but it isn’t. I don’t care how it’s served to me, it’s all advertising! Just reach enough people effectively, cost effectively, engagingly. That’s what I want.”

The author Seth Godin points out that your smartphone makes you quick, not smart. The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions and transactions in this moment. Important and useful, no doubt. But, as Seth says, we can’t day-trade our way to the future we seek.

Being a trusted business advisor demands focus, clarity, and rigor. It necessitates openness and transparency, with no hidden motives (or fees). Trying to deliver grand, lofty visions, or playing parlour-trick strategy games, frankly it all just gets in the way.

Sometimes, all you want it to do is what it says on the tin.