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5 Principles of Convergence: How To Work Better At The Intersection Of Tech, Creativity, And Media

Convergence is both buzzword and marketing reality. Razorfish CEO Bob Lord outlines 5 ways creative companies can adapt to a converging world and create better brand experiences.

The word convergence has been picking up steam in the marketing world. It may even be the "big data" term of 2013. Yet, the word means different things to different people. At Razorfish, we use convergence to describe the coming together of three irresistible forces—media, technology, and creativity—to create experiences that enrich the consumer’s relationship with the brand.

Convergence is a constant process, not an end point. Technology, creativity, and media are constantly evolving, and so is the converged company. It is a never-ending challenge to adapt a customer experience that, in our digital age, will always be in flux. Too often, businesses are far behind consumers in embracing technological change, a problem that has everything to do with how the organization is set up. My new book, coauthored with Razorfish Global CTO Ray Velez, Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology, describes in detail how enterprises and teams must adapt for an age of disruption.

Here are five key principles:

Put the Customer at the Center.

Being ready for convergence isn’t about building an innovations lab, spending marketing budget on Facebook and Twitter ads or about hiring a social media "guru" to respond to online complaints. It’s about embracing a customer-centric mind-set and making your entire organization responsive to the customer journey. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for larger, well-established companies where scale has mandated the creation of a complicated organizational chart.

Strategies need to be based on data from actual consumer activity, not abstract gut feeling. That data should dictate not only what experiences you serve consumers but where, when, and how. Brand communications must engage the consumer in social platforms and ecosystems and open APIs. And the retail experience must be made omni-channel, giving shoppers the same experience whether they’re in-store, online, or on the phone.

Think of Your Brand as a Service and Experience.

You’re no longer in the business of selling stuff; you’re filling consumers’ needs. As a marketer, you’re creating new products and apps and always-on ecosystems, not just a series of campaigns based around a calendar of product launches. Nike is the classic example, with its ecosystem of fitness apparel, gadgets like FuelBand and services like Nike+ that immerse the user in the company’s innovation and create an end-to-end fitness solution. Special K, one of our clients, is still in the cereal game and it sells a ton of it. But it’s also in the health, fitness, and weight-loss games. It took its Special K challenge and turned it into a digital weight-loss platform.

To create and maintain this ecosystem, you’ll be investing in marketing operations, not just working media, and bringing in more designers and developers. In the past, marketing ops were largely limited to the maintenance of an internal marketing team and hiring and firing agencies that produced the creative work. People were accountable for spending the dollars, not how effectively they were spent. In a converged world, it will be about those activities, and also about investing in people and systems to ensure that the marketing spending is optimized.

Reject Silos.

Media, technology, and creativity are no longer discrete problems. Let’s take the most fundamental example of this: the creation of an ad. A few years back, a new ad campaign was simply a creative challenge that was solved by coming up with a new flight of TV spots. These days, a new ad will likely involve some technological and media challenges. Are you tapping into the API of a hot new social media platform? How are you getting your brilliant campaign in front of a demographic that’s no longer watching TV?

The traditional, silo-based organization is ill-equipped to answer these questions. So what you need to achieve is better collaboration between marketing and IT. To get there, your C-suite might have senior roles like chief digital officer and chief marketing technologists, filled by experts in both functions catalyzing innovation throughout the organization and fostering collaboration. Or you might try bottom-up solutions like internal account management. In this structure, marketing folks have counterparts in IT and vice versa.

Act Like a Startup.

There’s a set of common misconceptions about how established enterprises should learn from startups. It’s not about moving into flashy new digs or setting up Ping-Pong tables or having free sushi for lunch.

Like customer-centricity, the startup mentality requires much deeper and more meaningful change. It requires uprooting many old assumptions and habits, especially those around tech infrastructure, and doing things the way a newer, leaner company might.

Acting like a startup in this sense means the following:

—Your enterprise deploys—or at least experiments with—cheap, fast, and flexible tools like cloud computing, social media platforms, and open APIs.

