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The consumerization of agency services

For many marketing executives in the mid-market, digital disruption is the “Justin Bieber” of business: popular enough that they have to pay attention – but annoying enough that they wish they didn’t have to. One CMO at a large publishing company told me recently, “I know we’re supposed to innovate and create this technology-driven change, but I’ve got five years until I retire. I’m going to let the kid behind me take care of all of that.”

Digital disruption, and everything that comes along with it, has been particularly pronounced on companies in the mid-market.  They’ve been squeezed from above and below. Unlike a small business, they have intertwined sales, marketing, and communication efforts. They can’t simply transform their marketing operations overnight. But unlike a large enterprise, they often have smaller staffs and less ability to delegate. They can’t afford to simply “buy” their way out of it.

In my newest Insight Brief called How Agencies Can Bridge Gaps for Mid-Market Success – I start to explore how marketing agencies must, themselves, transform to find success in acting as a bridge to the future for these mid-market clients suffering from disruption “fatigue”.

The Future Is Yesterday’s News

There’s a wonderful quote by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr that goes – “prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” Yet, that’s arguably the day job of every marketer today. Increasingly, the digital promises of technology and data are that they will help the marketer make better predictions about the future of their efforts. “And so”, says the CEO, “please do”.

The challenge, of course, is that this requirement makes it near impossible to do anything truly innovative and new. Marketers utilize what they’ve already done as the flawed input for prediction of the future. And once the imperfections – as well as the overwhelming size – of all that effort becomes clear, the marketer usually determines that its time to either wait for retirement (see above) or bring in outsourced help.

And, yes, you can still count on every marketing conference session starting with statistics about the changing future of consumer behavior. But ironically – precisely because of the speed at which change is occurring – determining the future isn’t about steeling ourselves for the latest conference session PowerPoint predictions about what business will be like in the future. No. As I just wrote in another piece, marketers must simply agree that change is what’s important. “Into what?” is another question that’s candidly less so.

As my colleague Dr. Tim Walters says (much more elegantly as always):

“Business 2020 isn’t a prediction about the conditions business will face in the future. It is a statement about what they must do today in order to have a future.”

Agencies – Be Careful What You Ask For

I would argue that the opportunity for agencies to partner with mid-market companies to help mid-market companies with this transformation has never been so rich. From content execution for content marketing programs, alignment of customer journeys to create rich consumer experiences, to even technology selection, implementation and ongoing strategy – agencies can truly be the bridge to the future for these enterprises.

But look out agencies – other kids are catching on to the beat of this pop song. Publishers like Conde Naste, Time Warner, Wall Street Journal and The Guardian have all started agency-like services to help brands with creating content-driven customer experiences (much to John Oliver’s ire). Media companies like Cox and Clear Channel have done the same thing. Smaller agencies are taking advantage of moving quickly to focus in on very niche level services. And, increasingly, early adopters such as Apple, Pandora, Screenvision and others are building in-house creative agencies.

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Agency CEO and all the ships at sea – the world of marketing services has been disrupted too.

Even our friends at Forrester have noticed this.  As analyst Liz Herbert has said:

 “companies are increasingly turning to third-party services that can provide new ideas and unique skill sets to accelerate the digital business journey. [However] they struggle to find the right partners, especially with so many smaller partners gaining relevance – and with nearly all services providers rebranding themselves as ‘digital’.

This is critical: for mid-market companies, partnering with agencies to prioritize and execute customer experience initiatives – as well as the implementation, integration and incorporation of the technologies that support them – can be an optimal way to innovate and deliver value.

But agencies – you better realize that just like your client’s customers – your new client is empowered too. They are bringing their own devices, their own experiences and their own expectations to the table. As Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, said: “blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can be a fatal mistake.”

Yup. You’ve been consumerized.

Your clients may not be asking for more personalized, holistic and relevant content-driven experiences.  But you can bet that they’re assuredly expecting them to be there. So no more “cobbler’s kids” excuses. Smart agencies are exploring ways to disrupt their entire methodology for delivering smart innovative experiences to clients. By discovering these new ways to partner – they may also find that they’ll surprise, delight and create better experiences themselves.

Download the brief: How Agencies Can Bridge Gaps For Mid-Market Success


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