Can creativity be sold online?

E-Commerce is not a new concept for brand marketers and retailers. Last year, according to a recent MasterCard whitepaper, Asia Pacific was the largest e-Commerce region in the world, turning over US$567 billion in transactions.

With 60% of the world’s population and a growing consumer base that is twice as likely to buy online than any other group in the world, Asia will set the agenda for global online retail in the next five years, explained Sam Ahmed, head of marketing at MasterCard APAC in the study.

R3 principal and co-founder Shu Fen Goh, who also worked on the white paper with MasterCard, was of the view that advertising and marketing agencies will definitely need to reinvent their current service models within the next three years if they are to better serve the rapidly evolving e-commerce environment in Asia Pacific.

Kudos to advertising and marketing agencies which have been quick to come to the aid of their client partners in their shift to e-commerce, but not many agencies have embraced the e-Commerce business for themselves.

In a conversation with Marketing, Greg Paull principal consultant of R3 was of the view that this lack of love for e-Commerce services of their own is because it is tough for agencies automate what they sell. Revenues for agencies often comes from conceptualising ideas and selling time.

However, an interesting way to get into e-Commerce for the agency world would be through leveraging crowd sourcing ideas from online, says Paull.

He gives the example of a Chinese agency called “Zhubajie” that connects smaller marketers and designers in a more efficient way. In that way turning the designers into products to be sold to interested marketers. Paull said:

It already has a market cap of US$1.6b.  Firms like this will lead the way of e-commerce as it relates to agencies.

How can agencies sell their services through e-Commerce?

Paull also adds that crowd sourcing could also be an efficient way to move into e-commerce as it creates a two way street of buying and selling creativity.

One example of an agency doing so is Victors and Spoils which crowd sources its ideas from various people - be it other creative partners or a lunch lady down the street.

The agency openly admits on its website:

“We’re smart. Smart enough to know that we don’t know it all. Fortunately, there’s a little something called the 'rest of the planet'. It’s made up of billions of bright and inspired individuals who know things we might not. So we tap into them. [...] We bring people from outside our walls into the advertising process. Because when you combine their expertise with ours, good advertising suddenly becomes great advertising”

To embrace e-commerce, Paull adds that agencies today need to think more laterally about what else they can sell that can be easily transacted online. This can range from white papers, research reports, to T-Shirts or ‘standard items” such as logo designs that can easily be bought and sold. However, agencies should be selective in selling some of their services and reports through e-commerce.

Nonetheless, if an agency is able to keep its products sold online close to its actual DNA and what the agency stands for, it can prove to be great source of PR and branding. One agency that has effectively sold its quirky goods online is Goodstuph.

The agency's online store called "THE DAMN GOOD SHOP" often sells limited edition produce from the agency's creative stash.

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THE DAMN GOOD SHOP has over the years created products that boast of its creative firepower and through this, it has been able to also garner PR attention of several mainstream media such as The Straits Times, Time Out, Nylon and 8 Days.

Pat Law, founder of the agency Goodstuph told Marketing the shop was started three years ago in a way to romance the customers and clients before actually selling their creative products or offerings.

"We didn't want to go into pitches with diagrams and charts and say we can help your e-commerce strategy. We wanted to show our clients that we have experience in the arena," said Law. She added that having an e-commerce site has also allowed the agency to experiment with new technology on its own platform before doing so for paying clients.

Like Paull, Law adds that e-commerce however is not for every agency. You need to have a distinct brand of your own.