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Storytellers and Makers: Making the Most of the Friction Between Marketing Generations

Contagious, the global trendwatchers for the marketing industry, hold an annual Now, Next, Why event each Spring in London, New York and LA.  Last year, they examined a shift in creative focus from the slow-build marketing narrative (the customer journey model known as AIDA, or Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) to serving the on-demand, action-NOW customer model—delivery over sales, expediting over engagement. Digging deeper, Contagious discussed creative firms having to merge the people doing each aspect of modern marketing in a way that improved cross-focus communication and integrated storytellers and makers.

The Smaller Agency Scene

This discussion has become especially intense among smaller agencies over the past five years, as agencies mixed younger, tech-savvy programmers, app developers and social marketing people into their more traditional creative staffs. While some conflict has resulted from differing approaches to how we work, or merely because of age differences, the clash between reaching the customer now versus attracting and engaging them over time is certainly contributing to internal friction.

Change is hard; it is most difficult for people whose experience and knowledge are heavily entangled with how we have always done it. We know it works so why do we have to change it? On the flip side are those who argue that the customer has changed and so have their expectations; if we’re not meeting those on-demand expectations, we aren’t going to be around very long. It’s uncomfortable when the Traditional butts heads with the New.

The fact is, we need both marketing approaches and the people who have mastered those. But when do we use each approach, or even know when both may be effective? Agency owners and managers also must figure out how to get advocates for each measure to play nicely with one another; this creative shift is an HR issue as well as a marketing strategy issue.

Conflict Is a Good Thing

Ultimately, using storytelling and action approaches to ad agency creativity is about managing conflict—between strategies, between generations of marketing people, and between differing ideas. Conflict in a creative environment is seldom a bad thing; if everyone always agrees, no one is pushing new ideas. It’s not good to have a creative ad agency or marketing firm that isn’t being creative because everyone agrees about everything.

How do you get storytellers and makers to work together? Some factors and practices need to be in place for good results.

Culture – Are you built to handle conflict openly and respectfully? Cultures where conflict is pushed under the surface can be more toxic than creative. Risk-taking and debate should be part of the agency culture; just keep it respectful.

Personalities – When people get too hot under the collar in debating tactics and strategies, and the conversation gets personal, it’s time to do some mediating. Make storytellers and makers sit and talk, emphasizing that it’s about the ideas and solutions, not personalities. (Shake hands and come out fighting.)

Leadership – Leaders must demonstrate the behaviors they want employees to exhibit. If leaders fight among themselves, employees will likely do so, too, or even take sides over which leader is “right.” When agency leaders demonstrate their focus is on creating the best work or solution, employees tend to model the same behavior.

Teams – Mix teams so storytellers and makers must collaborate. Sometimes, the makers will lead; at others, storytellers will drive the strategy. Insisting that they share and debate ideas helps bring the best of both ways of thinking to the table. It also helps each style of marketing understand and accommodate the other.

Assess how much friction and conflict in your agency arises from stylistic differences between storytelling and making. Then implement some of these steps for unifying your team and appreciating both approaches. 

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