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Social specialists (Arghhhhhh……!!!!)

No really.

I get that when new channels emerge new specialists spring up. Mobile = mobile agencies. AR = AR agencies. Apps = Application agencies I agree with this, I’d use these agencies and I understand the logic that not all agencies have all the skills (nor should have the skills to do everything under one roof) but what I am getting increasingly frustrated with is agencies that call themselves “social”.

Social agencies, as they call themselves, are positioning themselves as the future of digital. Clients, whom previously have never seen senior support are suddenly being asked “how will this campaign work on Twitter/Facebook” and, in response, we’re seeing new agencies being added to rosters as the social specialists.

Okay – I work at 20:20, a full service digital agency and yes, I’m responsible for social media so perhaps I am bias BUT I dont believe the future of social is going to be maintaning a brands Facebook Page or Twitter account. Give it 18 months and consumers (and brands) will be sick of receiving status updates from brands asking them what they are up to this weekend and, yes, yet again, we will be back full circle to it being about content. Yes social agencies can create applications (or at least have the ability to outsource them) but it’s back to the age old problem. Digital is constantly changing. A good full service agency will evolve to take into consideration these skills because, of course, they are VITAL to the success of the brand and use these, along with the skills and experience it’s learnt over the last 10 – 15 years to understand it’s role in the digital strategy.

Facebook isn’t a strategy – just like ITV isn’t a strategy. It’s a tool. There are lots of them about. Understanding what’s in that toolbox and using everything to the best of the ability is what makes great digital campaigns and for the future creating meaningful connections via social channels is key in that success.

The digital agency of 2015: Scenario 2, The specialist surge

So whilst my first scenario looks at the possible rise of true integration the 2nd scenario looks at the fragmentation of the digital space and a surge in specialists…

Enjoy!

  •  Marketing becomes tailored to specialist channels and agencies as a dawn of ‘high maintenance’ marketing commences 
  • Agencies have retained a digital / traditional split with more coming to market to deal with the specialist requirements  
  • Consumers are significantly more digitally able and helping to shape communities, channels and brands 
  • Clients are resourcing their digital team to deal with the multiple channels but agencies are still in charge as they lead clients through the space  

OVERVIEW

‘New Media’ continues to be an over-used term as fresh challenges, and demands on marketers continue to present themselves in the digital space –constantly evolving and therefore always perceived as new and unknown.

The constant stream of new technologies and communication channels create a constant reliance on digital specialists, across a plethora of niche topics, to keep clients up to speed and help shape the industry for marketers.  The constant battle to stay on top of change means that the lead agencies driving a client’s digital strategy are leaned heavily upon to lead them through the space.  

With recommendations being stemmed from the agency, rather than initiated by the client, digital agencies are constantly adding new specialist individuals and departments to cover off new requirements as they evolve. Small specialist agencies also pick up business as digital agencies outsource some of the more ad-hoc skills (not wanting to pick up the overhead) and clients go direct for one off tactical campaigns.  

Consumers are steadily increasingly their consumption of digital media – seeing it as a necessity in their lives. Social media has reached it’s peak in terms of penetration– with consumers tiring of peaking at other peoples lives and, instead, using it as a space to share and play with their closer friends, as well as create new connections with individuals who share similar specialist interests.

Technology has continued to expand rapidly amongst the big platform players with many adopting an open source development approach as they see the value in the power of crowds. Brands are also beginning to see the value of this as a method for reducing their production costs and welcoming creativity, and development, from new sources for both ideation and production alike.

 

Taking a deeper look

Consumers are heavy (and saavy) digital users

Consumers of 2015 have more options available for their technology needs. Personal computer prices have fallen but costs have remained comparable to 2009 as processing, hard-drive storage and applications demand higher spec machines – outweighing demand for low cost (and lower spec) products.

These higher specs are in part needed to drive online gaming and virtual communities as we see the demise of the console (with individuals fed up of the constant battle to upgrade hardware) and the rise of online gaming sites that stream games on a subscription basis, or within a community structure, direct to your PC or through a TV box.[1]

The use of online subscription accounts is increasingly common with individuals hosting data virtually[2] putting a trust in external partners to manage their music, photos and data. This move has been caused by a general acceptance amongst consumers that they don’t need to have physical products. This acceptance has been caused across the last 5 years by the increase in MP3 downloads, digital photography (and photo-share), the kindle reader[3] and virtual data storage, all working to increase the value consumers place on ‘digital’ ownership of products. This move has driven computer literacy further as consumers start to have to expand their knowledge to use new hardware and manage their digital content. This thirst for personal knowledge continues to help drive the industry further as digital partners are able to add more functionality and tools to their spaces – allowing users to help develop sites and apps as the younger audience in particular begins to master basic CSS and programming skills.

