The core purpose of the agency has always been connection. Seventy-five years ago, that simply meant connecting client to media to customer; today, it means much more. Effective brand-to-customer connections now must include data, technology and a growing number of media channels. As the landscape gets more complex, agencies that adapt to embrace it will become even more important — not less.
It’s not easy, but it is vitally important. With 7,000+ martech companies, clients are lost. They can’t assess all of the options and they certainly can’t test all of them.
Agencies have the ability to test a much wider breadth of options across their different clients, allowing them to better comprehend and recommend the best fit for each brand. Agencies also have the experience to understand the true investments needed when building out the tech stack. They can help clients onboard the solution, advise on the appropriate staffing plans to support the solution and tie together disparate solutions to maximize the investments that were made.
On top of navigating tech solutions, good agencies must also adapt to work outside of the traditional marketing department within the client structure. They must now work with IT, sales, customer service, data and of course, finance. Today, if they can’t develop solutions, discover insights and build strategy across all of those groups in order to provide true ROI and optimize to customer lifetime value, they’ll fall short.
Agencies have to be careful, however, not to rely too much on data and tech. They need to remember the most valuable connections between brand and consumer are rooted in emotion.
But even that has changed. Agencies can no longer rely on traditional outbound marketing. They can no longer push brand benefits out to masses or use heavy promotional, bait-and-switch tactics. Customers have been tuning out traditional “advertising” for years.
To circumvent that fatigue, agencies today need to think of themselves as publishers, entertainers and educators. They can no longer represent the voice of the client; they must become the connection between brand and customer.
Instead of focusing on what five messages the client wants, agencies have to understand what the customers need — and how the brand can help them. It sounds like a simple shift, but most marketers still default to answering client needs. (After all, the clients are paying the bills.)
Most clients, however, are so entrenched in their brand promise and product benefits that they struggle to understand the customers’ view. Agencies have the advantage of an outside perspective. They’re better equipped to understand customer perceptions of the brand, the industry — and even customer experiences across multiple industries.
Yes, agencies are at a crossroad. The media landscape is more complex today. The corporate landscape is evolving. Customer expectations exceed most marketing capabilities. But, if agencies can refocus on their core purpose — if they can put themselves at the intersection of data, technology, media — if they can make themselves the connection between brand and customer again, they’ll not only survive, they’ll become indispensable.