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Successful agencies will straddle digital/human divide

Posted 18 September 2014.

​by Martin O’Halloran

​The communications agency of the future will be obsessed with return on investment, driving efficiency and building brands. It will use technology and data to help it deliver brand preference and engagement. But it will also need to remember that real live people remain at the heart of what it does.

Without doubt, technology is changing the way the agency world does business, and we all agree that we need to embrace digital like a long-lost sibling. If you haven’t started, you may well be too late.

The digital revolution is not just an agency one of course. All business is experiencing the same transformation to both the way it does business and the way it engages with customers.

An Oxford Economics’ research paper, The New Digital Economy, calls it the virtuous circle of technology and economic growth. Specifically, it says that the global digital economy has come of age with the internet setting in motion “a third wave of capitalism that will transform many aspects of the global
marketplace – from consumer behaviour to new business models.”

The paper also says the four megatrends of the next five years will be mobile technology, business intelligence, cloud computing and social media, although you could say the last, especially, is already one.

Mobile phones will have the greatest positive impact, the report says, with an estimated 72% of the world’s population owning a phone by next year and a majority of these using it to access the internet.

Business intelligence – data by another name – is being used to help companies better understand their customers while cloud computing provides them with great flexibility to respond to market opportunities.

Last but no means least is social media, the cultural phenomenon of the past five years, which is increasingly being used to build brand awareness and customer loyalty.

And while the Oxford Research paper has a broad reach, its findings resonate particularly for those of us empowered to help businesses and their brands connect with consumers better and deeper.

Some agency heads have predicted the demise of those who do not transform into digital shops. But I think this is a far too simplistic conclusion.
Sure, we need to embrace technology, much as the early caveman took to fire and the post-war generation embraced television. But we can’t forget what communications agencies have always beenabout – people and human insights.

Brands still need to connect with people – make them laugh, cry, smile or go “a-ha.” Technology just changes the way we communicate. And agencies, like ours, must help clients navigate their way through this new step-change in the way the world works.