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Specialists v. integrators part II.

Gartner hype cycle.001

You’re probably quite familiar with Gartner’s hype cycle (above) which describes the stages of hype, disillusionment, and then actual productivity that many new innovations go through. However, one of the not so obvious implications of it is that the real value in any innovation only gets unlocked when people start to figure out how, when and where to use it. Another way of stating this is that:

The value is not in the innovation itself, rather it’s in understanding how, when and where to use that innovation.

I think this insight is also quite important when overlaid upon the discussion around specialisation vs. integration that I started yesterday. Specialised businesses can each be thought of as separate innovations. In the marketing world we might think of these as SEO companies, social media companies, mobile application developers, Facebook developers, Advertising agencies etc.

While each of these are important, the real value doesn’t lie at this level, instead, I’d argue, that the real value lies at the level of deciding how, when and where to deploy each of these different companies in order to solve a business problem.

The real value is in the creative and/or strategic combination and deployment of resources to solve a business problem.

In fact, in most cases there are almost too many SEO, social media, mobile application, etc. companies to choose from. As a result, these individual businesses will tend to become commodities over time. Even less of the real value will lie among those companies and even more of the real value will lie upon those companies or people who can see the big picture and who can knit together a brilliant, comprehensive and cohesive solution. This being the case, the natural question that follows is, “who owns this very valuable integration or coordination role?”

In the marketing industry there are a lot of different companies who would claim to be architects of a business solution, but this is where I think things start to get tricky. It’s my belief that in order to be able to properly deliver that integration role, you must be compensated solely for the integration role. If your compensation, as is the case for most companies, is around the delivery of specific and specialised skills or services, then you will inevitably be biased towards the usage of those specialised skills or services in the creation of your solution. We’ve talked about this for ages, so much that it’s become clichéd. Agencies often talk about media and solution neutrality but the vast majority of what they create are ads. Consultants, on the other hand, suffer from a different problem. Typically they are paid for high-level strategic thinking but then leave the difficult work of implementation, integration and execution to others. They are paid to articulate a vision but are not paid to implement a vision.

This leaves clients themselves as the ones who benefit most from integration, and I think this is why we’re seeing clients of all sizes shift from single, full service agencies and move towards a stable of best of breed partners. While this solution makes sense it does also clearly demonstrate that there is a large gap in the marketplace. There may be times and situations where clients want to outsource that integration or to turn to a partner better equipped to handle that integration. Right now they have very few options.

It’s for this reason that I think we will start to see a new class of company arise. These companies will truly be architects of business solutions in that they will be compensated solely for the definition and implementation of a full marketing program but will not be compensated for the specific services and skills that are required to implement these programs. In fact, this is precisely where we see the future of our company.

What do you think?

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