10 Ways Silicon Valley Culture Can Reinvent Advertising

The founders of agency Enso Collaborative identify some of the key ways that Madison Avenue should follow the example of Silicon Valley.

One year into building our agency, Enso Collaborative, we’ve learned a lot from our clients in Silicon Valley—and a lot of what we’ve learned is antithetical to the traditional advertising agency model and culture. We’ve come to believe if advertising agencies followed the culture and approach of Silicon Valley, then agencies, brands, and people would benefit, so we decided to share what we’re learning. We’ve identified several key shifts. Among them:

From "always be closing" to "always be in service of the user"

Whereas traditional marketing is about driving sales (more units per person), which can create an adversarial relationship with people (selling to consumers), another approach to marketing can be in recognizing a real cultural need and developing a solution that meets that need. It’s about maximizing human value in alignment with financial value.

From incrementalism to setting really big, meaningful goals

Rather than focus on the next small step (whether that’s checking the box of a client brief, improving sales by 4% or winning an ad industry award), focus on the moonshots, or as Larry Page has said, frame the goal in a big, long-term user-focused way. Then there’s always more you can do—and the best people want to work really hard on big goals.

From the Don Draper "big reveal" to radical collaboration between client and agency

Everything we do starts with an open Google doc. So our clients are in our briefs (so to speak). We brainstorm ideas together. Client presentations go from high stakes "win or lose" affairs to work sessions about improving the work.

From seeking to find "the answer" to constant and never-ending iteration

In advertising, often there’s a quest for the one right answer. In Silicon Valley, there’s never one way to solve a problem, and always more improvements to be made. We share work, launch ideas, and then evolve from there. We never get attached to one version of our work. The nimble mind-set of condensing failures and successes into a shorter timeframe applies just as much to marketing as to product development.

From "making the new thing" to making things that are useful and meaningful

Orienting around the new can get attention, but it’s shallow and passing. Creating more positive opportunities for more people creates much richer, longer-term engagement.

From creating exclusivity to universal accessibility

While advertising traditionally stokes desire by creating a perception of exclusivity, today it’s more important to create mass, fair access to things of quality.

From hype and hyperbole to authenticity and values

While Madison Avenue sells the dream, Silicon Valley actually creates it; our takeaways have been—always show rather than tell, and reality can trump the cheap trick.

From a culture of idea ownership to cocreation

Traditional agencies feed a culture of ego where a creative’s career hinges on writing a famous line or getting the credit for a breakthrough idea which in turn creates a culture of opposition and competition. To collaborate effectively, you have to leave the notion of credit at the door and be willing to cocreate with your clients. In our work, no one takes sole credit for an idea (client or agency)—there’s no focus on whose name will be on an award.

From "unique selling proposition" to community activation around values

Rather than presenting technology as the latest cool thing, or two times better than the rival (the CPG model), the imperative is to help people see what technology makes possible for the things they care about. When brands and people are united around values, it can lead to shared success.

From reflecting culture to fulfilling cultural needs

Rather than paying millions of dollars to associate with a fleeting celebrity or trend, using resources to champion and celebrate real people achieving great things creates lasting value for everyone.

Ultimately, we’ve decided to look to the best companies in the world, like our primary client Google, for new working models rather than traditional advertising practices. So far, we’re seeing that the same kind of mind-set and culture that defines Silicon Valley can be applied to marketing and advertising. And that transition may be an imperative if agencies want to remain relevant and valuable partners.

Sebastian Buck and Kirk Souder are cofounders and Brian Hardwick is messaging and activation lead at Enso Collaborative, an agency that unites business success and positive social impact, and brings brands and people together to activate around shared values.

[Image: Flickr users Victor Bezrukov, Ian Sane]

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