—You employ product managers who are accountable for particular aspects of the consumer experience, just like Facebook has tasked someone with oversight of the newsfeed. As one of our clients describes it, product managers have to understand the customer and constantly prioritize and re-prioritize what’s best for the customer.

—You employ Agile methodology and rapid prototyping.

And look, no Ping-Pong.

Embrace Diversity.

Every organization needs specialists and experts, but in the place of environments where everyone fills one role and thinks about nothing besides that role, there needs to be cross-fertilization, a coming together of various fields, disciplines, personalities, and cultures.

In practice, it’s important to get a wide variety of expertise and perspectives around the table—marketing and technology, of course, but also HR, legal, and finance. We call this building a big boat, and it’s vital to building a convergence-ready organization.

But there’s more to it than just getting all the right people around the table. You also have to incentivize collaboration, getting multiple functions to rally around a shared set of objectives and a shared method of measuring process—that’s a big change and it has to be tracked cleanly and carefully. This entails getting your systems to feed a dashboard that tracks a manageable set of metrics. Then you have to get the team to check in regularly, or at least pay attention to the readouts they’re receiving.

Adapting your organization for convergence is never over. It’s a constant cycle of testing, learning, building, and destroying. All the more reason you should start now. The winners of this era will be the companies whose main focus is constantly improving on the customer journey. If you follow your customer, you can’t go wrong.

Bob Lord is Global CEO of Razorfish.

[Image: Flickr users Nic McPhee, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Dave Winer, and Patrick Kiteley]

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11 Comments

  • Ria Fernandez

    I agree very much! I work for a start-up firm called Fashionbi, focusing on social media analytics, and I think that there is so much of this article that we and so many other people can learn from. I think the part about embracing diversity is my favorite. Thank you so much for writing this :) ill keep it for future reference!

  • sherrybruck

    Really good article that articulates the solutions clearly. I have seen first hand the need to fill the boat with people from non-marketing departments that wouldn't typically be invited to a marketing/creative/website meeting. Not including those people from the onset results in a lot of backtracking later on. Not good for budgets or schedules!

  • Tim Geoghegan

    I wholeheartedly agree with most of these observations. Except for the part about building strategy strictly around data. Data is past. 'Abstract gut feeling', as you put it, is future. The former informs the latter. You will always benefit from data, but real innovation and game-changing strategy often comes from being a few steps ahead.

  • Rick Wheatley

    Well said - not sure if I agree that one is the future and the other the past as clearly as you suggest. I do however believe that in the future these are irreducible. One informs the other - one is only half of the whole. Intuition without data is less accurate? 

    If you aren't staying close to the action, in whatever industry and/or reality you operate in, your intuition will be handicapped :) - heard that from a damn innovative 3-star general a few months back.

  • Chris Green

    I remember Henry Jenkins' pioneering work on convergence from "Fans Bloggers and Gamers", "Textual Poachers" and more obviously "Convergence Culture". Whilst I've since lost contact with that side of academia, it's great to see the more abstract conceptualisations of how media users (and their experiences) interact with "texts" (entertainment, websites etc) translate into something more actionable and productive - now people just need to take heed and do something proactive with this!

  • Lakshmi Koushik

    Great thoughts; wonderfully connected. Ihave a question for Bob - how does he see the culture of the sample organizations embraced to execute?

  • Patrick Donnelly

    This is good. 

    However, a fine detail, I would argue that customers dont want the "same" experience on different media channels. I think that experiences should be customized to the context of the situation and some the principles of responsive design. The "feel" of a brand should be executed throughout all these channels, but the actual execution should be implemented differently per channel for optimal UX and ROI. 

    Also interesting to note that 3 of these 5 principles are actually company cultural issues. So, they are sometimes harder to implement since changes in outlook and approach are based on leadership personalities, legacy org charts, and billing structure.

    Overall though, nice strong summary of the forces of digital media / mindset. Good read, Thank you for creating and sharing. 

  • Terry Sieting

    I love this article. I think you're really getting to the heart of a subject that many old school marketers are ignoring.

  • Lois-baker

     This was really helpful in bending my perception.  It needed to get bent.  Putting the customer at the center is a beacon but we need to be constantly reminded, it seems.  thank you.