One of my favorite ads is Dream Crazy by Nike, and hands down my favorite publicity stunt is IHOP “changing” their name to IHOB (International House of Burgers).

These advertisements make an impact on businesses. Of course, every major brand has a creative agency that helps them bring media to the market.

But, I’ve personally seen how much change has happened in the market. Creative “traditional agencies” are no longer needed as much as they were five or ten years ago.

Companies are spending more on transforming themselves through digital. And what this means is that ads are no longer the way to make an impact. Software is.

Take a look at this excerpt from a report by Adage:

Publicis, whose holdings include Sapient Consulting, vowed to spend money on “hiring, training, development and re-skilling” as it focuses on “marketing and digital business transformation.” (Number of mentions in a nine-page press release that Publicis issued about its pitch to investors: “transformation,” 21; “digital,” 13; “marketing,” nine; “media,” two; “advertising,” zero.)

There are several reasons this is happening.

It’s about building differentiated technology experiences that make an impact

When we built Tesla’s retail app, Tesla didn’t want a way to just showcase their video advertisements, they wanted a tool that made an impact on the customer experience with the store and helped the store associates do their jobs more efficiently.

We built a differentiated technology experience and not some creative, viral ad campaign. The digital product is a touch point that reinforces the brand image, while empowering the customer to interact with the brand in a meaningful way. The Tesla app didn’t just show how cool a Tesla is, it enabled users to take a test drive painlessly and then buy the awesome car they just drove.

That’s why Domino’s invests in technology and not just viral ad campaigns. From driverless cars delivering pizzas, to having their customers take pictures of competitors pizza to collect more data, Domino’s understands that differentiated experiences, and not just the quality of their pizza, is a way to grow the company. The difference is evident in Domino’s stock performance versus Papa John’s whose investment in innovation has been minimal in comparison.

Their 5-year growth is no joke.

The same goes for other industries.

If hotels spend more money on making your experience booking rooms better, and a personalized check-in with digital kiosks, digital key cards, and other ways that make your stay better, then that’s a win for everyone involved.

Let’s take CitizenM Hotel as an example.

There’s no concierge, no room service and no bellhops. You even have to check yourself in. Sounds like a disaster, right?

Well, the tech and customer experience enables this hotel to be, in my mind, a hotel I will reserve anytime I have the chance. The rooms have a lot of technology built in and thoughtful considerations, including automated check-in and check-out, free movies on-demand, free bottled water, and fast high-speed Wi-Fi at no additional cost. The furniture is modern and the ceilings are high.

The best part about all of this is that it’s for budget travelers. I’m not saying this because it is CitizenM’s tagline, but it truly is a different type of hotel. CitizenM focused on the customer experience to differentiate itself, not a huge marketing campaign with a large media budget.

Again, I’m not saying that these agencies don’t make an impact or have a say in the growth of major brands. They are very important, but have to integrate their campaigns with new differentiated digital and physical experiences.

It’s about engineering, design, and product management all under one roof

I’m not going to name names, but a while ago we worked with a client who had one of those traditional creative agencies design the website, and we were responsible for turning that into something real.

The website, it was beautiful. Beautiful and completely unusable. The worst kind of website.

I can understand why the client loved it and why they designed it the way they did. They had no product managers, engineers, or QA professionals to review it. The animations were unrealistic and didn’t match any patterns of a modern, accessible website. The website would take a performance hit and would be simply unusable, if we implemented what was suggested.

Since the designers had no feedback from an integrated team, they ended up creating something that couldn’t be used. I truly believe that creating amazing experiences all starts with having design, engineering, and QA all under one roof. Create something that is impactful, not beautiful but unusable.

This is the power that an integrated team that understands both creativity and engineering brings to the table.

It’s about the customer, finally

Social media has created a world where the story can’t just be told by one person. It’s told by everyone. It’s a shared experience. This is the reason why brands who focus on the customer almost always win. Companies who invest in digital can build better experiences for their customers, and that’s what matters most.

Digital is not only about the stories you tell, it’s about the experiences you provide to your customers. The ads and viral campaigns are great to build awareness and brand perception but rich brand experiences are what turn them from casual customers to brand advocates.

If you want to win, you have to win customers. Start with creating differentiated experiences, not ads.


Also published on Medium.