Choosing an agency partner in a changing digital marketing landscape

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Photo: Thinkstock/BrianAJackson
Photo: Thinkstock/BrianAJackson

The right level of attributes, criteria and requirements can help lead the search, says iQuanti's head of client services.

The agency world is crowded. In this landscape the brand, partner firm and channel mix is dynamic, and has hyper-extended the agency model as brands have tried to adapt and exploit the array of data available to influence marketing strategy. 

Marketing analytics vs. data science
While depictions of advertising in pop culture haven’t always shown agency life as dominated by research and analysis, the model has a strong tradition. As marketing outputs have been commoditized with the explosion of digital, the focus on data science has been supplanted in many cases by quick-hitting analytics. Impressions, clicks, click-through-rates, starts and stops are easily obtained by basic web analytic platforms like Google Analytics. This is useful information and certainly important, but true data science requires more patience and talent investment.

Data science requires a commitment to resourcing, infrastructure and modeling of marketing data. Brands that are committed to data science are studying propensity models, exploring macro and micro factors, building marketing attribution frameworks and building stories from data, not just reporting "clicks." Brands and partners are building customer data management platforms and staffing with Chief Data Officers, signifying the importance they place on enterprise data.

For those who wonder about the agency model of the future, where the industry is evolving and how clients should fashion their internal teams as well as partner selection, some great criteria points to remember include the three C’s:

Consequential: Would your brand be the agency’s largest client? Would it be the smallest? The key is to be consequential, ensure great senior interaction and input without being the "keep the lights on" client—regardless of size.

Chemistry: Data can provide great insight and precision, but human relationships still drive business. Is the firm or agency a good fit for your culture? Can the velocity be matched? Will there be a true, mutual, partnership vs a standoff vendor dynamic?

Case Study: Having a fresh perspective is great, and hyper-specialization can sometimes lead to myopic thinking, but the right partner should have a practice, experience and multiple case studies in the brand’s specific business area.

Choosing the right marketing services partner is consequential. Nike has a longstanding relationship with R/GA and has reaped rewards for being a pioneer with connected devices, IoT and integrated fitness. Cadillac ended a long-standing agency relationship and forged a new one, and sales have rocketed in recent months. While not a complete arbiter of success, choosing the right marketing partner can be the catalyst–or the stumbling block—for brand momentum.

The future
We’ve seen trends in the digital marketing space accelerate around data. The right strategic marketing partner would bring foresight and adaptability to a partnership:

Experience vs desktop
The stagnation and decline of desktop usage will continue to accelerate, and more user journeys will begin and complete within mobile devices, be aided by home devices and need to be optimized for these experiences. 

Spatial
Localization, geographic precision and targeting of consumers will continue to improve, and a value exchange between users willing to sacrifice some privacy (within reason) for greater experiences will solidify. The consumer will continue to drive this evolution, increasingly making purchase decisions based on brand, products and services that are well-optimized to be found and provide swift response. Connecting product, service, platform, description and metadata with geography, device, location and experience will be imperative for products and brands.

Platforms vs impressions
Platforms such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Apple will continue to dominate both monetized ad inventory (such as AdWords, Facebook Advertising, Bing) as well as experience (Apple iTunes) and utility (Google, Apple app marketplaces) and commerce (Amazon, Google Shopping.) 

Publishers outside this orbit will need to adapt to provide excellent experience, transparent delivery of impressions and compelling content and experiences to drive audiences, particularly in a dynamic where consumers visit few independent domains each year and consolidate, curate and refine their digital experience specific platforms, applications and systems. Advertisers will need to explore inventive, creative ways to penetrate these experiences with compelling partnerships and experiences, while balancing strategic spend with outside publishers. 

Predictive
Display and other targeting platforms have become more and more accurate and predictive of targeting intent, the stage of consumers on specific journey paths and propensity of conversion. While a "holy grail" of 100 percent efficacy won’t be achieved, AI and machine learning platforms will provide the backbone for current and emerging martech platforms such as ad serving and marketing automation platforms, and the effectiveness will increase over time. 

Adaptive
Creative messaging and cross-device delivery improvement are two areas of adaptation that are increasingly driving better results, and digital marketers that invest time and effort here will continue to be rewarded. Multivariate testing on site destinations and dynamic creative platforms—literal manifestations of adaptation—will continue to improve. The speed of delivery of digital content and the ability of brand destinations to adapt to user devices, connections, locations and modes of communication will become an increasingly important aspect of campaign optimization.

Transparent and credible
Publishers, platforms and app experience will increasingly refine their delivery to provide credible, relevant and quality content and experiences to users. The push to remove clickbait, bot-driven and fraudulent content and inventory is a long-needed and positive development for brands and users alike. The ANA-sponsored study on transparent media buying, compensation and delivery practices uncovered considerable challenges in the media monetization chain, leaving many brands with a feeling of distrust based on agency and trading desk practices. While consumers will enjoy more transparency, value exchange and experience improvement with credible practices, brands will demand more transparency into fee, compensation and commission structures with agency, publisher and trading intermediaries.

Choosing the right partner can be a daunting proposition, but the right level of attributes, criteria and requirements can help lead the search in the months ahead. As someone who knew something about the relationship between agency and brand once said, "Every client gets what they deserve." And David Ogilvy didn’t even have Twitter.

Brent Trimble is VP, Head of Client Services & Strategic Solution at iQuanti.