The Problem with Silos

Brian Babineau is svp of media & marketing at Digital Influence Group. Follow him on Twitter @BrianBab21

It’s a trend as old as advertising: Consumer behavior evolves, marketers find new ways to reach those consumers, and agencies adapt their capabilities to address the brand marketers’ needs. This movement has picked up steam since consumer behavior went all digital on us, and new capabilities and roles began tumbling out of agencies with alarming speed. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with agencies developing new focus areas. But simply appending a new capability to the agency, while a starting place in trying to keep up with industry developments, misses the point.

It started in the 1990s with vps of digital, and then vps of mobile, followed by the occasional vp of engagement or vp of experience, and then peaked over the past four to five years with vps of social media popping up in nearly every major agency. 2013 has seen a new trend take center stage in the agency evolution, as major agencies have hired leadership in the content area and made a big deal about these new vps of content in the press.

Think about everything we know about today’s consumers. They want to connect to people first, content second and brands last. Content based on cohesive and engaging storytelling is what breaks through — no easy task in a world where consumers are already pre-planning and controlling every piece of content they are letting in during their waking hours. So knowing this, agencies should go off and create a new social or content specialty practice to better engage the consumer, right? What’s the issue with that?

The silo.

Consumers don’t care how many agencies a brand has, or who does your print vs. your digital, and they don’t care whether or not you have a vp of content or social. What they care about are valuable seamless experiences, powered by people and content. They want to engage on their own terms, in whatever channel suits them, and at whatever time they wish. And they intend on having the same quality and type of experience with a brand across each of those channels. For them, content that smells like advertising, or content that shows up in irrelevant or forced context, is an instant warning bell and leads to that content being ignored.

Cohesiveness matters, too. The more a brand or agency divides each and every aspect of the consumer experience, the more fragmented each consumer touchpoint becomes. When you create different departments for social and content – which should be woven into the DNA of every capability – there is a greater risk that consumers will be left with a slightly schizophrenic and unsatisfying experience.

The best experiences feature content that is both more relevant and personal for the consumer while also bringing key aspects of a brand or product to life, without over-evangelizing either. These experiences must be powered by social engagement and careful choreography of content across all channels. It’s time to recognize that social isn’t a capability; it’s at the core of every digital interaction. Content isn’t a department; it’s one of the most important ways a marketer can begin a relationship with a consumer in any channel and format. They aren’t nice-to-haves as additions; they are must-haves as part of a foundation.

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