The Biggest Agency Gap? Surprise, It’s Not Digital

The refrain for digital transformation is as necessary as it is clichéd. For all the talk of our digital present and future, marketers still have a lot of road to travel to move from systems developed to deliver broad-based campaigns to systems built to deliver millions of individual communications in real-time.

But there’s an even larger gap than that to fill for marketers, and particularly for the agencies that serve them. That’s the gap between marketing and marketing communications. Agencies tend to conflate the two to the extent that they don’t know the difference. But marketing is far more than messaging. The traditional 4P’s of Marketing have been updated with more letters since they were coined in the 1960s, but even the original version has 3 more Ps than Promotion.

As agencies build their data capabilities, they almost exclusively focus on how to better deliver messaging. That includes better targeting of the message, more effective media channel selections, and more compelling message content. But that data should be applied to more than messaging. It should be informing pricing decisions. It should uncover shopping preferences. It should indicate product opportunities or shortcomings. The data is there to inform those decisions, but the framework is not.

It’s not surprising of course, because that’s not where agencies are used to playing. Pricing, distribution and product development aren’t part of their historical job description. The Cannes and One Show award categories have expanded to embrace all kinds of new media forms, but I don’t recall anyone being celebrated for best dynamic pricing implementation.

Agencies need to provide this more holistic marketing perspective to their clients. The barrage of studies related to shorter CMO tenure indicate that their clients are too often seen as lacking the internal credibility to impact the foundational business of the company. Agencies reinforce this CMO shortcoming by pushing to add experts or tools focused on improved messaging. Agencies could be a far greater asset to their senior clients by tying these resources to other critical parts of the fuller marketing mix. A true Marketing partner looks at questions differently than a Communications partner. For example,

Communications Partner     Marketing Partner
           
How do we get customers to better understand our brand story?     How do we better understand the customer journey?
           
Who’s our most valuable customer?     How can we deliver more value to a customer?
           
How do we drive people to a sale?     How do we make it easier to buy?
           
How do we make the most of our media spend?     How we do get more impact from our total marketing spend?

 
Marketing is more than communications, and agencies should be about more than messaging.

Doug Ryan

President at DigitasLBi North America
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