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Agency of the future: beyond the five year plan

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How have the changes over the past six months impacted our agency plans for the next five years? Marginally.

But over the next 12 months? Exponentially.

Many agency trends were in motion before the pandemic. Flexible working, video calls and virtual commerce were established technological shifts that were already underway, it’s just that we as ‘consumers’ were slow adopting, and to an extent, accepting them. Much like electric vehicles: market share was still only 7% of new car sales in September 2020 but they’re now capable of travelling over 400 miles on a single charge. Surely that’s a game changer? Adoption is slow but technology is ready and waiting.

Longer term, the effects on our industry must be reassessed constantly as a new normal settles. Client loyalty has long been a staple of how we measure ourselves at Space & Time. An integral part of how we have been able to achieve such strong client retention is through being engrained with our clients. When we opened our offices in Manchester and Edinburgh it was in response to clients wanting us to be closer to them; geographically yes, but also more appreciative of their localised challenges, understanding their business, dialed into their world in a way that represents a true extension of their own team. We call this business empathy. Is it possible to build that level of synergy via Zoom or Teams?

Possibly, but I think eventually there will be a happy medium reached, with a mutual desire to work in close partnership and for agencies to act as a business partner, not a supplier, by having valuable one-to-one relationships. We are human beings after all.

There will be a period of adaptation, but I believe the end result will yield benefits for both clients and agencies. Increased use of technology will create opportunities to be more responsive by not waiting for monthly meetings to change campaigns or by spending less time sat around a table discussing what needs to be done. An agency must understand what client success looks like and anticipate the solutions to the challenges they are facing. Of course, if the agency has developed the right culture and levels of business empathy for every single client then this will also reduce reliance on housing talent in expensive London real estate five days a week as the remote working model becomes commonplace.

Ultimately our plan is to be the most relevant business we can. I don’t believe the pandemic has shifted the direction of travel the industry was following, it’s more a minor detour on a constant bearing. Customers want the best possible experience with brands, whether that’s buying a product or using a website. Product choice is exponentiating while attention spans diminish. Brands recognise this; a recent statistic showed that UK CMOs now value customer experience as the most exciting business opportunity in 2020, ahead of video, content marketing and even data-driven marketingInvesting in lifetime customers enables value recovery and repeat custom that simply isn’t available when customer experience is sub-optimal.

Beyond one size fits all

This shift must be reflected in how agencies align with brands too. A “one size fits all” approach to how agencies work with brands, how agencies are remunerated and the technology used must start from “what is the best solution to this problem”, not “what is the best option available to us”.

This requires true agnosticism across both media and technology. Agencies have talked about “tech stacks” for years but the problem this presents for agnosticism is the limited choice it implies, offering a predetermined outcome before the problem is even identified. Take data visualisation. Part of understanding a brand’s customer experience starts with effective consolidation, interpretation and visualistion of data.

Often the brand won’t see the full benefit if their own data isn’t integrated into this, but certain technologies that agencies work with are only compatible with specific CRMs and ownership of each of these disciplines is often completely separate. Consequently neither party has a grasp of what either data source reveals. Who loses out? The consumer, exactly whom brands are trying to protect.

Our response is what we call ‘full experience’. Blending all the benefits of a large, full service agency with a nimble and consultative performance agency. Alloying the depth in capability required to deliver a complete and optimal experience to the client, with a breadth of engagement and the commercial models necessary to flex our approach so that our solution is unique to a client’s end consumer and their business needs. This starts with a partnership built around media and service agnosticism, that is underpinned by technology. This approach expedites and enhances growth throughout a client’s business whilst preparing us for what the agency landscape will offer in five years’ time. Today the world is a challenging place, but we are energised by it and can certainly see light at the end of the tunnel.