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It would not be surprising at all if in this day and age, a good number of agency RFP responses or client pitches have the words “Digital Transformation for XYZ Client” in their title. The promise of transformation certainly poses an enticing challenge for clients feeling that while well immersed in digital activities, their organization has somehow not transformed or kept up. But, is the agency promising such transformation leading by example?

Not likely.

When considering hiring a partner-in-crime for digital transformation, clients should due diligence the following four areas:

Approach to Ideation: Human-centric Fit Through Iteration

The way an agency approaches ideation is fundamental to the quality and creativity of the ideas conceived. Most agencies rely on multi-disciplinary brainstorming sessions where representatives from all disciplines get together in a room for an hour or two. They then shout out ideas ad hoc and, at the end of the session, the “best” (or loudest) ideas are selected for further exploration.

If your agency has truly transformed, the old norms of the ideation process should have transformed into a more human-centric approach. Whereas collaborative brainstorming is fine, ideas must get in front of your client’s clients early and often. Modern agencies merge their ideation process with rapid prototyping and testing, fine-tuning the idea in short cycles until there is human-centric fit with what users will tend to “love,” not just use.

Approach to Development: Multi-Mindset Flexibility with Agile

Another clear sign that an agency has not transformed is the way development of websites and digital products is conducted. A project plan composed of Strategy, Design and (then) Development in sequential phases should worry clients looking to keep their project ideas fresh. This is particularly true if development is then outsourced to another party.

Modern agencies should be able to keep their overall development process sufficiently flexible to allow for multi-disciplinary collaboration through the very end of the project. If not employing a fully “Agile” approach to product development, even a semi-Agile approach will require familiarity with a whole new set of tools for backlog management, status reporting, version control and QA.

Approach to Marketing:
 Sprint-Based Creative and Media Efficiencies

Hopefully by now, even traditional agencies have moved away from a model where the solution to a business challenge is by default a TV commercial. That said, a clear sign of an agency having an outdated approach to marketing is not only the separation of creative and media, but also the inability to modify media tactics based on real-time (or as close to real-time) data. Gone should be the days of year-long media buys with limited flexibility for adjustment.

The clear foundation of a modern marketing plan is data; and insights derived from data should inform where that next marketing dollar should be spent. Double down on SEO? Increase PPC? Update your landing pages? Change your social media strategy? Modify your creative? Whatever the answer, a modern agency should have the internal frameworks and processes to swiftly understand what’s working (or not) and make the necessary changes to either the creative or media plans to enable the necessary changes. Say hello to Agile Marketing.

In fact, the recent 2018 State of Agile Marketing Report, produced by Agile Sherpas and Kapost, indicated that Agile Marketing has already reached 37% adoption, with 50% of marketers planning to utilize at least a modified agile methodology in their marketing efforts in the next 12 months.

Approach to Business Development:
 Relationship Building, Not Selling

An agency’s approach to business development can also tell the tale of their own state of transformation. The modern business development process has moved on to a more interesting space where responding to RFP questions or tedious assignments is no longer productive for either the buying or the selling party. A better approach is the collaborative definition of the solution by both parties – an advanced state of “consultative selling,” if you will.

Sure, assessing an agency’s capabilities and case study experience will always be helpful. However, once this stage of the selection process is completed, down-selected agencies should be willing to sit down with clients and collaboratively structure the appropriate solution to the stated business or brand problem before the final proposal or SOW is written. Agencies should be clear in their framework and approach and use this opportunity to demonstrate their value to clients by showing them exactly how they would work together, live.

This collaborative approach will indeed become a must for agencies as the overall industry evolves and consultancies begin to gain market share in the much coveted digital revenue pool. See a recent AdAge article for more information on the changing dynamics between agencies and consultancies.

In sum, agencies should practice what they preach. Digital transformation cannot be led by agencies that have not themselves transformed their ways of working, the mindset of their people, and their approach to the overall relationship with their clients. This is the exact same level of transformation that clients are not only expecting, but also need to undergo in order to remain innovative, swift and competitive.

Agency folk should not let them down.