The digital agency of 2015: Scenario 1, The birth of integration
Continuing in my scenario analysis and MA quest I’ve completed the first of three scenarios that project a possible future for the digital space.
These aren’t necessarily reflective of my own personal opinions (although by the time I get to the end of the assignment I’m sure I’ll end up with more opinions than I’ll know what to do with). They are intended to generate debate and, hopefully to give me a 10k word essay to submit in my last but one unit (hooray!)
So… First one below for you – comments more than welcome!
The age of ‘new media’ has passed and the dawn of ‘integrated communications’ is upon clients, agencies and consumers alike. Brands are considering ideas in their purist form and then applying channels that would be best suited to the concept and the audience, rather than letting marketing channels and executions exist in isolation.
Agencies are fighting to be the winners in the integration war with the smaller digital agencies of 2009 losing market share or being swallowed up by larger organisations. Larger digital players begin to add weight to their creative and planning departments in order to deliver integrated recommendations, enabling them to keep up with the bigger players. Multiple departments within agencies are being conducted with perfect synergy in order to create integrated solutions.
Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on web (PC and mobile) – seeing it as a necessity in their lives and becoming heavier screen users. The blurring of consumed channels such as TV / IPTV and communication tools such as SMS / Web / Messenger / Social media mean brands and agencies have to think about multiple touch-points as consumers become skilled at multi-tasking and continuing conversations across different channels.
Technology development has slowed (but not halted) with the standardisation of web tools by Internet power kings such as Google and mobile giants such as Blackberry and iPhone helping consumers and marketers get to grips with how to use the technologies available. Whilst 2004 – 2009 was the rise and rise of social and content providers such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iPlayer 2009 – 2015 sees a levelling out with usage of small niche interest channels mixed up with the mainstream players.
Taking a deeper look…
Consumers are heavy digital users
2015 has seen a dramatic shift in PC ownership. Affordability has meant that personal computer ownership has risen from 56% in 2008, up to 85% in 2015 – in line with mobile phone ownership and just above home telephone ownership (Euromonitor, 2009).
This increased accessibility for households to technology has meant that the PC (Laptop) has continued to expand in its usage. It’s at the top of a teenagers wish-list at the expense of a TV, DVD player or games console, as it has the ability to facilitate all three.
In addition to the growth in PC ownership mobile has developed at a rapid rate. Using handsets for surfing the net has become something that has been adopted by the young ‘contract’ audience, with growth up from the reported range of 7.2 to 17.4 million consumers (emarketer, 2009) up to 15 – 30 million consumers, making it something done by almost half the UK population. Tariffs now see free browsing and data being offered to get the competitor edge, replacing free SMS and calls now expected as standard.
Collaboration and social momentum continues
This availability to the web, with PC or mobile never being further than arms reach, has led to a massive growth in “real time” feedback. Obama’s inauguration might have been the example of 2009 but 2015 see’s TV programming allow for real time discussion, plot development, and feedback with users as they watch it online, or via a TV set that allows interaction – think 2009’s strictly come dancing social taken to a new level.
Social media has continued to grow with Facebook continuing to expand it’s services successfully doubling it’s dwell time from 26mins in September 2009 (Hitwise UK, 2009) up to just under the hour mark in 2015. This increase has been driven by the integration of new services into the network, with video players and online community games being the main contributors to it’s sticky nature.
Virtual reality communities are now mainstream as consumers begin to take the plunge into more advanced communities and games – the 64 million strong ‘farmville’ application of 2009 has evolved and been replaced by more complex simulator sites that branded products are placed within.
Becoming producers of contents has also continued to grow with the number of individuals writing a blog moving from 22% to 35%. This increase has largely been driven by secondary schools and universities who are beginning to make creating, maintaining and publishing opinions part of the curriculum.
This increase in publication, and importance placed by individuals on their digital self sees reputation management being done by individuals as much as it’s done by brands. The importance of ensuring your network profiles, blogs, search results and images are locked down or opened up (where appropriate), and are reflective of individuals digital image of their self, becomes vitally important.
The increase in businesses checking CVs against social search results becomes widespread, acting as a screening process for interview candidates. Parents wanting a greater control on their (younger) children’s digital published information are creating alerts to monitor published content by, or about, them. This shift has been driven by a multitude of tabloid stories that have highlighted the importance of identity. Previous small scale stories seen in 2009 such as teenagers losing their jobs because of Facebook comments, couples getting divorced due to virtual affairs and public cries for help snowball further as media begin to sensationalise stories as celebrities, key business / political leaders and brands make significant slip ups – failing to appreciate the impact of their digital ego on their reality self.
Convergence of content
As consumers become more saavy at using digital to create, manage and control content we also see a move in how content begins to get consumed as the blur between destination channels, and content, becomes obvious.
Platforms such as ITV, Channel 4 and Google continue to struggle to create true affection amongst consumers for their brand with loyalty coming more from programmes and content rather than the channel it is placed. This change is driven by content existing on multiple platforms creating an independence between programme and channel that isn’t seen in the broadcast age of 2009. It also sees integrated login features such as Facebook connect as well as video players (with the same content) on any number of channels, making the destination less important than the content that is being accessed. It’s not a case of whether to view X factor on ITV at it’s broadcast time but whether to view it at the broadcast time, on demand, on ITV, on Youtube, Hulu.
