Digital Marketing is sick. Is the agency to blame?

Digital marketing is sick. Very sick.

Forrester’s work from over 11-million brand interactions prove that engagement levels continue to plummet, Coca-Cola has pulled back from digital[ii], Forbes cites that only 32% of brands believe they have an effective digital strategy[iii] and it all points to brand campaigns falling short. Someone’s going to take the blame and it might just be the agency.

In a recently popular Linkedin story Don’t sell a product, sell a whole new way of thinking authored by Mark Boncheck – Founder of ‘Shift Thinking’, he speaks astutely to the fact that people [agencies] don’t see the problems [or can’t solve the problems] of today because “they are operating with a different model of the current state.”

The required mental state is again outlined in Sitecore’s recent release of Context Marketing for Dummies®:“when it comes to marketing, focus on the customer experience and what the customer wants rather than prioritizing what your company wants to market”.

The challenge is that marketing isn’t waking up because it’s shackled with 100-year old thinking. Boncheck probes on this reality and sets forth a series of questions to enable identifying the actual shift (so people will get it) and also identifying a sticking point based on associated symptoms.

His question of: “where do you feel people ‘don’t get it’? Actually makes brands really uncomfortable: Brands have the data showing that indeed digital marketing is sick, but they’re also seeing that the next agency-provided, old-mindset-thinking Band-Aid is keeping the wound from getting better.

Yes, the Digital Tipping Point is here and agencies will either become the solution or, they’ll be cut-out so the brand can heal.

Up until now, brands haven’t chosen the agency-surgery option but it’s coming unless agencies resoundingly respond to the very clear digital partner demands[iv]. Agencies must have:

1. Great knowledge of the digital space

2. Excellent strategic thinking (not tactical execution)

3. Enable customer-first, engagement pull interactions

Add to this, three more wake-up calls:

Chris Daly, Chief Executive at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said: “agencies have a crucial role to play in ‘challenging the status quo’ within organizations and bringing in expertise to take a fresh perspective.”

Claire Daniel’s work on “What brands want from their agencies”, cites: “due to the rise of in-house agencies, more marketers are looking for partners that focus on the strategic marketing level, rather than tactical execution.”

Bas van den Beld: “Agencies have to show they aren’t using old tactics and strategies but are on top of things”

But perhaps agencies are destined to be cut as the ask is going unanswered:

  • Sapient’s national survey shows that nearly 50% of brands switched agencies
    (or plan to in the next 12 months) looking for one with greater digital knowledge
  • Marketing Week shows that only 8% of brands are ‘very satisfied’
    with their agency partners
  • Accenture Digital’s international study slams agency performance citing that only
    6% of respondents see their agency as a solution to their digital brand needs

Back to Boncheck’s selling a whole new way of thinking: the “aha, I get it moment” is to see how digital is to marketing as gunpowder was to war.

When gunpowder entered the scenes, soldiers didn’t understand it or even know how to use it. Wars were still fought like they were before guns came around: line ‘em up and shoot (Bow and Arrow old-world thinking). Generals had to learn to think differently, they changed approaches and the ones that got it first, won the war.

When digital entered the scenes, agencies similarly didn’t understand it or even know how to use it. Campaigns are being run like they were before digital came around: lots of channels blasting a series of messages (100-year old, line ‘em up and shoot thinking). And just like with war, agencies have to learn to think differently, change approaches and yes, the ones who get it, will win the war.

Digital is talking with an audience not talking at an audience (TV, print, radio, etc.), Digital is about engagement: 2-way dialogue (context speaking and analytic listening), Digital is about customer-first, strategic thinking (not brand-first features blasted via social channels).

Boncheck simply points out that people won’t see it [and wont change] until their existing model has been disrupted. You’d think the millions of research dollars proving digital campaigns are failing plus the very clear demands from brands asking for strategy, digital and customer-first should have significantly disrupted any agency and forced them to change, embracing the new mindset.

Hopefully agencies have the “aha” moment soon. Digital is not going away and agencies must take action. If they don’t, they’ll definitely take the blame. 

ADCOMM readers: save 20% ($258) off the $1,295 program price when entering promo code: ADCOMM at checkout.

Kevin Adema is an award-winning agency veteran turned digital strategist and author of the certified agency digital training program: Mastering Digital Strategy.

[ii] [i]



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