What I think is true:
Agencies are the custodians of the brand and the customer’s relationship with the brand. This is getting more complicated as much of this interaction is now digital. Agencies have to be able to navigate this landscape to serve their clients.
Where agencies win:
Agencies win because they have built a reputation for the delivery of creativity and clients believe creative thinking is the best/only way for them to standout. This is particularly true in a digital world. The moment of truth for a brand used to be the consumer at the supermarket shelf. Now the moment of truth is spread across digital channels and it’s 24×7.
Agencies are also good at outsourcing. They don’t make commercials, shoot photography etc
Agencies have a legitimate position in the “innovation” stakes table but have a narrow definition of innovation and lack the technical credentials to really deliver.
Where agencies lose:
In the digital space most agencies have been good at selling the dream and poor at delivering. The technical skills, strategy and product skills have been missing. I’ve seen a number of big ideas fail because:
- The agency did not understand scaling platforms.
- The programmers had been sold in at cost and for too little time and they rebelled.
- The project management frameworks were not in place to hold the client to account for their side of the bargain.
- Digital strategy is a broad and often poorly understood term at agencies and clients. It also covers a broad spectrum of activities and clients and agencies are only able to consume their own part of the puzzle and unable to make it part of a bigger picture. The consulting companies have done a much better job at this level.
- Agencies should have invested in UX but did not.
The Other issues:
This digital environment is moving quickly and changing. The delivery of marketing outcomes in the next few years will look entirely different to today. Mobile is a fundamental shift in behaviour for consumers and it’s more difficult for advertising than the internet was. Also the current generation of platforms – I’m talking predominately about Sitecore and Adobe do not really service the needs of next generation digital where data will look for patterns and content will be delivered across multiple devices and touch points. This is about the delivery of applications not pages. It’s quite different.
What to do:
There are a broad range of new skills required to navigate this landscape. Agencies either need a global strategy or deal locally with a narrower band of what is possible in-house. Next generation agencies like SapientNitro and others are technical first.
With the right structure, process and partners agencies can cover the entire spectrum of digital.
Commercial structure with process management, technical architecture, data and analytics and UX is the start.
This team can build the process, client engagement model, technical partnering model and user experience framework to commission and manage every type of job. If you accept from the outset that choosing and working with the right partners is the best place for most agencies (obviously I mean outside the BAU work of social, banners, emails etc).
Where to start:
It’s about change and transition. This means a change to the way things are done, it means change to the tools that are used, it means a change to the language and that’s a little longer term.
In the short term:
Create the process and structure to deliver any digital project and maintain the outcome in a predictable manner that delivers the right outcome to the client and is done in the “agency way”.
Build specific skills in the things you must own:
- Data and insights (probably Adobe suite centric)
- Marketing automation (Eloqua or Marketo)
- Become agile.
Develop the process and partners to deliver:
- Java applications development and CMS integrations
- .net applications and CMS integrations
Simon Van Wyl is a digital strategist who has developed and implemented strategies for many of Australia’s leading brands and is a known leader in Australia’s digital landscape.