Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 | 6 min read
Good agencies always have an eye on the next big thing; truly great agencies help to create it. Although, it’s hard to know which ‘next big thing’ will actually make it big.
I have first hand experience of what happens when an agency gets it right. A few years back, I worked at an agency that made a big bet on Facebook advertising. The gamble paid off: we made record profits, won awards, and we were acquired by Sprinklr.
Nobody could have predicted how big Facebook advertising would become, but right now I’m certain there is an bigger shakeup on the way: brands will need a monumental amount of help with data from agencies. You might think this is already the case, but I’m not talking about brands dipping their toes into data for marketing or CRM, I’m talking about completely restructuring their entire operation around data that includes every detail on how their customers experience their products or services. This is the next big thing.
Digital native brands like Google and Amazon currently know exactly where, when, why, and how long customers use their products, but it’s much harder for a 100-year-old chocolate bar manufacturer. They never really know when, why, or how people eat the chocolate bar with any real scale or accuracy. The tech to harvest this data isn’t widely available yet, but it’s coming.
What brand manager wouldn’t sell their soul for access to this information? And when they do, they’ll need someone to help them work out how to turn that raw data into business strategy. So as an agency, if you want to be ready for this, these are the five things you must do:
1. Make a decision and commit to it
It’s of paramount importance to make a decision about whether you want to fight on as a traditional digital agency (over the scraps of campaign work and shrinking budgets), or whether you want to embrace data and influence how brands are run.
The agencies that commit to the latter approach will become attractive acquisition targets for the supergroups of the future (such as a merged WPP/Accenture).
2. Don’t limit your scope of work
Data tech currently has a foothold in the world of consumer brands, but there is so much more to come. A data-led marketing setup really is just the beginning. Down the line many other areas of business will see a similar transformation: research, product development, pricing, supply chain, recruitment, human resources and others have potential.
As departments begin to converge around data, agencies that can work with multiple departments and tie everything together will be in high demand. For example, Facebook Messenger is now used extensively for customer care. Agencies should be able to work with clients and connect the insights gathered from customer care to their Facebook media strategy.
3. Build a team with technical knowhow
Brands will need support from agencies that have the technical knowhow to set everything up and keep it running smoothly.
So you’ll need experts in data analysis, data strategy, statistical significance, consumer behavior, customer profiling, personalized targeting, data protection, and people with the knowhow to convert numbers into winning business strategies.
You must also give these people a chance to learn and grow on the job (see No.4).
4. Invest in new technology
Don’t wait for your clients to ask you to manage a technology selection process – you should be one step ahead of them. Brands are already working out how to track when customers actually use their products – it’s in its infancy but the information is just too valuable for the industry not to work out how to harvest it. You should be ahead of the wave, not just riding it.
As new data sources become available, data will be housed in a central platform that allows all departments of a business to store, manipulate and access it. A platform that looks very much like an enterprise social media management platform.
The beauty of such a platform is its adaptability. Today, we rely on data from social media, customer services, purchase data, and website usage data. Tomorrow, it might be real-world product usage data, and in the future it might even be thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t matter, because the framework for handling, storing, managing, analyzing, and creating business strategies from this data will remain the same.
You don’t need to build this technology, but you do need to make partnerships with those who do and forge relationships with the platforms that harvest the data.
You also need to allow your staff to invest time in becoming experts in all this, so that they can truly innovate and do things that haven’t been thought of yet.
5. Make sure your clients are ready for what’s coming
Now is the time to help brands connect customer care to ads, connect content to the output of ads, to use online and real-world data to drive business decisions, and to build a detailed profile of their customers so that they can create joined up customer experiences and be ready for what’s coming.
Be the first one to speak with your clients about this. To get them thinking about product usage data, get them excited about it, and help them to direct their focus towards it. This will also demonstrate to them that you are ready for what’s coming.
I really don’t see this as a bet or a gamble. It’s a huge opportunity, and it’s the rare kind of opportunity where what’s coming is as close to inevitable as you can get. I know it’s sometimes hard to take time out to see the bigger picture, but if you want to build an in-demand agency, if you want to be acquired, or you want to win bigger clients, it’s the only way to go.
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