Brands Count on Their Agencies for Data and Digital-Experience Services

The last decade marked a cross-disciplinary revolution in the agency business. Agencies across digital, media, creative, and public relations (PR) disciplines continue to help brands tell persuasive stories to their customers and prospects — as they always have and probably always will. But, over the past few years, digital technologies have transformed one-sided, broad-reach narratives into vivid, audience segment-based interactive experiences. A new assortment of consumer data lets brands target and deliver those experiences across channels as precisely as rifle shots compared to old-media shotgun blasts.

Across paid, owned, and earned channels, digital technology has accelerated the digital transformation of the entire industry. Creative agencies — household names since the Mad Men era — are acquiring digital talent to understand how to personalize digital channels, and iconic brands are moving resources from broadcast and print to the online and mobile platforms where their customers spend their time nowadays.

Listening to Agencies — and Their Clients
Adobe works hard to understand digital transformation through the eyes of our agency partners and customers — after all, their experiences help us learn what technologies and services they need as well as understand how best to provide value to our partners.

However, our agency partners’ clients — custodians of their brands’ customer data and experiences — have their own perspectives on this digital-transformation era. So, we asked Forrester Consulting to help us look at agencies from the client perspective across these two key areas. This will help us understand how to partner with agencies for mutual success in delivering value to our joint clients.

In a pair of global surveys, Forrester asked more than 500 marketing and advertising leaders from major brands how their agencies help them with the two essential components of digital marketing: first, using data to drive marketing decisions, and second, building and delivering personalized customer experiences. The research also took a close look at how clients view the role of technology-company partnerships in delivering those agency services.

The results are a quick read and well worth your time — here, I want to pull out a few issues that illustrate how Adobe can help its agency partners in a transformed industry.

Data-Driven Marketing
Traditionally, brands bought agency services in slices. Predigital, those slices aligned with communications channels — print, broadcast, and direct-response marketing services, for example. Today, channels have been subordinated to the role of delivery systems, so the slices are more likely to be different types or contexts of customer interaction that need to be aligned across a brand’s customer journey: search, display, and social, for example, or anonymous, known, and loyal users across all stages of the purchase cycle.

All those interactions require a common, consistent body of data to support and connect them. Forrester’s survey showed that brands expect their agencies to help them collect and manage this data-unification layer, discover insights from it, build strategies around those insights, and execute the strategies across digital channels. That’s where Adobe Marketing Cloud comes in, providing solutions to acquire, protect, manage, and distribute a brand’s customer data to optimize all stages of the user experience.

This model — a common pool of data supporting multiple interactions — is implemented in a variety of ways. One global electronics company uses a single agency and Adobe’s data platform to manage web, mobile, and first-party data across every one of their major markets. An automotive multinational uses different agencies for creative, media, and digital, but they all share data through the Adobe platform. And, a top US bank maintains its own customer relationship management (CRM) database in-house but uses the Adobe platform to share it securely and within regulatory limits with its data-management, media-agency, and system-integration partners.

A shared data-management platform — integrated with tools to collect, analyze, and deploy information effectively — allows a brand to organize its agency network to meet business goals without sacrificing any of the power and flexibility offered by modern digital marketing.

Brand Customer Experience
Of course, brands aren’t assembling all this customer information just to deliver the same static, one-way communications. They’re trying to build engaging, motivating experiences for their customers. The research found that only 18 percent of them are highly satisfied with the help they’re getting from their agencies. That leaves a lot of room for improvement in our partnerships.

I think most agencies do a good job within their discipline to help brands create experiences and deliver them across a specific channel. Digital agencies are skilled at stitching experiences together across multiple owned channels — and there’s been tremendous progress in extending them to mobile platforms, in particular, over a very short time. But, most agencies could do a better job of stretching their limits to build experiences across disciplines or different stages of the customer journey.

As a brand’s customer changes from an anonymous member of a target audience to a known individual and then makes a purchase, joins a loyalty program, or otherwise commits to a brand, they expect more from the brand. Confusing or isolating the stages of the customer experience can damage a relationship — overfamiliar treatment of an anonymous browser and casual treatment of a loyal customer are two ends of the spectrum.

Most brands have the data resources to connect experiences across the customer journey, and Adobe has made the technologies available to engage and follow both anonymous and known audiences throughout the acquisition, consideration, and conversion cycle. What’s needed most urgently is organizational commitment on the part of brands and agency data specialists with access to, and an understanding of, the brand’s data sets.

Balancing Breadth and Depth
The digital transformation hasn’t changed everything. Brands and agencies still struggle to balance a broad vision of marketing strategy with the deep, specialized skills needed to carry it out. But, everybody needs to understand the strategic context of their actions to avoid fragmentation and alienation of customers from a brand. It requires a kind of “T” structure — a sharing of the overarching strategic vision, coupled with in-depth training in a digital-marketing specialty. The research shows that brands agree: they plan to double the services they will request from cross-disciplinary agencies compared with specialist silos.

Adobe makes a real contribution here. Our technology, training, and implementation relationships with partners — across agency business models — help us exchange information and perspectives that keep us both on track and delivering value throughout a brand’s digital-transformation journey.

Adobe has commissioned two new Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Spotlights on The Future of Agencies: