The Post-Digital Agency
At Digital Matters 2015, one thing was abundantly clear; we’re living in a post-YouTube world. In this new marketplace, brands can connect with influencers either directly or via platforms like the Twitter-owned Niche. So where, if at all, does the agency fit into this constantly shifting landscape?
“Everyone can own a piece of the digital landscape, so how do you create a strategy that you can integrate and leverage across the form? I think that’s the question,” says Emily Ketchen, Regional Head of Marketing Services at HP. Prior to her current role, Ketchen spent more than half her career in agencies. “Different models of agencies are emerging all over the place,” she says. “If I think about a traditional agency vs. an agency that would help us do things, it’s not the same. The digital space is moving so quickly, and so many people have a role in it, that it can no longer sit with one single organisation, and I think that’s something clients and agencies have to continue to figure out.”
Andrew Trimboli, Head of Content Strategy, Sapient Nitro APAC, believes a greater depth of understanding is crucial not just in agencies but also for clients. “Seeing a brief to ‘go viral’ just makes you want to shoot yourself,” he says. “Do you subscribe to what’s being subscribed to by your fans? Do you know the kind of content and language they’re using? That’s instrumental in reaching consumers these days… I think we, as an industry, are overwhelmed by the complexity.”
Trimboli isn’t alone in this thinking. “The bravest brands as far as I’m concerned are the ones who aren’t afraid to truly, truly listen to their consumers, and make content that’s consumer-centric, not brand-centric first,” says Josh Black, CEO of GroupM. “It’s about knowing what’s important to your consumers in their world, not just in your category.” When you can relate and talk to them on a human level, says Black, then they will respond.
“I think in general technology companies have to innovate all the time around their products and solutions and services, but marketers have to innovate too,” says Ketchen. Stuart LaBrooy, Digital Content and Collaboration Expert at SK-II, takes a somewhat different view towards innovation for its own sake. “I think the ‘campaign’ is endangered and it should die,” he says. “It’s so inefficient when every year you have to come up with something new, instead of trying to build something long-term. Your consumer hasn’t changed in the last year, so why should your messaging have to change?” Instead, he advocates building a strong foundation from which your brand storytelling can naturally evolve.
That’s not to say all traditional models are 100% obsolete, something on which Ketchen and DeBrooy agree, especially when it comes to the emerging trend of consumers and influencers pivoting back into TV. But that behaviour, says DeBrooy, needs much more exploration.
While Trimboli believes that as more brands take their content in-house this could pose a “danger” to traditional agencies, Black is skeptical. “Some brands like Marriott and Red Bull do really good in-house content,” he says, “but it’s rare that they manage this consistently, especially when it comes to distribution.” An alternative model that could well work, they suggest, is the “horizontality” concept preached by Sir Martin Sorrell, where people from different companies and disciplines within WPP come together to best serve the client.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. Rather, the transition of video content to mobile and the evolution of influencer marketing mark exciting new opportunities, as long as agencies never rest on their laurels when it comes to knowing where to find and how to reach the ever-fickle consumer. In his parting words of advice to agencies, brands and influencers in the audience, Black quotes Rupert Murdoch. “Content is king, but distribution is queen,” he says. “And she wears the pants.”