2013 was my first year at the AAR. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I joined as the Digital Person. What kind of “digital” would clients be looking for? Wasn’t everything digital by default? Why was there even a separate discipline for digital at the AAR? As you all are no doubt aware “digital” means a lot of different things to clients, and to agencies. Here’s a bit about what I learned in 2013.
What I can safely proclaim after all of 12 months on the job, is that what digital means is linked to where clients are on their digital journey. For some looking at eCRM is a big step to others rebuilding their entire online shop front is where they’re at. It’s relative. But you already knew that, right?
Regardless of where they start from though, they’re excited but probably also a little nervous. Digital opens up all kinds of exciting areas of exploration BUT they are all struggling with how to buy it. Let’s put on our client’s hat for a moment and think about from their point of view. A lot of you are probably in the same boat as me…digital is the default, right? Well, for the client it may well be but they are still a little suspect of agencies selling digital. Here’s why. The last one you sold them broke. It does not work anymore…on a tablet or a smart phone or a watch or a fridge. It’s broken. Also, last time you sold them some “digital” 3 years ago there were two social platforms, now there are dozens. Last time it came in blue or red. They bought the blue one. Red is now all anyone wants. They also have had to explain to their bosses why they need to go buy some new digital and why it broke. They are sticking their necks on the line to work with you. Are you beginning to see where they are coming from when they walk in our door? Now let’s look at what they are shopping for.
Looking back at 2013, the work we’ve been asked to undertake from clients falls into roughly two camps.
The first can be categorised as more traditional comms briefs where clients have been looking for agencies to help them with their digital marketing across multiple touch points – otherwise known as – owned (make my web site more engaging, relevant, personal, responsive), earned (help make my social channels more integrated with my overall brand positioning), paid (handle my digital advertising needs). For some of the larger brands, I see a trend that this type of work is being subsumed into their existing agency roster as the need for a digital specialist agency becomes less relevant to them.
“Always on” digital marketing is becoming the norm for many brands. It’s also something I increasingly believe clients, once structured for this, will bring in house in the medium term, as the need for real time marketing delivered by the brand champions becomes paramount. For the short term though, there is a role to play for the agency who delivers these services. My watch out though is this: these are seen as services by many brands. In order for agencies to continue to provide value in this area they have to invest more in the inception and delivery of digital strategy for their clients.
The second type of brief I saw a lot of in 2013 was driven by the desire for brands to become more relevant and useful. This was often expressed in the form of a User experience/service design brief. This is where it gets interesting. In recent years, many brands let their owned platforms crumble as they were seduced by the lure of off platform destinations like Facebook. They believed they had to go to where the eyeballs were and that most definitely was places like Facebook. Unfortunately they did this to the detriment of their own platforms. They were not wrong about the need to go to where their customers are, but this cannot be the be all and end all of their digital marketing efforts. They need to drive them somewhere and more importantly they need the data. This is, along with the proliferation of screens customers can now interact with the brand on, what is driving this type of brief. Brands, especially the dot coms, are now all too aware that the front door to their shop is their online platform and it has to be great. It has to work very hard for them. And it has to be measurable. They are all too aware that the customers brand experience is very much defined by their online interactions and the platform is the jewel in the crown for this.
These are the types of briefs I’m expecting to see more of in 2014 and the ones where agencies can really prove their worth and expertise. Most brands still don’t have a head of UX or even a head of digital so I don’t see this work going in house anytime soon. The type of thinking agencies can deliver around these briefs is truly transformational for the brands. And that is ultimately what clients want from digital in all its wonderful forms. The power to connect, transform and engage.
Finally, to answer my question at the start; ‘yes’ it does makes sense that there is a dedicated focus on digital at the AAR, digital is still expanding and transforming all kinds of businesses. Creating new challenges and helping to solve current ones. It’s very much my job to make sense of this for our clients and in turn take insight gleaned from clients to help agencies pitch to clients. Much to do I’m pleased to say!