The evolution of digital agencies

by Grant Lapping: Digital Executive at new-age systems integrator, +OneX.
Digital transformation remains a top-of-agenda item for most brands and agencies in South Africa. But even though organisations understand the burning urgency of becoming digital first, achieving this state is proving to be more complex and time-consuming than most anticipated when they started this journey 15 or even 20 years ago.

There are some companies, such as Discovery, that have made strides in the right direction. From the end-user’s perspective, Discovery’s digital platforms span the company’s business siloes to offer a seamless, personalised experience in managing your wellness, money and insurance. Behind the simplicity of the customer front-end, the back-end systems driving the experience are extremely complex.

But most brands and agencies have yet to achieve this seamless experience in their digital marketing practices. This is largely because brands and their digital agencies haven’t built up the technology and data skillsets needed, alongside their strong creative capabilities, which are necessary to drive successful marketing in the digital age.

Indeed, there is a disconnect in the digital world where brands’ internal IT and marketing teams work at arm’s length and where companies turn to different firms for digital business consulting, creative services and technical skills. In today’s data-driven world, it is essential to bring all these capabilities together to deliver winning strategies.

The complexity behind creating seamless digital experiences

In years gone by, marketing was about creative thinking and using intuition to generate innovative ideas that would position a brand or product in a way that resonates with consumers. While brands could use tools such as focus groups and quantitative surveys to ideate ahead of a campaign or to measure success after a campaign, they didn’t have access to real-time data or the volumes of information they can access today.

The end-user data harvested on programmatic search and social media platforms, along with the first-party data brands can collect via their own digital platforms, gives us rich information about customers’ needs, preferences, behaviour and context. Modern artificial intelligence tools and machine learning algorithms make it possible to generate actionable insights from the data.

Brands can use these insights to create personalised messages for each customer to improve customer engagement, retention and conversion. The data allows brands to focus their marketing spend on the customers most likely to convert, vastly improving efficiency and improving ROI. The insights also enable brands to optimise their campaigns in real time to improve performance.

But to do all of this, a brand’s marketing team and agency need to have the technical skills to configure programmatic platforms and internal systems such as CRM applications correctly. Agencies need deep technical skills in the application programming interfaces (APIs) such as server-side tracking, Meta CAPI and Google’s enhanced conversions.

Why technical skills are critical in a post-cookie world

These skills are becoming even more important in a post-cookie world. Just a few of the technical proficiencies which have become important in this environment include effective attribution modelling, correct structuring and set up of Google Analytics, real time reporting dashboards, cloud computing and, most importantly, integration of first-party data into the ad platforms.

Digital agencies that don’t have these skills risk falling behind in an environment where clients are seeking full-service offerings. The biggest question now is whether an agency that has both capabilities should position itself as creative-led or technology-led. The correct answer to this question is not about which capability is most important, but rather about which is the differentiator that clients are seeking.

At this juncture, for many brands, technology skills are the missing piece. Great creative strategies are executed by talented teams, but this expertise exists across most established South African ad agencies. But digital technology is evolving fast and skills are hard to find. Most marketers and agencies are struggling to keep up.

Either way, these two competencies require different types of people for successful execution. This is why we have seen so many mergers of creative agencies with management and technology consultancies that have established technical skills bases. The ultimate goal is to deliver integrated services that combine creativity with technological sophistication. By combining the strengths of both domains, agencies and brands can create campaigns that are not only creatively compelling but also optimised and data-driven, meeting the evolving needs of their clients.

Useful resources:
+OneX is a new-age solutions and systems integrator that helps enterprises to excel in a dual-speed technology world. As an end-to-end digital transformation partner, +OneX collaborates with clients to use cloud, data, security, and unified communications technologies to solve their business problems
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