Disruption, Disruption Everywhere

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What keeps you up at night?

This was the question that organizers of the International Startup Festival wanted me to answer (in seven minutes!) on stage at their event this week (it runs from July 15 – 18, 2015). With over two thousand people registered to attend, it could not be a message about the power of marketing, or how important it will be for these startups to figure out a way to create more meaningful relationships with their consumers. That’s critical. That’s core to my work and my standard points of discussion, but it’s not what I wanted to discuss. I thought back to when Mirum (which used to be Twist Image) was a startup. What was it like? How did it feel, sitting in our first, small office dreaming up ways to acquire clients, and to make that dent in the universe. The answer was simple: we were a new kind of marketing agency. A marketing agency for the future, but it was happening today. An agency that would be highly disruptive to the current slate of options that brands have. There was drive, focus and attention. You can head back into the twelve year archive that is the Six Pixels of Separation blog to read about how disruptive our thinking was. We were putting it out there, when very few dared to share how they think, and how they help brands.

How disruptive is Mirum now? 

In a word: very. Our three pillars of work (business transformation, marketing innovation and transactions) differentiate ourselves from our competitors (and others) in a big way, but we’re not the only horse in the race. In fact, any digital marketing executive would agree that while the runway for success is still very long (and wide), that we (the disruptors) have been disrupted. Not just by the amount of new digital marketing agencies, and the competitive nature of the industry, but by outside forces as well.

Why thinking about being disrupted matters.

When you’re a startup, the general posture that you bring to business is that you are the ones doing the disruption. This is true. Still, what I have seen as an evolution in the digital marketing industry can easily be adapted to any industry. And, it should be. While you may be doing the disrupting, you may – in fact – also be in the midst of being disrupted as well. It’s not meant to be a tongue-twister or a mind-bender, but it’s true… and it’s important to think about.

Who has disrupted the digital marketing agencies? The list is long, vast and telling:  

  • Traditional advertising agencies. In an effort to remain relevant and valuable to brands, the most traditional of advertising agencies are all building or executing on digital marketing. Many of them have been mandated to grow their businesses to be over fifty percent digital (at least) in order to remain the dominant force in the client to agency relationship. 
  • Highly-specialized agencies. Whether it’s search, social, mobile and more, there is a plethora of new agencies and companies that have a depth of focus in one, specific niche of digital marketing that makes them both highly knowledgeable and expensive (but worth it).
  • Startups. Just the other day a startup called Crew announced an $8.5 million round of financing. Crew is a design project marketplace for businesses that need anything from a website to a mobile app. It was developed to connect pre-vetted designers and developers and match them up with short-term creative contract-based projects. 
  • Platforms. Everybody from Google and Facebook to Pinterest now offer agency-like support (sometimes for free) in exchange for media bought. Make no mistake about it, these platforms are pillaging agency talent (and getting them) for this work.
  • Publishers. It’s not just the platforms, but the media publishers as well Buzzfeed, Vice, YouTube and others all have creative studios – on-site – with access to real-time analytics to help their advertisers create something more relevant to their respective audiences. Native advertising, content marketing and more.
  • Marketing technology. While many agencies (including Mirum) have strong partnership relationships with many of the developers, providers and sellers of marketing automation (think Adobe Marketing Cloud, Marketo, etc…). These technologies (coupled with internal marketing departments) have created a new level of disruption.
  • Consultants. The biggest of the biggest in the world of consultancy (Accenture, Deloitte, McKinsey, etc…) have all entered into the digital marketing fray. Not just through providing strategic plans, but actual implementation and deployment.
  • Internal marketing departments. There are some big plays here (think about Red Bull’s Media House), but we’re also seeing brands bulk up on their own internal teams. A lot of digital talent is now moving towards the client side, as digital agencies (and traditional ones as well), are being asked to provide more supporting roles than leading the charge.
  • Crowd Companies. The influx of individuals wanting to work on their own has created a culture of freelance that, combined with technology, is allowing brands to engage a group of people and then move on. Think about sharing services and beyond. Yes, there are agencies that are starting to look a lot like Uber. On demand… as needed.   
  • Programmatic players. Far too many of these to mention here, but they are disrupting the media part of the marketing business in a huge way. Brands are bringing both trading desks and technological capabilities in house, as agencies race to do the same. Who can create the most value here? The brands (for themselves) or agencies (in terms of experience and buying power)?
  • ??the unknown??. Well… because it’s unknown!!!

The struggle is real.

My list of disrupters, is not your list. How my agency will disrupt, is not how other agencies will disrupt. This is much more than simply keeping apprised as to the competition, and much more about understanding how the marketing industry has changed, is changing and will change. This happens from the vantage point of being a disruptor.

The real question is this: how disruptive are you being… and who is disrupting you?