The government have successfully continued in their mission to create a “digital Britain” and successfully met their objectives. Most importantly they’ve managed to develop the nation’s digital skills at all levels and secured universal access to broadband, increasing its take-up and using broadband to deliver more public services more effectively and more efficiently[4] (Digital Britain, 2009).

Landline phones have begun to decline in ownership, particularly amongst younger households, as the growth of VOIP continues to offer a low cost alternative, with providers like Skype being the big winners. In addition to this, mobile phone penetration and tariffs have dropped to a point where 2015 sees mobile phone ownership (by household) exceed fixed telephone line ownership[5] (Euromoniter, 2009).

The growth of mobile phone usage for web access in particular has meant that personal mobile data is being shared more frequently between consumers and third parties. The early days of email is beginning to repeat itself as the government struggle to regulate data protection on mobile devices, and spam becomes a recurring handset nuisance.  

Specialist and niche sites are on the rise

As consumption of digital rises users are on the look out for new ways to spend their time online. Consumers become driven by seeking out like minded people with like minded interests and we see a surge in communities and sites tailored around specific topics and interests.[6] With specialist communities forming we also see a move in the number of sites being managed by groups of individuals – for both personal, and professional interest, with a growth in the number of bloggers.

This growth in special interest sites has created challenges for brands as they become unable to create large-scale integrated campaigns. Audiences have become fragmented, and whilst there are still high reach spots available on sites like YouTube and Facebook, brands have to seek out tailored campaigns in order to hit ROI objectives. The addition of also being able to understand specific interests within your brands remit also warrants additional budget. The ability for brands and agencies to enable campaign messages to be tailored to very specific audiences and ensure maximum audience engagement guarantees a better ROI (at a production price).

With specialist communities and interests cropping up a whole new requirement for digital specialists to understand the online behaviour of particular audience segments is in demand. Specialist digital agencies and freelancers begin to take advantage of this, looking at common audience types (Over 55’s, 18 – 24’s, Under 16’s) in order to monetise this understanding of digital behaviours, with brands and agencies tapping into them in order to ensure the space is used correctly.

Digital knowledge is concentrated to agencies

This fragmentation of media and sheer volume of channels, audience segments and engagement contact points means that the amount of knowledge needed is immense. Clients aren’t able to physically keep up with channel developments, their audience movements and subsequently place a heavy reliance on the agency to steer them through the space.

With a gradual loss of control (client side) as well as the increase in the number (and type) of campaigns being run by anyone brand, at anyone time, has seen an increased pressure put on the client resource. Brands have begun to resource up their team, dedicating specialists to areas that they see as critical to their strategy (mobile, web and social media are commonly having their own brand managers). Client side these brand managers work closely with each other, and each agency, in order to deliver the digital strategy.

The increase in resource has also led to an increase in the importance placed on getting the digital marketing right as increased investment places an even bigger demand on ROI. Senior marketing staff client side are forced to get involved, increased their understanding, and getting hands on in the decision making process in order to deliver the results back into the business.

This is having a positive effect on the digital agency as technical ignorance begins to disappear. Development, hosting, purging, bugs and virus’ begin to be terminology with problems that occur day to day now seen as something created by the channel, not agency excuses. Clients are forced to deal with these issues and explain them to senior staff making them understand the explanations rather than see it as technical jargon being palmed off on them as excuses.

Growth of specialist agencies

The industry overall is similar in terms of types of agency to 2009 with a range of traditional, digital and specialist agencies co-existing and vying for clients digital investment. The biggest change though is the growth in the amount of competition in the specialist sector with an array of small specialist individuals and agencies springing up to deal with and offer services within the digital area. Services vary massively with reputation management, social media, community generation, social gaming, mobile application development (Android / iPhone and Blackberry specialists) and content specialists pitching within the marketplace.

This continued increase in agency numbers has kept prices down. Smaller specialists can afford to work on lower rate cards with freelance and / or ‘one man band’ mentality and less overheads enabling them to win projects based on price. This competitive pricing also gives clients a reason to deal with the inconvenience of splitting business across multiple agencies.

