Brands and agencies urged to collaborate, share and build bonds amidst growing competition

With 60 per cent of brand and agency executives agreeing that their job titles and responsibilities have changed dramatically over the past two years, the relationships between brand and agencies is evolving and marketers need to forge new roles as forward-thinking agencies.

As technology and internal organizations have aligned agencies and brand stakeholders in such a way that agencies are now being asked to not only bring the creative ideas for brand campaigns but they also must become more attuned to the internal workings of the brand, according to a study released today by Forbes.

In order to meet the challenges facing agencies and brands, the study implies that brands are partnering more and more with a diverse lineup of agencies with the hopes of updating marketing strategies, implementing successful cross-channel marketing programs and formulating effective marketing strategies.

However, the Forbes survey notes that 48 per cent of the survey respondents said that the evolving brand and agency roles are difficult. Additionally, 36 per cent of the stakeholders say their organizations are not highly effective when it comes to collaborating with a brand/agency to translate a marketing vision to a targeted, cross-channel program. Top roadblocks include not enough reporting of results to gauge effectiveness and lack of training and skill development to enable the full use of marketing technology.

While 62 per cent of brand and agency executives are satisfied with their digital marketing systems, 57 per cent of respondents said they will make new technology investments in the coming year.

In the case of Dow Corning, featured in the study, they coordinate a mix of large, multi-service agencies plus specialists who augment its internal marketing department. For example, Dow Corning built a new website designed by an outside agency, but its launch was planned by the internal group that construct the site, build web pages, write underlying code and link reporting tools to the company's CRM system.

"We rely on external agency partners to assist in keeping our marketing cutting edge," Randall Rozin, global director, brand management and digital marketing at Dow Corning. "But we handle the tracking and measurement on our end to ensure solid execution. It's a seamless interaction between external and internal resources that see each other as members of the same team, not as competitors. Each has a distinct role to play."

Although sharing data has been suggested as one of the ways brands and agencies can collaborate and create campaigns that have a long lasting impact, the reality is that brands and agencies do not always use customer data to create new marketing programs. In fact, 38 per cent of those surveyed said they don't effectively create and deliver timely content tailored to specific customer personas.

"Companies make the mistake of gathering every little tidbit of information, and then they just don't know what to do with all of it," said Patrick Adams, head of consumer marketing, PayPal, North America. "The guiding rule at PayPal is data should be used to create outstanding products and features and drive a stellar customer experience - if it doesn't do that, or if it doesn't enhance the consumer journey, then we don't need it. Because that's our sole reason for being - to be consumer champions that help them make their management of money much simpler and easier."

Additionally, although agencies and brands are forging closer ties, collaborations in some cases have evolved into competition. Agencies also face the challenge that if they want to work collaboratively with their brand, they often have to pitch for each campaign project. "As clients look for campaign ideas, they are now inviting all sized agencies to pitches. Our competition has increased and we find we are no longer collaborating with smaller agencies - they are now our direct competition," said Kevin Koh, CEO of DDB Group Korea.

Not only is successfully sharing and extracting value from data an area where agencies and brands can collaborate more, but just when the prevailing thinking is centered on the right content and distribution channels, things change. For example, a platform like Snapchat comes along turning video production around where it must now be vertical instead of horizontal.

Thinking vertically - in a horizontal world - is an example where brands and agencies must be nimble. "Snapchat is going to win this war because there are more mobile phones on this planet than devices with horizontal screens, and scale wins in the end. If you want your message to reach 16-year old girls today, you've got to be on Snapchat, and in that case, we'll be shooting video vertically. A couple years ago we wouldn't be having that conversation," Koh said.

The study asks how executives can forge closer relationships with brand or agency peers, without going into competition against each other, and instead to build on the experiences. One way is for agencies and brands to successfully mine all of today's rich sources of data. In other words, attribution is essential for understanding the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and knowing which investments will deliver the best results. However, the study suggests that the wider use of data analysis shouldn't be allowed to quash creativity. The goal is to connect with human beings on an emotional level to influence their behavior. "The numbers help us to push an idea, but they also restrict us in our proposals," Koh said. "We begin to see the same creative ideas being repeated, becoming our biggest pain point."

A second focal point should be to capitalize on the latest technologies for understanding customers and managing marketing programs. The survey suggests that brands and agencies are relying on a range of technologies to further their customer engagement efforts. Among the most widely deployed applications are social networking tools, web analytics, digital advertising platforms, marketing automation systems and multichannel campaign management programs.

A third point is to enhance professional and personal skills and focus on flexibility when putting together a team. Further, 71 per cent of those surveyed say that new training and professional development can encourage greater communication and information sharing with brand/agency counterparts. The study also suggests striking a balance between local and global imperatives. In other words, although brands have a global reach, marketing executives must pay attention to regional differences across various international markets.

"I've been at other organizations where a U.S. marketing team tried to drive interaction between customers internationally - there were many missteps as a result," Adams says. Instead, PayPal relies on marketing teams dedicated to overseeing consumer experience in local markets. "There are overarching goals in each region that we want to focus on from a brand perspective. However everything we do within the regions must reflect the needs of that regional consumer by being nuanced and customized for each market. This makes a huge difference in how products get launched in one marketplace or another. Or how one product's set of features and benefits are developed in one area of the world versus another."

The bottom line is that brand and agency relationships are changing across all industry sectors, countries and regions with more than three-quarters of those marketers surveyed noting definite changes in their roles and responsibilities.

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