29 Jan 2007

Are UK Agencies Too Slow to Embrace Digital?

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Consumer media consumption habits are changing all around us. But UK marketing agencies appear slow to respond to the brand and communication challenges this poses - with digital branding expertise considered a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have part of the service portfolio for many agencies.

So what's really changing? And why the apparently slow response?

45% of UK homes are considered multi-channel and will have anywhere between 3-200 channels at their disposal. More than 10M of UK homes now have Broadband, via BT alone. The Internet is fast becoming a broadcast media thanks to the popularity of sites like MySpace and YouTube and ever increasing bandwith finally making streaming video a reality. Proliferation of hand-held media devices mean that programming can be supplied to the individual, on demand.

So as well as being savvy consumers of products and services, consumers are becoming truly complex consumers of media at precisely the same time that channels are exploding and fragmenting.

Now, in addition to traditional (old) media, such as advertising, sales promotion, DM, sponsorship and exhibitions, POS and PR, agencies are now under pressure to exploit the emerging channels offered by Web 2.0, mobile marketing, downloading, social networking and video on demand. With clients clamoring for ROI, the spotlight is on, like never before, for agencies to get the media mix right. Should agencies fail in this crucial respect and the other elements of their ingenious brand strategies - the proposition, messaging and specifics of the offer will never achieve the all important cut through with the consumer.

But laying down an Integrated Digital Marketing plan is one thing - technology and behavior are moving along at such a pace that plenty of agencies - creative and media planning alike - will be learning as they go. Success stories will made or broken dependent upon a player's ability to combine learning and imagination with a dash of expertise and a good measure of creative 'borrowing'. But the ability to deliver Integrated Digital Marketing is quite another.

Building and delivering the newest of new media solutions is a job for serious specialists. Again, these technology experts are running fast to keep up or catch up with the speed of developments in software, applications and a variety of development tricks of the trade. But there can be no substitution for knowledge gained through years of hands on design and build experience. Our tecchie friends are going to be in more and more demand (read more and more expensive), as laggard agencies step into this Brave New World. And for those developers who can demonstrate real creativity, given the shiny new tools at their disposal - salaries and day rates are set to rocket me thinks.

Given the way things are heading, do agencies in-source or outsource? And should clients be naive enough to swallow the offer of a 'one stop shop' agency, for a minute (or even a nanosecond) longer? My predictions is that are we looking at integrated brand campaigns co-authored by multiple specialist agency partners. But whilst collaboration seems like the sensible route - it's something few traditional agencies have proven themselves good at. . .

Maybe it's time the egos took a back seat in favour of effective brand strategy and great creativity that pushes the envelope and delivers great results. It's do or die time for traditional agencies. You're thoughts on this (US, UK and the rest of the blogosphere greatly appreciated).

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