The Apple Approach to Digital Service Delivery

First published October 7, 2010 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

A few weeks ago, I was at a conference where the future of advertising was being debated. One of the topics that came up naturally was the future of advertising agencies. What will they look like in the future? It’s a stone-cold cinch that they won’t look much like they do today.

Here’s the challenge. Marketing is changing faster than most companies can keep up with. So many marketers find themselves chasing technology. This is an approach guaranteed to frustrate. Technology is impossible to predict. It’s an area rife with “Black Swans.” You can’t pin future strategies on technological bubbles that expand and burst. As one marketing head said, “the minute someone comes to me with a Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare strategy, I fire them.”

How to Build a Racecar

What marketers are trying to do to keep up with the digital transition wave is akin to buying miscellaneous mechanical parts and then trying to assemble them into a racecar on the fly. In most cases, you don’t know what those pieces do, how they fit together, or even if they do fit together. We’re not even sure what the end product should look like. Yet we keep having digital marketing technology vendors say we have to buy these parts because if we don’t, we’ll lose the race. It’s madness to continue this way. It’s one of the reasons my friend Scott Brinker of Ion Interactive says that we need CMTs – Chief Marketing Technologists. The theory – at least one person in the pit crew should have an idea of what a car looks like.

As I was thinking about this, I started thinking what a possible parallel might be. Where else does technology move so fast that’s it’s hard, if not impossible, for the end user to keep up? Almost immediately, I thought about personal computers.

The PC Service Model

Consider the PC approach. You buy a box designed to accommodate as many pieces of hardware and software as possible. In return for this open flexibility, you have to figure out how to get all the pieces to fit together. You have to download the patches, try to get the box to recognize the new peripheral and figure out how to get one program to talk to the other. Granted, it’s easier than digital marketing because at least the various developers of hardware and software go in with the intention of trying to get along nice with each other. There is no such consensus with digital marketing vendors.

The Apple Service Model

Now consider the Apple approach. Within an enclosed ecosystem, the pieces are pretested to ensure they fit together. The goal: to deliver a plug-and-play experience. Apple is not 100% successful in this, but its track record is much better than on the PC side. Do you have the open flexibility of the PC world? No, but you’re also spared seeing how the sausage is made.

Could you not extend this same approach to a digital marketing agency? Rather than embroiling the client in the nitty-gritty detail of multiple platforms and technologies, couldn’t you integrate the pieces so they work well in the background, pumping out results through a simple and elegant user interface?

It sounds simple, and indeed, this is what many full-service digital agencies say they do, yet there still seems to be a disconnect when it comes to satisfied customers. I haven’t heard many enthusiastic evangelists for digital agencies. I haven’t seen the same devotion and/or longing I see in other’s eyes when I pull out my iPad in a meeting or on the plane. It was expressed in clear terms on a flight last week when, as I was reading a book on it, an elderly gentleman walked down the aisle and asked, “Do you love it or do you LOVE it?” We talked for 10 minutes about iPads. Until those same conversations start happening about your favorite digital agency, we’re missing the boat.

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