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.
When we set out to evaluate the new breed of firm that we call "customer engagement agencies," we sent our initial screener to an incredibly long list of firms -- over sixty, in fact! -- ranging from MSPs to digital agencies to management consultancies. We felt that we needed to cast a wide net if we wanted to understand the range of approaches vendors take to customer engagement: how they use data and analytics, the channels they enable with customer intelligence, and how they service their most strategically engaged clients. As the responses rolled in, a hypothesis began to take shape in my mind: The emerging customer engagement agency model hails from two mature markets -- digital/direct agencies and database MSPs -- and, depending on provenance, these evolving agencies take one of two primary approaches to customer engagement.
Turns out, I was on the right track, though the reality is not quite so black and white.
In our final evaluation of 13 vendors in The Forrester Wave: Customer Engagement Agencies, Q4 2012, we did find different strengths and weaknesses depending on legacy business model, but ultimately EVERY firm still has a long road ahead of evolving its people and processes to support CEA clients. We also found, though, that each CEA we evaluated is working hard to connect the dots between strategy, analytics and execution in order to optimize customer experience and profitability. And that can only be a good thing for the marketers and CI leaders who are visionary enough to hire them.
Cannes this year is hosting more and more evidence of the disappearance of lines between “digital” and “advertising”: A mobile category was launched; the new Branded Content and Entertainment category includes subcategories such as “best use or integration of user generated content”; Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was named Media Person of the Year and . . .
. . . WPP used the international advertising festival to announce it is acquiring digital agency AKQA and incorporating it as a separate network within WPP.
AKQA is a great pickup for WPP. It's not only one of the biggest indies left but one of the best at blending creative and technology skills in one organization — a mix that doesn’t always live together easily.
It also fills a hole for WPP. AKQA aspires to a category of agencies I call “brand transformers” that are about more than communications and look to leverage digital capabilities to help clients enter new adjacent product and service areas.
Very interesting that it will be a standalone brand and not folded into one of WPP’s existing networks. Digital agencies VML and Blast Radius bring similar capabilities but are locked in the Y&R network; WPP gains flexibility by having AKQA “at large” in its holdings. In addition, AKQA is a little too big to fold into another network easily, but will need to build heft quickly if it wants to remain separate. Otherwise, in a couple of years, WPP will merge it with other assets.
I think it’s likely Interpublic and Omnicom will react. WPP clearly sees digital as essential to its future. This acquisition definitely puts some distance between WPP and Omnicom, which had been pretty close, and Interpublic, which has a couple of strong assets but doesn’t have the strategic focus that WPP and Publicis do.
We've spent a lot of time in the past year looking at how the customer intelligence services landscape is changing. For one thing, it's a heck of a lot more chaotic: everyone from management consultants to systems integrators to KPO vendors is putting a stake in the ground of CI services. We've also seen a dramatic shift in the way some digital & direct agencies and database MSPs are thinking about their most strategic client relationships. This change has been so noticeable that, a few months ago, we actually published research that defines a new business model: The Customer Engagement Agency (CEA).
It's no surprise that clients and vendors alike are excited about this model. These agencies help elevate customer intelligence within the client organization. They bring attention and focus to the importance of customer knowledge, and they work hard at infusing that knowledge throughout every customer touchpoint. They measure customer value, not just marketing campaigns. And they help clients use CI to answer questions about everything from product development to logistics and resource management.
But, this is an emerging market — the players are evolving from very different backgrounds; they offer substantially different "value-added" capabilities; and many of them have proprietary methods and models that make it hard to compare apples to apples.
That's why we've just kicked off a Customer Engagement Agency WaveTM that will publish in the fall. If you're intrigued with the idea of working with a CEA, I encourage you to:
Once again, I'm going to write an overview of the European interactive design agency market to help Forrester clients identify design agencies to help them with their projects in Europe. The report title will be "2012: Where To Get Help For Interactive Design Projects In Europe." Participants will receive a copy of the research and their details will be included in the report.
I would like to invite interactive design agencies in Europe to participate. Please complete the agency survey at the following location:
The survey is designed to gather data from European firms that have significant experience in designing and developing digital experiences (web, mobile, etc.). Survey questions cover interactive agency size, practice areas, industry expertise, locations, and a range of costs for typical engagements. If you know any agencies that should be included in my report, please forward the survey link to them or show them this blog post.
P.S. If you want a preview of the survey, you can see all the questions on the following site:
I am excited! Not just about the fact that Forrester's Marketing Forum is just around the corner. I am excited because I just got to spend some time with Ross Martin, the energetic executive vice president (EVP) of MTV Scratch. His team is a center of innovation at MTV for helping marketers connect with millenials, and his enthusiasm for the next digital decade is palpable. If you are coming to the Forum in San Francisco next week, you will get to hear Ross and his client and counterpart Jim Trebilcock, CMO at Dr. Pepper Snapple (DPS) Group, talk about the nationwide launch of Sun Drop soda that kicked off a few weeks ago.
Not to spoil that story, here are some of the things Ross and I discussed about the future of marketing:
DC: Given what you have done with DPS, what do you see as the future agency model? Can media companies replace agencies?
RM: We see new and inspiring work from agencies every day and have been lucky to collaborate with some great partners. Much has been said about the challenges agencies face with so many new models emerging. We believe these new models will continue to evolve, as agencies large and small pursue new ways to serve their clients.
Great agencies will look to capitalize on the strengths of media companies in both traditional and nontraditional ways — from ad sales and integrated marketing to the kinds of services Scratch offers, such as design and product planning, retail activation, creative execution, social media, marketing strategy, and more.
You may not know the name Michael Greene, but if you're a Forrester client or you read this blog regularly then you've certainly seen his work. As a researcher on our team, Michael produces some great research -- most notably on the topics of sponsorships and video advertising. Below, Michael shares his thoughts on one of our latest research topics, sourcing video creative:
I'm just back from the Fourth Annual Cross Media Forum put on by BIMA, the Boston Interactive Media Association, a MITX organization. I thought the depth of content from the event was exceptional. It included: