When people talk about the agency of the future they’re really pointing out what needs to change with the one of the present. This is particularly pertinent in times of great change, and a global pandemic is one of the biggest catalysts we’re likely to see in our lifetimes.

With that in mind, what do agencies need to do to better serve clients and help them overcome challenging times? Here are five assertions:

The agency of the future is human-first rather than digital-first

By definition, marketing is fundamentally about understanding people and satisfying their wants and needs. Too many agencies peddle clever tech solutions without much attempt to understand the consumer. What makes this especially problematic is that we live in a world where tech advances have made purchase behaviour and patterns more complicated than ever. This means that in order to better connect with audiences, clients need more help than ever to understand their consumer’s motivations and the behaviour behind the – often complex – purchase decisions that they make.

The agency of the future will be leaner

Marketing clients will continue to in-house and automate marcomms functions in order to save money and time. While some agencies (and their holding companies) will kick against it, those who embrace change will find opportunities to monetise new processes and ways of working. Smaller agencies with nimble and talented freelance networks will gain traction. Training and coaching clients (particularly in tech and performance marketing) will become a legitimate agency function. And agencies developing their own proprietary technologies to help clients work smarter will become ‘a thing’ in its own right.

The agency of the future will be faster

Perhaps more accurately, agencies will better bring energy and intensity to bear on marketing challenges. In tech companies, they call it ‘velocity’ – the idea that moving faster not only gets you there sooner but also gets a better-quality outcome as a result of more focused effort.

Agencies will find ways to deliver quality more quickly – be that through improved structures, clearer processes, the application of new technologies, or changes to how teams are motivated and incentivised.

The agency of the future will be able to better frame problems

Marketing academics and scholars lament the fact that most marketing professionals aren’t well-schooled enough in the fundamentals. Whether you agree or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find a marketer willing to boast that they’re a master of all facets of modern marketing – there’s just too much to know. The result is that marketing clients increasingly need more than just ‘solutions’ from their agencies – they need help to know the right questions to ask.

Agencies will therefore be expected to play an even more consultative role, providing an expert understanding of appropriate technologies within the context of consumer behaviour.

The agency of the future will double down on creativity

As process and automation become more commonplace across all aspects of marketing, it’s the agency’s ability to creatively solve problems that will come to the fore. AI can already write poems, songs and even jokes but the genuine emotional connection is difficult – it’s hard to measure, it’s hard to articulate, and it takes humanity to craft and hone.

A lot of my work involves digital transformation; helping clients to better understand and apply technology in order to create better marketing. But it’s important to remember that as agencies we are largely about emotionally engaging and connecting with people and, while that can be facilitated through technology, it’s still reliant on people and creativity to make it effective.

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