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The Digital Agency Manifesto: Who do you want to be?

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The Digital Agency Manifesto: Who do you want to be?

I meet a lot of marketers in my line of work and of late, some of the CEO/ CMO level conversations that I’ve had have set me thinking. What do clients expect out of their digital agency? What do we expect out of our own digital agency? What is the ambition? Or the purpose? Or whatever name you choose to give that statement of being. Essentially, it boils down to three simple questions:
1. Who am I?
2. What do I do?
3. Why should you care?

As a digital agency, if you can craft an elevator pitch response to these questions, it’s step 1 accomplished.

A lot of the digital agencies have grown or evolved according to client demands or needs. When the client asked for a particular solution or defined a challenge which couldn’t be met with existing expertise or resources, agency partners evolved or bought or adopted new skill sets. 

So, tech outfits learnt social media skills, media agencies, including digital strategy and execution, social media agencies evolved into digital marketing agencies, etc.

And now coming back to those C level conversations, there is a new question being asked, and it was surprising to me how many of the CMOs and CEOs have said, you know our mainline agency knows how to do a 30-seconder and our media agency delivers very well on the media piece. Can you stop being just a digital agency and start being an idea agency? Can you truly partner with us in building our brands and delivering business impact?

What they left unasked was can you help reduce the headaches we have navigating the choppy seas created by an increasingly vocal audience base. A good point to note here that is earlier, a brand had consumers, but now it has audiences who are a mix of people who consume the brand and a large portion of people who don’t but are extremely vocal about their point of view. After all, audiences give feedback. Consumers either buy or don’t buy your product.

But what the clients were asking was ‘Can you help us understand the people we call consumers?’ Can you help us figure out why they love or hate us? Can you help us create communication (I prefer calling it content) that can create enjoyable experiences and not just call to action sell messages?

When I started thinking about these conversations, it occurred to me that what they are asking for in a very roundabout way is can you stop being just digital experts and start being consumer engagement experts?

That was what the traditional advertising agencies have been doing all this while. So why is the question being asked of digital agencies now?

I believe that this is increasingly happening because traditional agencies have a fantastic experience in storytelling - figuring out how to tap into human emotions. But maybe they are not so equipped to get people to express those emotions and to track those expressions. And therefore, learn from them for the next campaign. Traditional media just gives up its audience once the campaign is done. Maybe they are not as much in touch with the consumer as they should be. Maybe thanks to social media and the fans and the followers and the interactions, we in the digital arena are closer to the pulse.

And maybe because we can understand these people better, marketers expect us to figure out a new format of story telling – events, videos, text, pictures, blogs, whatever else we can come up with. And maybe a new kind of storytelling, where the consumer is at the heart of the story and not the brand benefit. Sponsored stories and not branded stories. Maybe!

So what do we call ourselves? Who do we want to be? Social media agencies? Digital agencies? Content creation houses? Publishers? Or storytellers in the digital age? I personally like the last one as a stance. Because today, clients don’t need a digital strategy. They need a strategy for a digital world. More on that and what it takes to be one from a people and investment perspective soon.

Prashanth Challapalli is Senior VP and General Manager with iContract. He will be writing a series of digital columns for exchange4media under the title ‘The Digital Agency Manifesto’.

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