The pressure on marketing is greater than ever, how well are agencies really performing?

Bloated structures could spell disaster for some marketing agencies in the 2020s. Dialect CEO John Gower shares his vision of what success will look like…

It’s easy to recognize how the pandemic ignited accelerated changes in the world. Brands identified they needed to respond to the rise in consumers transitioning online and invest more in digital. With increasing demand for greater value and better digital experiences, there is more expectation for brands to deliver an experience that is integrated offline and online, while having the ability to track performance for greater impact.

At the center of these changes sits the agency partner, connecting brands with consumers wherever they are, and with the messages that matter, in ways they will want to engage with. But in this exciting era of exponential evolution, how will the agency landscape continue to support or fail you?

A small number of global marketing agencies have been buying up small agencies at scale for decades, creating a limited number of vast agencies trying to buy, plan and create on every single platform in every single market – the question is:

“Has integration across your strategy and campaign really happened? And can the promise of integration without the payoff survive in this new world?”

Structured more like holding companies, often with little integration beyond the bottom line, the cracks are starting to show in their ability to deliver what clients want when it comes to both integrated engagement and integrated performance measurement.

No one can predict the future with great certainty, but the current trend for consolidation in the world of marketing agencies appears to be reaching the point of no return. And consolidation isn’t the answer because if it was, seamless integration would have happened and reporting the results would be clear.

Technology developments, customer habits and cost pressures are seeing clients seek a particular agency partner: one that’s specialist, unified, agile and already thinking ten steps ahead.

The agency landscape: what value are you asking them to add?

With shrinking marketing budgets, and a world of evolving technology to keep up with, client demand to perform, and integrate is greater than ever. There are two key roles that agencies must fulfil:

  1. The ability to invest in the development of expertise in new technologies – understanding the brand possibilities in NFTs or the metaverse – and providing access to a level of specialist teams which is generally not economically viable to employ internally. As well as leading on how to integrate innovation with brand development to avoid the trap of future siloes and stay relevant.
  2. The ability to ensure the work you receive and execute in the market is strategically-led, fully connected, measureable and informs future decisions. Fulfilling the promise of marketing integration.

Defenders of huge agencies often point to the rise of automation and AI, and focus integration with media alone, and a future in which only the data-mammouth monsters of the market will survive in the acquisition space. There’s some element of truth to this. As technology develops, a certain amount of media buying, planning and content creation will inevitably be driven by automated automation and AI – but it has its limitations.

Without integration, agencies will continue to face the challenge of tracking meaningful performance, that is integral to informing strategy and campaign evolution. In real time, beyond the ad and cost saving, integration is what our clients want and need.

While the nuts and bolts of marketing agency work are important, and any cost-savings in this area are to be welcomed, the value of tomorrow’s agency partner is not limited to this. The strategic thinking, creativity, performance, while maintaining the human factor is a unique, complex puzzle that needs all pieces found and placed perfectly together. These are the components that AI cannot match, or even begin to capture.

Ultimately, creating impactful content that works is all about audience first, clear purpose, creativity, connected strategic thinking… and often a little bit of genius that brings it all together in a trackable way. And that’s far more important than focusing on reducing the bottom line with automation as a sole driver.

The future isn’t automated, its authentic

Understanding the customer – where to find them and how to engage them – will take vertical and channel specific insight and talent. But does that mean that small, nimble startups are the future, and bigger firms are just doomed dinosaurs?

Actually, it’s not quite that simple.

For impact, there is a correlation between investment in innovation and results. Growth, in principle, is a good thing. But it isn’t so much about how much you grow, but how you grow.

the Specialist integrated Model

The specialist integrated agency is one that specializes within an industry, without sacrificing integration points across the entire customer journey and brand lifecycle management that we often see happening in bigger holding companies.

Although everyone has their own integrated story to tell, the important thing is that they’re performing and delivering on the promise of integration. That’s very different from the traditional agency model, organized by siloed capability areas, or where brands may sit together within a holding company, but they’re not really on the same team: not talking, developing, riffing and collaborating in a way that’s synonymous with the innovative thinking needed to drive the market forward.

Instead, this new model offers a promise of integration and fulfils that in reality, because of the authentic, and deep industry specialty, to bring efficiency and impact with insight, strategy, integration and performance. 

At Dialect, it’s not been our philosophy to grow and integrate through acquisitions, but by building and partnering – with the internal mechanisms to ensure brands truly benefit from the pooled knowledge that’s needed to forge the future of marketing from strategy phase to campaign optimization that closes the full loop, and activates it again.

To be truly integrated, you have to work alongside each other. You have to trust each other, you have to share, and be there at every stage of the process. There’s no ego in the room, because you need to have one single focus, with everyone working together harmoniously to deliver results for brands.

To consistently fulfil the promise of integration, in the always on, budget mindful world we’re living in today, we must embody and offer a specialist integrated model to drive efficiency and greater impact for brands. Meaning, specialist of an industry, where there’s efficiency in audience understanding, efficiency with knowing the industry players, efficiency with connecting brands together, efficiency with how to connect communities together, efficiency with how to reach and engage audiences and retain them.

Ultimately, creating real impact by fully integrating the lifecycle of the experience, and performance, without having to reinvent the wheel at each brief. Efficiency and impact.

The Age of the Integrated Specialist

The world of marketing is changing; and the agency landscape is evolving too and with greater pressure on reporting performance. Those who try to deliver all things to audiences without efficiency and impact will find it increasingly challenging.

The age of the integrated specialist is here: with authentic voices, a passion for their platforms, and the interest to invest where it matters. Not only taking brands into unchartered marketing territory, but doing it in response to and with a finger on the pulse. A more nimble specialist agency can offer greater in-depth expertise (with a lower cost base).

The trick will be to grow, but to grow in the right way. That means avoiding growth-for-growth’s-sake, and instead growing organically; integrating new departments in a way that’s responsive and built for collaboration.

At Dialect, that’s the kind of agency model we have pursued since our founding. And we’re confident it will help us be front and center in this new and evolving marketing landscape – continuing to deliver the strategy, the concepts and campaigns that competitors follow.

If you would like to discover more about our integrated approach and work together on a project, get in touch.