Next month will mark the (gulp) 20th year of my tenure in "digital strategy." I started working on projects back in 1994 using Mozilla, Usenet, and WebCrawler as my guides. The World (its 2006 website is still live at www.std.com) was my ISP. We were still more attentive to CD-ROMs than graphical websites. Hair was still on my head, my dogs were not yet born, and my career was still developing. It was also 20 years ago, in 1994, that the first web design agencies — what became USWeb, Agency.com, and others — started to emerge.
I mention this anniversary, because, like other industries that evolve quickly, the concept of a "digital agency" has become somewhat of an anachronism, if not categorized properly. Specialized agencies that deliver digital capabilities are common, as are the digital or interactive practices within tradition creative, media, and consulting firms. Because of this new and more complicated mix of participants, marketers have shifted their agency relationships to more project based work, at more types of agencies, and with less long term commitment to any one firm.
As we head into the fourth year of the age of the customer — a 20-year business cycle that began in 2010 in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers — focused marketing innovation programs are now table stakes to enter this new customer-controlled game.
My latest report on marketing innovation discusses how companies are creating and where they are locating marketing innovation labs and talent to meet aggressive goals to win in this new age of increasingly empowered customers — "The Costs And Benefits Of Marketing Innovation Labs" (paid subscriber access required). The primary goal of these labs is to create new customer experiences and brand engagement that take divergent and discontinuous leaps from previous efforts. Some of the labs are focused more on technology transfer back into the organization, while others are focused on changing the culture of the organization and laying the groundwork for an entirely new mindset to emerge. Whichever focus they choose for their innovation labs, these organizations know they now must invest in customer experience and brand engagement innovation just like they did during the age of information (1990-2010) in supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, and back-office systems innovation and talent.