To retain all elements of the larger client accounts, the larger digital networks and traditional agencies with digital offerings are forced to cut prices or tag on added value ‘free’ services to compete and retain ownership of their clients business.  

The amount of agency choice in the marketplace leaves clients broadly sitting in one of two camps. The first that sees adequate resourcing and expertise at the client end to conduct and lead a number of agencies within the digital space enabling them to benefit from competitive prices and carefully juggle multiple communications. The second sees a stretched client resource relying on working with one lead agency, aware of other services available but unable to take real advantage from these, leaning heavily on the agency to master the skills or outsource specialist work when appropriate.

Brands begin to open up their platforms to give consumers more control

With a vast amount of specialist skills, channels and audiences available brands are beginning to feel braver about opening up their brands for consumers to control. Open source, whilst not a new concept is beginning to move into the public space as an area previously used mainly by developers[7] or for feedback[8] begins to expand out further.

Brands are beginning to use crowd sourcing techniques to help the agency create the right digital ideas.[9] This use of panels and / or a section of the public to help shape the brand is increasingly important in areas where the brand, and even agency, hasn’t been before. Using sophisticated reputation monitoring tools brands are able to identify key contributors and influencers in target niche subjects, and areas, and use their power to successfully launch an appropriate campaign to the target market.

Agencies are opening up their planning departments to allow for research into these niche areas and admitting to clients where areas are unchartered. Clients, rather than being nervous about moving into new areas begin to embrace these as it leads to them being able to gain competitive edge (by being first to market). Digital agencies continue to be exploratory but, by now having the experience into how best to enter new areas and channels, the client feels more secure because the methodology of ‘entering new channels’ is now tried and tested even if the solution isn’t.


[1] OnLive launhing in 2009 give a snapshot into the possibilities for the future: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7969044.stm

[2] Services like livedrive become common:  http://www.livedrive.com

[3] Kindle launched in 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/07/amazon-ebooks

[4] Digital Britain: http://digitalbritainforum.org.uk/report/executive-summary/the-interim-report/

[5] Euromoniter: Technology, communications and media report Oct 2009.

[6] Specialist social community sites: www.ning.com

[7] Linux is still heralded as the biggest breakthrough in collaborative development (1991): www.linux.com

[8] Dell rely heavily on a community of users to help shape their product offering www.ideastorm.com

[9] Brands pitch open creative briefs for display on sites facilitating the idea process: www.ideabounty.com

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!

 

 

  • Marketing efforts are fully integrated and joined up across channels 
  • Agencies are living and dying by their ability to create cross-channel campaign ideas 
  • Real time web, and mobile access are driving an ‘I want it now’ culture
  • Clients are developing skills at conducting their brand across multi-disciplines with one campaign concept
  • Multiple disciplines across agency departments are working together to create truly integrated solutions.

 

 

Overview

 

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[1] 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[2].

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[3].

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[4], couples getting divorced due to virtual affairs[5] and public cries for help[6] 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[7] 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[8] 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[9].

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[10] 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[11], 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.


[1] Obama’s Inaugaration: http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/161890-CNN_Facebook_Teaming_Up_For_Obama_Inaugural.php

[2] Strictly come dancing social: http://www.bbc.co.uk/strictlycomedancing/play/strictly_social/about.shtml

[3] Google’s social search: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?answer=165228

[4] Facebook sacking: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/facebook/4838076/Office-worker-sacked-for-branding-work-boring-on-Facebook.html

[5]2nd life divorce:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/13/second-life-divorce

[6] Twitter suicide plea: http://www.nme.com/news/chipmunk/48309

[7] Media brand affection: http://www.nma.co.uk/opinion/industry-opinion/analyst-speak-media-brands-are-failing-to-stir-love-or-hate-among-their-customers/3006240.article

[8]Facebook connect: A single click login  http://mashable.com/2009/01/12/facebook-connect-implementations/

[9] It is assumed that Hulu has successfully managed to complete talks with UK programmers and is now in the UK. http://www.hulu.com/

[10] Agencies like Bohan in the US are already taking such steps: http://www.bohanideas.com/WARCreprint.pdf

[11] Mindshare AU in 2009, killing their WPP creative counterparts. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/mindshare-agency-outlines-new-world-order/story-0-1225729233818