Today I have the interesting role of being a marketer at a company whose clients are also marketers. I think this actually makes my job easier, because I get to regularly take off my mar-tech "vendor" hat and put on my mar-tech "customer" hat and work on both sides of the rails.
As a mar-tech customer, I see (and live) the pain points that are stemming from vendor proliferation. But as a mar-tech vendor, I realize there's been a solution staring us in our faces all along. There is an easy way to fix the ecosystem: Agencies can bring their tech in-house and deliver true value to their brands.
That's not to say that some agencies aren't already doing this -- many are. Still, marketers like me get doe-eyed for the agencies that can deliver technology or at least technological expertise to their clients. Brands already rely on agencies for creative expertise -- why not mar-tech expertise as well?
We need experts
The mar-tech space is out of control. Just check out these Lumascapes. Pretty soon we're going to need a new diagram just to lay out the charts themselves. Unfortunately, the Lumascape still very much represents reality for marketers, and vendor management -- not to mention vetting, selection and implementation -- can be a full-time job.
Right now, there just isn't an out-of-the-box platform with a rich ecosystem of application developers around it for brand marketers the way there is for the CRM space. Think about Salesforce applications. That's an entire ecosystem with extremely customizable, powerful applications that empower companies to make more sense out of their data, for their specific needs. This is just one example of how the ad-tech space hasn't fully evolved the way mar-tech has. There is a real opportunity for agencies to step in and be that layer.
The solution to the fragmentation of the Lumascape is for agencies and holding companies to marry their creative prowess with customizable tech capabilities in-house, so they can be fully equipped to deliver value for brands.
Help identify the right customers and get the right insights
There's not a marketer out there who doesn't wish they knew more about their customers, but for most brands this is a huge headache due to data silos, proprietary labels, cross-platform identifiers, etc. If marketers are really expected to understand and invest in data solutions, and bring the data ownership in-house, shouldn't the ecosystem better enable that?
If agencies developed solutions, acquired platforms, partnered with leading companies, or just became experts at the options out there, the value of the agency-client relationship would increase greatly, and they would be able to replicate this for the entire client portfolio. In today's digital reality, the marketers who "get it" are at an advantage -- and the smart agencies are becoming critical to that.
WPP's Martin Sorrell has long been a champion of data and technology on top of creative, even going so far as to say that "the definition of creativity needs to change -- we're not in the advertising business anymore." In order to create sustained value and relevance for marketers, agencies need to transform to become data experts. WPP has been aggressive in terms of investing in technology, and it has created tremendous value for its clients. Suffice it to say, agencies are now in the tech business whether they like it or not.
The industry has seen a recent spate of telecom companies getting into the cross-device identity space, but this doesn't directly help marketers. I hope the next trend will be agencies and holding companies doing the same and investing in mar tech.
Agencies: Stay relevant by helping marketers find what's next
In general, the longer a business has been around, the better prepared the business is to face new challenges. We're all familiar with the struggle that many startups face: 90% of them will fail. But the 10% of companies that emerge and thrive are the ones with the right fundamentals, strong technology and true differentiation. Now it's time for traditionally tech-averse agencies to take a cue from Silicon Valley.
As a marketer, I hope agencies can help sort through this mess of vendors and maze of data applications, and empower brands to create custom applications to make more sense out of our data, for our specific needs. The industry has moved from ignorance to skepticism to experimentation, but we need help ushering in adoption.
Marketers need to seriously invest in owning more of the technology and data stack themselves, and that goes for agencies, too. Add value not just on the creative side, but on the data side. It's time for agencies to become tech experts.
Brian Ferrario is VP-marketing at Drawbridge, a cross-device data company.