Digital Agencies and Consultancies need a meeting of the minds

The digital landscape is becoming more sophisticated than ever, evolving from just a platform for the promotion of brands to running critical business functions, talking to staff, engaging customers and reaching suppliers in integrated, easy-to-use environments. Bradley Elliott, director at Digital creative consultancy Platinum Seed discusses how digital agencies and business consultancies can no longer afford to operate in isolation, with more and more companies demanding multiple functions in a single solution.

The world of digital and online media is at an inflection point where the lines between customer, supplier and internal staff communications are beginning to blur. Far too many brands and companies see digital and technology as a marketing channel and often aren’t aware about how these innovations can solve other business challenges.

In 2012 high-end fashion retailer Burberry took the bold step of reaching out to digitally-minded millennial consumers. The result was a highly integrated and immersive online presence using music and emotion to resonate with younger audiences. This “creative” strategy has gone deeper that the surface of marketing to touch at the core operations, transforming the company into the luxury industry’s digital leader and revitalising the brand – its’s biggest store in London was opened in 2012 is a living incarnation of the brand’s website.

In 2013, Sports apparel manufacturer Nike turned its Fuel Band from just another activity tracker into an award-winning creative campaign that won the hearts and minds of customers, selling out within minutes of going on sale for online pre-order. Global demand for the easy-to-use device has catapulted it from just an accessory to a high-status item.

The data from the Fuel Band has proved so valuable, thanks to its reach, that Nike is using the insights it provides to make highly impactful business decisions around product innovation and launches, contributing significantly to the bottom line.

Brand and business challenges have become increasingly fluid and mutually inclusive in the fast-paced digital landscape of modern business.

This shift is forcing digital consultancies, who traditionally cater to their clients’ sophisticated “left-brain” IT business functionality, to start playing in the creative space, or at least think about the branding aspect of their clients’ business.

To keep up, some consultancies try to work with creative agencies to fill their marketing and branding gaps. However, most prefer to simply acquire creative agencies or build their own skills in-house.

Likewise, creative digital agencies that are known for their supposedly “right-brain” marketing and advertising, are getting closer and closer to core business functions they previously wouldn’t have touched. This means gaining greater insight into clients’ business challenges and the inner workings of their businesses to establish how technology can give their companies, not only their brands, a competitive advantage.

Digital consultancies typically sell enterprise software and solutions. However, with the huge number of SaaS (Software as a Service) start-ups emerging, smaller players can now gain the same tech-enabled competitive advantages as large corporations.

Despite this democratisation of technology, the skills gap is still wide. Just as consultancies struggle to deliver creative services, even after in-house hiring and acquisition, so do creative agencies struggle to up-skill and gain the deep technical knowledge required to meet enterprise needs.

There are also major cultural and operational differences in the way consultancies and agencies run and shifting either way can be painful for people inside the business. The companies that do this well are those that are “born” into the space – those that have always believed the use of technology can solve both brand and business challenges, and have seen digital as more than simply a marketing channel.

One of the biggest benefits of appointing a company that provides both digital business consultancy and creative services is their ability to offer a cohesive strategy that impacts the business end-to-end. Brand and business challenges don’t live in isolation, as there are so many digital touch-points and a seamless and integrated approach can save a lot of money.

A provider who can solve these requirements end-to-end is able to add value horizontally at greater economies of scale. Working with separate entities can be a challenging exercise, as conflicting objectives make it difficult to collaborate. It takes like-minded people, a good cultural fit and putting egos aside to achieve the best results.

Also, when businesses require more of one entity’s services than another, this can cause friction as everyone is trying to get a bigger piece of the pie. Unless two separate entities have a strong historic strategic partnership or similar cultures, the outcome might not be the best solution for the business.

What’s more, as digital solutions become more intertwined, the more control a single entity has, the more likely that results will be better, and that costs can be effectively controlled.

As a result, a range of new careers are emerging, such as technical change management, which involves getting buy-in from an operational level and the implementation of revolutionary technology that can be disruptive to a business. Change management consulting is becoming a key part of helping organisations embrace digital as core to how they do business.

Many of the skills required cross over between creative and consultancy-related services, however there are some key traditional strategic, creative and technical skills that already exist. The challenge is more in ensuring that the entire team has the same attitude and mindset about how digital fits into businesses.

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