Torque Turns 20 in 2012: Defining New Directions

What’s it like looking back on 20 years?
Well, we have seen a lot of change, a lot of turmoil. We’ve weathered three economic downturns. We’ve also seen a lot of success. It’s natural to reflect about the past when we pass a big milestone like this. However, as much as we appreciate and value the many past partnerships we have with our clients, it’s not past clients that occupy our attention today. From a service standpoint, we are committed to our current clients. More than that, however, we are building our capabilities, to be able to provide and deliver what companies need. And that’s going to be a lot different in 2012 than it was in the last five years, let alone going back to the 1990s.
What are some of Torque’s past key to success, that will be valuable for the future?
Passion, commitment to service and work ethic are the fabric of our culture. And we have a sense of humor (most of the time!) We never accepted traditional definitions for the type of company we are. So many companies out there label themselves as an “advertising agency,” a “marketing agency,” or a “design firm.” Sometimes those labels become part of their name, then the firm’s principals begin to limit what they do for their clients. With so many changing media and marketplace trends, that leaves a lot of expertise out of the process, which can mean their services are coming up short for their clients. We have always been open to new things, seeing them as opportunities rather than threats. We love ideas!
What are the crucial things an agency must have in the future?
First of all, as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think the term “agency” is going to describe the successful outsourcing and consulting firms of the future. It’s too limiting for the kind of outsourcing partnerships their customer organizations will need. I think the relationships that outsourcing companies will have with each of their clients will be unique. The marketing challenge for those companies will be to quickly and clearly communicate, then demonstrate how they can create value for their customers. It will be all about taking over or supplementing functional areas that are not part of the client’s core competencies, through a strong working knowledge the business and the context of its marketplace. I don’t think any two of these firms will be the same.
One example of this type of intimate partnership has resulted from the rise of technology in marketing. In the early days of the Interned we static website programming, then search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Now that has given way to the much more complex need to manage “big data” and the technologies behind them, to provide such marketing automation services as “re-marketing,” as well as mobile Websites and mobile applications. Social media has taken shape over last few years, to the point where social analytics are now critical to running the programs, helping companies grapple with the best way to participate in and measure social media marketing.
Marketers need to have have strong analytic skills. Increasingly, developing websites for rich media content and e-commerce is only be part of the picture. Digital marketing must dovetail with the data systems that run the business, so that things like inventory data, customer account information, and other operational data are being levered to create more useful and responsive customer experiences. The future of marketing “integrated marketing” will be to interface with product development, customer service, sales, and IT to name a few functional areas.
These market forces are shaping and defining outsourcing companies. They are also shaping and defining management at companies that want to grow customers, revenues and competitive advantage.
If it’s not so much about where Torque has come from, where are things headed in 2012 and beyond?
All of the above applies to Torque as well, and we are expanding our technology capability among other things. Marketing is less about big creative ideas and well designed sales materials and websites. Those things are important. But now a number of new disciplines are coming into play. We see this as an era of communicating across many channels, using tribal segmentation knowledge, storytelling, utility content and technology to reach audiences, provide value and build relationships with customers, beyond just awareness through media. It’s how we are marketing ourselves, and how we are helping our clients go to market.
What are the big outsourcing trends?
Companies need to outsource now, more than ever. And outsourcing businesses are changing, too. Back in the 1990s, the big consulting firms were providing management consulting services. But they realized that they could do more if they stayed involved during implementation. If you look at successful outsourcing companies now, they began either as technology experts or subject & practice experts. They’ve either added strategy or implementation capability, integrating the two. Successful marketing/advertising/design firms are integrating technology (either in-house or closely partnering with firms who specialize) to expand their executional capability. The integration of multiple disciplines is happening between public relations and social media as well. This is an exciting time for combining disciplines, as well as other business model innovation. And for those who “stick to their knitting” and stay focused on their past offerings only, it is a perilous time as well.
What are the most important marketplace trends you watch?
There are many trends, and many differ by industry. For example, we are seeing categories such as distribution and reseller businesses begin to invest in marketing, reputation building and brand building. One very exciting trend is the consumer demand for socially responsible businesses and the rise of corporate social responsibility. This is taking shape in many forms, from creative ways to raise money for charitable causes, to innovative business models that integrate non-profit and for-profit components that complement each other. Tom’s Shoes is one of the early popular examples of this model, with their One-for-One program, where they give a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Torque is working with several companies who are doing exciting things in this space and various others.
The country is holding its breath for an economic turnaround. Job creation is a big part of this. What would you tell jobseekers, given the above?
First of all, midmarket and small business will drive the recovery of the economic growth engine. For workers and talent, that means no more status quo jobs, being lost in the enormity of a large organization where you are not accountable for your performance. Working for well-run, competitive midmarket and small companies requires productivity from every worker. In fact, these companies are turning to the talent within to help them drive social media, customer relationships, and the brand experience. So, people looking for exciting opportunity and improved compensation will need to be proactive. Simply offering up a list of capabilities on a resume won’t do it. They will need to communicate a vision for how they can create value in the organization, be creative thinkers about the business needs of the company. These [potential employer] companies are starting to see the opportunity to grow again, and will need great talent to make it happen.