The digital marketing agency is dead, long live the digital marketing agency

Rapidly changing technology means that engaging with people has become increasingly complex. The explosion of the search, social media and the vast amounts of data around consumers has left some people in marketing wondering if they should become more like chief information officers (CIOs) and vice versa. This has a ripple effect on agencies and brands. This is because marketing is increasingly becoming about measurement, engagements, conversion and building communities which is all driven by technology. Agencies in the age of the hippies helped many corporates understand the relationship between trends and marketing and using the then cutting edge technology of television to build brands. Today nothing much has changed. The only real difference is that the platforms of marketing have evolved from one directional to bi-directional. Power has shifted to the consumer because they have the control.

Even in today’s world, many agencies are still obsessed with the age-old idea of a one-dimensional big idea for an above the line campaign, with digital stuffed in as an afterthought. Making creative ads for the sake of making creative ads longer makes the cut. Many agencies are failing to find the links between the different attributes of marketing channels and producing measurable results that continue the consumer journey beyond first view of the ad.

The agencies that will survive the digital revolution are agencies that are able to generate great ideas and strategically integrate paid, owned and earned media channels with the big idea. This really means that the idea of a separate media agency and creative agency is being challenged by that of the converged agency. Great creative must be able to maximise the potential of a large number of platforms and adapt to the changes that come with technology. Silos are clearly an increasing problem from a client perspective. The converged agency or digitally focused marketing agency must have its focus on every marketing channel and create strategies that are fully integrated and leverage the unique strengths of all of these channels.

If we look at the history of the older digital agencies out there, many started with web design and development as a main focus in the mid to late ’90s. Over the years, technology evolved and they added things like ORM, and social media to their armouries. These agencies exist because they were able to fulfil a need that the traditional agencies did not fully understand .

Furthermore, many big brands were still confused about whether a website belonged to the IT department or the marketing department. This model of growth that digital agencies grew is unsustainable with specialist agencies as an exception because the scope of marketing is far greater than just technology platforms. That’s one of the reasons why there is such a large emphasis on technology platforms and less on content which should actually be the other way around because content with context is what the game is all about.

Traditionally digital agencies would have separate departments for different functions such as SEO, PPC, Media, Creative, Analytics etc. The converged agency will challenge this model because of increasing interdependence of variables marketing channels. For instance, there would be social media and content for SEO and digital integration on above the line campaigns.
This demands more open collaboration between individuals that have a broad strategic understanding of marketing and technology. The challenge is that these types of individuals are few and far between, which means the converged agency must have a clear training and retention strategy. Furthermore, the internal focus of this collaborative team should not be the brand but the needs of the people buying from brand or using its products. Well-crafted content should fulfill these needs with relevant engagement on the appropriate platforms.

The converged agency is clearly an integrated communications partner but the bigger question is, are corporate structures ready for this type of world when many marketing and digital managers still work in silos? Silos are simply treason to good ideas because they limit scope of thinking from agencies. It’s not only agencies that are going through change but corporate chief marketing officers too. I would even argue that CIOs need to start chatting about collaboration and challenging structures to accommodate the challenges that technology is creating in the marketing mix.

In conclusion, one thing is clear: the structure and the converged agency is based on content marketing attributes as discussed above and will become the core competency of the converged agency because people are occupying the space usually reserved for brands by moving to the centre of the engagement. The converged agency sounds like a very hard type of agency to pull off in the context of many agencies today but Nelson Mandela once said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”

by Zibusiso Mkhwanazi