By Claire West

A report by North West Vision & Media recently stated that “Buyers [of digital services], especially less experienced ones, are limited by their own knowledge of the sector and the options available to them.” The report, entitled Creative Currency, also concluded: “With the consumer environment and technology developing at such a pace, they [buyers] seek advice and guidance as to what is possible, who they should approach and how much they should expect to pay for services. They are limited by their own knowledge and experience.

“Confusion reigns at the moment”, agrees Tony Foggett, CEO of Code Computerlove. “Clients are going through an immense period of change, trying to adjust to an empowered consumer, an altered media landscape, a transforming supplier scene and period of rapid technological change. All against a back drop of the worst recession the country has seen for 50 years.

“There are certainly vastly different levels of understanding, capability and internal sophistication when it comes to digital within the client world. At one end of the scale, some clients who’ve brought digital services in-house are looking for agencies to provide sophisticated solutions and strategy that complement the skills that their own team can deliver, while others are looking for complete hand-holding and basic turn-key solutions. It’s our job, as agencies, to cater for all requirements.

“We also encounter companies at very different stages in their ‘journey of digital enlightenment’, which impacts on their requirements and knowledge. As digital becomes more important to a business, the client touch points and decision making widens and the amount they invest both externally and internally increases.

“Similarly, despite clients recognising the need for more consumer-centric communications, the recession has slowed clients’ experimentation and increased demand for safe more direct response and measurable spend. More than ever clients are looking for ROI and agencies that will deliver it but, to add to the confusion, they are increasingly faced with a ‘Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None’ supplier market place. As the priority of marketing channels have changed, agencies have adapted and ‘added on’ services. The result? Clients are left with a confusing picture of capability with everyone claiming to ‘do everything’.”

But from all of this confusion will come major change in both client organisations and the entire creative agency landscape, predicts Foggett.

He says: “The speed of change in the digital era is not about to slow down, and the next few years will be tumultuous to say the least. As the priority of the channels change for our clients and digital becomes ubiquitous across all of them, client’s internal structures will see a shake up. Many clients have structured their business around the traditional agency landscape and practices. It is typical to find, even within non e-commerce based large blue chips, a siloed client structure reflecting the agency environment and channels (Online, PR, Events, Mobile, Brand, Advertising and DM). But in a digital age when social participation has fundamentally shifted the relationship that consumers are seeking with brands and therefore their communications, our clients’ organisations will need to reorganise themselves around the customer. Instead of digital enlightenment this becomes an issue of marketing enlightenment.

Foggett added: “Then in agency land, the key battleground will be between Brand, Advertising and Online and the fight will be over the key relationship with the marketing or brand director. Traditionally ad agencies have held the lead relationship with brand marketing teams, but the disruption provided by technology and client’s reliance on agencies that can provide digital solutions that transcend all media, provides an opportunity for creative agencies that understand two-way media, social, technology and can connect the client continually to their fast moving customer to take the lead role during this period of confusion.

“More than ever, clients need their agencies to act as translators and scouts, bringing to them and interpreting the new opportunities for them to connect to their customers. Agencies that can stand out in this very confusing marketplace for clients, and demonstrate digital as well as brand expertise and an ability to deliver in order to reduce risk are likely to prosper.”