Last night I had a quick dinner with my friend Lars, and we were talking a bit about digital marketing industry (zzz ;) and it was just interesting to ask question, yes everyone thinks there is something they should be doing differently, but how do you really change?
At the end of the day, the question - once stripped of all technological, sociological, and media connotations - becomes a pretty basic one: literally, how to change your day-to-day business? A big riddle of "who's going to figure it out first?" can be looked at merely as an operational question of "what to do with my marketing budget if I am not going to make a 30-second spot?."
Now, there are probably a million answers to this question, each more interesting than the previous one, but that's all speaking in abstraction. There's an idea, and there's it's execution. Not the same.
There is a force of producers, creatives, strategists, client partners, and everyone else involved in marketing that need to start a) thinking, b) working and c) cooperating differently. For each new idea, there needs to be an organizational form to support it. And no one has the organizational form of that kind of flexibility and no one also has multiple organizational forms to turn to when asked to do things differently.
So now what? While there's a whole discipline called organizational theory, last night I could not remember a single industry that successfully, swiftly, and proactively transformed itself. (A lot of industries, on the other hand, were forced to change - media industry, automotive industry, financial industry, losing in scale and budgets. Which may not be a bad thing). And if there are success stories, we learn about them after they already happened.
But then I thought about the movie industry for a bit. TV took off in the fifties, and the movie going declined. People still went to the movies, but at - what the industry thought - unacceptably decreased rate. People didn't stop watching movies, they just started doing it slightly differently.
But the industry which depended on people watching movies only and exclusively in a certain way found itself paralyzed. Around the same time, antitrust action forcing movie studios to divest movie theaters they previously owned. That meant that everyone was now competing for already decreasing moviegoers. In this situation, the emphasis shifted at the end of the value chain - the theaters. And the result? Movies starting making money on concessions. :)
This may as well be a cautionary tale of what happens when an industry thinks that people will forever be doing things in the way that industry was built around. (Or, as Stafford Beer put it, "the purpose of the system is what it does", not what its creators envision it should be doing). And also, it's just cheaper to continue doing what worked in the past, then to research, monitor, and experiment what it is that works in the present.
But there's something else that's more interesting. Movie industry was forced to reorganize itself. To minimize the risk, the studios diversified: there's a mainstream movies arm, and art house arm, independent arm, horror, action, etc. Since they don't know which movies people will like, they decided to make streams of different movies, with different budgets, teams, agents, producers, and distributors. Chances are that at least some of them are going to make money.
So now, an observation. Diversification of the core business does not in fact mean synergy (which was an unfortunate strategy of the media industry a decade ago), but exactly the opposite: divesting and fragmentation and having different arms of business loosely connected. Each doing what it's good at, all of them contributing to the complexity of digital environment. There's no one holy grail, or one best way to make campaigns that everyone is trying to discover, there's just a lot of different ways to respond to clients' challenges. Sometimes a solution is going to be a blockbuster, and sometimes it's not. But that's okay. It's concessions that count.