Redefining The Agency Relationship

Digital Marketing Trends


I’m not exaggerating when I say that the impact of digital and mobile technology has changed the agency’s traditional role—and value proposition—forever.

From my ringside seat as Marketo’s VP of Alliances, I’ve watched in real time the rapid change in the constellation of marketing partnerships. The shifts are everywhere and they are profound, particularly in how technology is redefining decades-old agency relationships with marketers.

To put this in context, think back a few years to when the agency was figuratively the CMO’s right arm. Anytime you had a meeting, at least one representative from the agency also sat in the room to help the CMO think through brand and creative decisions.

But today, this paradigm has begun to change.

Don Draper needs to get his geek on

The agency-as-right-arm was typical in the `Mad Men’ era, but with the emergence of new digital and social channels of communication, people now expect brands to interact with them in the ways that they want to interact.

This takes place as digital ad growth is exploding. It’s a pivotal moment with big opportunities. But as the relationship between consumers and marketers evolves, more than ever marketing executives need agencies to guide them through the digital landscape.

It’s still a slog. A study by the Association of National Advertisers and McKinsey found that “systems, processes, budgets and metrics are still designed largely around mass campaigns and promotions” and “old-school methods of broadcasting to customers.”

An overwhelming 96% of the executives polled said they wanted to make data-informed decisions a priority. But incredibly more than one-third said their companies still don’t use digital data. And nearly half reported that they don’t yet have the right analytics in place.

The changes forced by digital can be daunting to CMOs who don’t have the skills to deal with this new world order. Here’s where agencies can step in. Many are fast expanding their traditional expertise in brand and creative to include expertise in data and technology. And they are increasingly in a position to help to pull together mobile and web data in coherent ways to enable CMOs to act on marketing insights.

How am I doing?

Wherever it starts, CMOs need to know how to understand the customer journey and to serve up the right piece of content at the right time. It could start with a mobile interaction or a video interaction, maybe from a laptop or tablet computer or a smart television. Eventually, this will expand to the world of IoT (Internet of Things) where everything from a fitness tracker to a refrigerator offering the potential to trigger marketing messages.

That’s a big opportunity, but it also presents big challenges as day in, day out, the marketing landscape continues to explode, leaving the bewildered CMO wondering about the next step. `Oh gosh, I’m supposed to be the expert on all this advertising and marketing tech? I don’t know what to do about it, and my team doesn’t know either. Somebody needs to be the expert.’

That’s where agencies come in.

Shifting role of agencies

Is it any coincidence that more agencies are acquiring (or building) systems integrators to bolster their ability to draw insights out of digital data? Agencies have always been the experts on data and creative, not so much when it comes to technology or analytics. That’s why we’re seeing a blending take place with more agencies seeking to acquire or partner with technology shops. On this thread, we’ve seen Publicis paid $3.7 billion to buy Sapient last year. Other big companies, including the likes of WPP, Accenture, Deloitte, Google, and Facebook, have snapped up creative services shops. The rationale: create one-stop shops for marketers, offering everything from website design to ad buying to management of its e-commerce functionality—and more.

No time to waste

As Nissan’s global marketing chief, Roel de Vries, pointed out on an earlier occasion, marketers now must make sense of an enormous amount of data that’s complex and expanding.

But they need to resist the temptation to bring this functionality in-house. This sort of expertise is scarce and expensive. Don’t risk watching someone else poach away your coveted talent after a year or two in the job. This job is best served by agencies who can reach deep inside their organizations for talent and serve as the connective tissue between creative and tech.

Which sort of agency should you select as a partner? There’s no single answer—corporate culture and geographical proximity obviously factor in—but the best choice will be an agency that can demonstrate the kind of expertise that helps a CMO or marketing team reach their business goals. They ought to be able to detail precisely how they’ll help beyond mumbling clichés about getting `a whole bunch of eyeballs.’

CMOs don’t have time to waste as they grapple with the advent of mobile and social and cookie-based marketing, not to mention Facebook and Google. They will need partners who can help turn big data into business insights and help deliver measurable outcomes. It’s a new world out there.

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