The 5 Traits of the Agency of the Future

Don Scales is president & CEO of digital agency iCrossing. Follow him on Twitter @Don_Scales.

Successful agencies help their clients build closer relationships with their audiences.
But to build connected brands for clients, agencies themselves need to move beyond
their obsession with digital channels and get focused on understanding audiences.
And they need to do so in real time. The future agency will build connected brands —
not digital brands — and will possess the below.

Real-time connectedness
It’s just one attribute that agencies of the future must possess. Connected brands have strong relationships with their audiences and use digital to build those relationships, as opposed to simply embracing digital for the sake of being digital. The future belongs to real-time connected brands — those companies that are always present for always-on consumers, who are increasingly savvy in the way they use search tools and a network of digital media platforms and devices to connect with your brand in real time. Being a connected brand means being present when these consumers are talking and interacting with you. Failing to respond to, say, a tourist having a negative experience in your hotel can create a customer service nightmare. On the positive side, happy Instagram and Pinterest photos create opportunities for you to do some real-time marketing with your own presence on these platforms.

Accountable creative
One of the greatest misconceptions in modern marketing is that agencies can work in big data or in big creative but not both. The truth is, creative becomes more powerful and connectedness more personal when marketers apply rigorous audience data to develop the big idea for their clients. In the future, agencies must more effectively devise and deliver on great ideas and develop even stronger ROI metrics to measure the value of our ideas. We have a long way to go.

Nimble technology
If Apple has taught us anything, it’s the huge impact that new technology has on the way we live. As a consumer, I love keeping up on new gadgets and technological advances. But anticipating and responding to technological change isn’t always easy for agencies, whether we’re trying to help our clients make sense of near-field communications or applying responsive design. I used to think that owning proprietary technologies was the best way to anticipate and respond to the pace of technological change. But in the future, simply being nimble with technology will be essential to success, whether you own your own or partner with someone else.

Data mastery
You’ve heard agencies and thought leaders discuss big data ad nauseam by now. Successful agencies have stopped talking about the emergence of big data and started applying smart data to give clients more insight into their audiences. I didn’t refer to customer insight; I mean audience insight. We’re seeing the maturation of research tools and technologies like data management platforms that are finally giving CMOs an understanding of how consumers, customers, ex-customers and influencers interact with their brands. Agencies that understand how to interpret the rich data provided by a DMP in the digital world can provide the kind of audience insight that CMOs need to thrive.

Global branding
Everything I’ve discussed here needs to be done on a global scale to matter to any CMO. I’m not talking about launching more offices around the world, although having a global presence is important. I mean helping clients learn how to understand their audiences around the world — and to be present for them at the right place and at the right time. You don’t need to be a digital expert to understand intuitively that a brand with a Web presence in England needs to use language that differs from the website experience in the United States. Good agencies already know how to customize a brand presence. But successful agencies of the future increasingly rely on tools such as linguistic profiles and DMPs to help clients understand how their customers interact with their brands across websites, social media platforms, search engines and mobile devices from one market to the next — and adapt their branded content for consumers as they travel. The customer experience journey knows no borders. Global agencies will help their clients build connected brands with the everywhere consumer.

To succeed in the future, agencies must embrace real-time connectedness, practice
accountable creativity, be technologically nimble, master data and think globally to
build connected brands for clients. Mark my word: connectedness is key.

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