In addition to the content v’s platform battles lines are also becoming blurred as consumers treat their conversations the same way. Conversations flex from Facebook to Twitter, to Messenger and SMS. Disjointed conversations, whilst making sense to the consumer, make it very difficult for brands to use reputation tools to follow chat related to them and it a challenge to get any kind of meaningful data. This style of communication also creates further pressure in ensuring the brand is truly integrated as consumers no longer differentiate channels, nor tasks, from one to the next – each is simply a different way of access rather than servicing a different consumer need.
A grown up industry
With the sophistication of the consumer it has meant that the digital marketing industry has grown up. Digital is no longer viewed as a specialist skill but a fundamental tool within any marketing plan and campaign.
This sophistication, and added understanding of the digital space by consumers and marketers alike, has seen a big push by brands to create engaging content that is much more than a TVC or brand URL. Creating campaigns that stretch print, programming, experiential, web and mobile see a measurable increase in impact (compared to the minority advertisers who are yet to follow suit) with the marketing teams and leading agencies blurring the lines between channels to create consumer/brand engagement.
Clients are generating big brand ideas with their lead agency that are integrated across multiple channels. Creative briefs become media neutral, with the audience and the idea dictating the deliverables, as opposed to an ATL creative being driven down through the marketing team hierarchy.
The need to execute ideas across multi-channels also means that ideation has become key to an agencies success. Good ideas have to be created without consideration of what might be most profitable for the agency and, in order to keep up with this, traditional and digital agencies have no choice but to integrate each others skills into their offering.
Growth of integrated agencies
Digital specialists who entered the industry 10 years previous are transitioning into senior marketing positions within client organisations and traditional agencies. The increased household ownership of PC’s has ensured that digital is a key channel for marketing and clients no longer need heavy persuasion to invest in the space, or the staff, to deliver campaigns.
Large traditional agencies and networks have swallowed up smaller digital agencies to add the necessary skills to their offering and meet the demands of integrated briefs. Likewise their larger digital counterparts have also begun to buy in more traditional marketers and work in direct competition. Agencies become structured around audience, market sector and brands rather than skill-set as conducting the various specialists becomes a job in itself.
Are able to stretch channels are still needed to be originated from a creative idea but added skillsets have to be involved (from the traditional planning / creative team) as the final execution becomes an open debate between planners, creatives, developers, media and mobile experts. The agency being effectively able to coordinate becomes vital in it being able to unlock the right campaign idea and create this edge. This process of coordination is still relatively new and the industry still hasn’t seen one structure standardised and adopted, as agencies battle try to get the balance of inter-department involvement at the right level, and at the right point, correct.
This move to integrated solutions also is begining to see media and creative agencies start to compete for brand communication control in new ways. Media agencies are beginning to suggest communication ideas that would dictate creative, whilst creative agencies see ideas being reliant on media execution. Large agency networks begin to realign and integrate their creative and media divisions closer together with the concept welcomed by clients who see the financial benefit of one integrated agency partner and solution to their marketing challenges. Communication agencies are born.
Smaller production houses remain beneficiaries in the battle with sub-contracting giving them a steady flow of business as they remain the doers. Digital in particular benefits as specialist skills involved in web build, mobile and application development enables them to be the executers rather than the idea generators of the brief – working as white label departments of multiple agencies to produce and execute the work.
Clients and agencies work closer together
This new landscape sees the client and agency work in collaboration closer than ever before as they work to create one integrated solution. Clients begin by dictating their business challenges and, rather than distil this into separate briefs tailored to individual agencies or channels, it sees the advantage of briefing to one agency at top level, looking for one solution.
This open brief means a heavier investment in planning and ideation which has increased visibility to the client at a work in progress stage. The need to understand audience, competitor direction, technology capabilities and communication trends become vital in the exploratory stage of the brief. This exploration, driven by the agency, sees the client forced to review work at a planning rather than proposition stage. With the playing field for ideas (because of such an open brief) being so vast, the ability to agree direction, and eliminate channels quickly for fear of burning unnecessary budget becomes a vital client and agency skill.
This collaboration between client and agency in pulling campaigns together means a retained agency for big brands is vital. In addition to this clients are needing longer term agency partners as the investment in integrated campaigns see’s benefit in the client feeling that the agency is truly an extension of their own marketing team. The increased time the client and agency, also have to spend together, across all levels of seniority within both businesses, can equal account security as long as the client is being serviced and personal relationships are forged.
 Strictly come dancing social: http://www.bbc.co.uk/strictlycomedancing/play/strictly_social/about.shtml
 Google’s social search: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?answer=165228
2nd life divorce: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/13/second-life-divorce
Facebook connect: A single click login http://mashable.com/2009/01/12/facebook-connect-implementations/
 Mindshare AU in 2009, killing their WPP creative counterparts. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/mindshare-agency-outlines-new-world-order/story-0-1225729233818