Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution

Lights of Soho event

The fourth industrial revolution – powered by machine-learning and big data – will fundamentally change the shape of tomorrow’s communications agency, and may even foreshadow a creative renaissance.

The changing marketing landscape, and how it will affect agencies, was just one of the topics discussed at an event to mark the strategic pivot and resulting relaunch for independent marcomms agency Octopus Group, held in Soho, London on Thursday.

Speaking to an audience of senior brand marketers and agency executives, The Drum's editor-in-chief and founder Gordon Young, guest speaker at the event, said he believed that how the industry is structured will have to fundamentally change in a “post-advertising age”.

Young said: “The fourth industrial revolution is coming: the physical and digital are converging, and all of these unexpected outcomes will appear.”

Octopus Group chief executive Jon Lonsdale concurred, outlining just how and why his company embarked on a wholescale strategic reboot. He said: “We had a successful business, but we noticed that things had started to change for our tech clients and the agency landscape.”

And that pace of change is only increasing, he said.

“A couple of years ago, we’d noticed that clients were changing the way they spent money with us, and how many of our campaigns were reliant on marketing funding to survive. Our content work, for example, was being adopted strategically by field salespeople and digital marketers to drive sales activity, often without our involvement,” he said. “In-house teams were getting leaner and seemed willing to use fewer suppliers for multiple marketing services, covering paid, earned and owned programmes. And showing ROI for traditional PR was becoming harder and harder, as the media landscape changed around us and our clients were under more pressure from their bosses.”

These shifting market dynamics drove a strategic revaluation of the business.

“Basically, full service looked like it was on the way back. So we decided to back those hunches and respond by trying to re-frame what the agency stood for and what it was going to be: marketing aligned, channel neutral, commercially driven and based on our long PR heritage,” said Lonsdale. “We settled on the idea of being an agency that would link brand reputation and comms to drive commercial sales success. And Octopus Group became the Brand To Sales Agency.”

At the event, Young reflected on the impact such changes, driven by technology, could have on the wider industry.

“Presently [marketing] is dominated by the big global networks and they were built for another age – they were built to service clients who were as interested as getting the logistics in place as the creative,” said Young.

“But technology will replace the networks and replace the management systems. It gives independent agencies run by dedicated teams the chance to become the people of tomorrow: strong, independently minded, relevant and in front of the right audiences at the right time.”

Yet to separate the changes afoot in the industry with the socio-economic and political changes in the world at large is a mistake, he says. For example, what does the digitalisation and democratisation of money, such as Bitcoin, mean for the future of nation states, when countries have traditionally been defined by their ability to raise taxes and know what their citizens are earning?

It is very hard to extrapolate what’s happening in the industry without looking at the economy and society as a whole – we are living in extraordinary times,” adds Young. Amongst the trailblazers in this area are the likes of IBM which, with its AI technology Watson, is helping to transform the way that medical diagnoses are made via the mining of big, structured data, and Google, Microsoft and Apple which are investing billions into the area.

“Technology has a profound impact on human relationships and humanity. This is happening right now – and it will affect how we sell and market all products,” added Young.

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