The year ahead in digital agencies

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Huge's CEO questions whether the "digital" sobriquet still holds meaning in 2015

In the US, 2015 will be defined by two major new dynamics: the death of the "digital" agency and the "Uberization" of marketing. 

An end to "digital" agencies. Here’s a secret: The best digital agencies can now do the same things that great creative agencies can do. Over the last few years, marketers have come to see their brands as being defined through digital interaction and are now thinking about everything they do in the context of the digital world we live in. This is driving massive convergence in the industry: Digital agencies have long since evolved from the realm of banner ads and microsites to fuse their expertise in engineering and experience design with the planning, production and creative abilities that used to belong exclusively to ad agencies. 

Clients are mainly concerned with solving their marketing problems and increasingly that requires integrated solutions. Think of a TV spot on Hulu. Is that a digital spot or a broadcast ad in the traditional sense? More and more, we are reminded that the names and categories that defined the industry even five years ago are irrelevant today. Businesses are primarily interacting with customers in these blended mixed-media worlds and brands have to increase their marketing message in a digital way. 

For any agency to be effective in the year ahead — digital or otherwise — it’s not enough to just be able to execute in digital; agencies must also be effective at marketing in a digital-first world and at driving digital transformation in business. Brands are realizing that their strongest partners in this new environment are agencies that naturally share a digital-first (and user-centric) worldview.

Simply, there is a greater share of time spent consuming content and experiences digitally, so brands are looking for marketing and business solutions that embrace that perspective regardless of whether the provider is a "digital agency" or a creative agency. 2015 promises to be the year that the "digital" agency moniker recedes, as digital agencies compete for and win more control over both brand strategy and creative. There will no longer be "digital agencies" and "creative agencies," just agencies that excel at both. 

Anticipatory design and the Uberization of marketing. Another thing digital agencies will be faced with this year is a noticeable shift to data-based technologies and artificial intelligence in support of user relationship management. Instead of the old customer-centric approach like single-use emails, brands will begin to take a much more anticipatory role in their communication and will need to think about relationships with their users across the entire user lifecycle.  

Not only will brands be trying to anticipate what users need, they will also be more helpful along the way. Take, for example, the automated online grocery shopping and delivery experiences now being offered. I can now get things delivered on demand, but the next obvious step is tracking my habits and anticipating that I’ll need eggs this week before I even have to order them.

This "Uberization" of everything will eventually mean you won’t even have to push the button to order your car. Your address book will know when and where you need to go, and your car will show up when you need it.

We believe brands should be operating as smart systems that help you better live, run and manage your life, and that the advantages of operating this way will shape the world over the next five years. As a result, designing anticipatory products and automated experiences is one of our primary focuses, and I believe it will become a major requirement for digitally led agencies in 2015. 

Aaron Shapiro is CEO of Huge.

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