An Argument Against Labeling Strategists

Leo Burnett Change's " Second Chance " video combines human insight and technology usage behavior for a home run web video.

Leo Burnett Change's "Second Chance" video combines human insight and technology usage behavior for a home run web video.

A long time ago, a friend of mine said she believed the idea of a "Digital _______" — whether that blank be filled with "agency," "art director," or "strategist" — would become obsolete. That the lines would continue to blur, and these qualifiers would become pointless. The unfortunate thing, however, is that we're still tremendously struggling to move away from a world of specialists. "Gurus," "Ninjas," and "Czars" — if not in title, then in spirit — still exist within agencies. Even I, to my loathing, have been referred to as a "Social Media Guru" at work.

I don't want to be a guru of anything, and I believe any strategist looking for that reverence is cutting their legs out from under themselves. I know it's easier said than done, but all strategists should strive to shed qualifiers and instead embrace an integrated outlook that the industry as a whole is trying to move toward.

An integrated perspective calls on a strategist to think in human truths and insights rather than channel optimization. This may come across as simply being traditional brand planning, but I believe it requires an understanding that goes a level deeper. You should have more than just a peripheral knowledge of old and new technologies. You should at least have a working knowledge of their ins and outs, and more important, how human behavior interplays with them. Applied strategic thinking, for lack of a better way to phrase it; but on a broad scale, rather than a specialized, channel-specific focus.

Leo Burnett Change's "Second Chance" video did an excellent job of connecting the dots between insight, technology, and emotion. They went deeper than just creating an emotional web video. They combined human insights behind the struggles of ex-offenders looking for work, with the insights of YouTube user behavior, to create an emotionally moving piece that makes you think (and look) twice.

The biggest challenge for strategists in adopting this mindset probably isn't a lack of willingness. It's the fact that most agencies still seem unable to think beyond channels and platforms. There are roles to be a brand strategist; a digital strategist; a social strategist; a content strategist. The list goes on. As if adding prefixes to a title showcases an enthusiasm for progress and forward-thinking, when in actuality, they act as handcuffs.

A good strategy shouldn't be bound by a platform, and neither should the strategist.

It takes a lot of resolve to avoid being typecast. You have to be deliberate about the work you take on, and the job offers you accept. Every step matters, and for every one you take down a path, it'll take twice as much effort to get out. You have to be your own compass. So, make sure you're headed in the right direction.

The Role of Responsibility In The New Digital Age

Keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt, pushed the point that people aren't as safe as they think they are; and that the reason for secrecy — especially with regard to the government — must be very narrowly defined to be acceptable.

Keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt, pushed the point that people aren't as safe as they think they are; and that the reason for secrecy — especially with regard to the government — must be very narrowly defined to be acceptable.

SXSW was an interesting experience this year. Being a little older than the last time I went, different things stood out as being worthwhile. Despite becoming the largest clusterfuck of brand activities, something much bigger than marketing and advertising stole my attention; and seemingly the attention of several keynote speakers.

Two frequently covered topics at SXSW were big data and the quantified self. Big data in and of itself is not a new idea. But when you pair it with ideals of the quantified self, big data becomes much more personal than how many times people tweeted or Googled "Pepsi".

Every day we lengthen our digital paper trail with the most intimate details about who we are. The question becomes: Who owns this data? Do you? Does Google? Do brands? Does the government?

Underwriting EVERYTHING at SXSW this year, both on the keynote stage, and in the bowels of the surrounding conference rooms, was the question of privacy, secrecy, and invariably, responsibility.

And it's not surprising. Following the massive reveal of the NSA's PRISM program, it became apparent that we all need to be more responsibile with the data we create and collect about ourselves and each other.

During his keynote, Julian Assange said: "Now that the Internet has merged with human society, the laws of human society should apply to the Internet."

So much data is being created by people who know so little about its use, and rarely is there a fair value exchange, let alone transparency about how that data is utilized. On stage, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, made the apt point, both for brands and governments, that the role and purpose for secrecy needs to narrowly defined to be acceptable.

We've all seen a glimpse at the potential future of retail. Location tracking. Predictive offers. Facial recognition. It’s a redefinition of the shopping experience, and represents an area of intense interest for many brands, retailers, and agencies. Pretty much anyone who sells something.

But as the hackneyed Uncle Ben phrase goes, "with great power, comes great responsibility."

As we clamor to unlock these opportunities, we must remain cognizant of our responsibility to provide an even exchange of value.

More often than not, consumers hand over more information than they realize they are. In exchange for the chance to win a prize or a .25 cents off coupon, they may be forking over their location data, information about their friends, or permission to speak on their behalf.

It's a generally accepted notion that people are willing to part with their data and privacy if they're given something in exchange. But with the value of consumer data rising — and the ability of collecting it getting easier — we should be paying the proper price; even if consumers don't realize an exchange is happening. That price is the responsibility of designing better experiences for our customers.

So, as we enter this new digital age, marked by a merging of worlds and the rising value of information, let’s consider how we as marketers can use this newfound power to both reap and reward our customers. The things that are now possible in-store tread a fine line with regard to privacy concerns. 

But if we charge ourselves with the responsibility of providing an even value exchange, then we foster a give and take relationship with our customers in which everyone wins.