The Evolution Of Marketing Tech And How It’s Prepared Agencies To Capture Consumer Marketshare

CTO of Wunderman Thompson NA, applying technology to drive client growth across the Americas and beyond.

The transformation opportunity for brands is to capture as much of the consumer as possible to better understand and shorten the distance between what they ask for and delivering what they need. Today, agencies can sell and then ship products, but the aspiration is to ship and then sell because they can anticipate consumer needs.

Agencies and their technology sit on the front line with the clients they serve to help innovate and drive these kinds of business disruptions, but there are different ways to do that. Some agencies are busy building deep vendor partnerships to assemble digital solutions. Others are developing in-house custom platforms that target niche client problems. Many are doing both. However, few are truly reimagining themselves to compete in this new world. Why?

Not surprisingly, the growth of agency technology aligns with three generational changes in the web. Let’s recap how we got here before circling back to reimagining the future of agency technology.

Agency Tech 1.0: Build And Run

The Web 1.0 “dot-com boom” saw brands scramble to establish their digital dominance within the new internet era. The role of agency tech was to build and run websites for brands as the new go-to-market channel. The excitement to learn and remain client-sticky saw many agencies develop custom applications to manage websites and their content. Agencies competed with software vendors in the web space until it was no longer commercially viable at the product level, so agencies pivoted and started to productize their services. While never entirely letting go of application development, they were clearly focused on building marketing technology that clients needed to better engage with their consumers.

Agency Tech 2.0: Run And Grow

After the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of millennium, the expansion of the internet into Web 2.0 brought us platform titans such as Facebook, Spotify, Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. Where Web 1.0 was largely broadcasting communications from brands to consumers, Web 2.0 was all about engagement by scaling interactions between producers and consumers through platforms.

Agency technology moved deeper into the enterprise, integrating with advertising technology and marketing technology systems through strategic partnerships with major platform providers to deliver customer experience solutions. Focusing on services, agencies help brands run marketing operations, end-to-end content production, campaign activations, performance optimization, media and audience management, data and analytics. In short, agencies provide essential horizontal oversight as growth partners to clients across their entire customer journey.

However, brands, agencies and vendors cannot do this alone. It’s a team sport where the winners know how to leverage the power of partnerships. There are over 10,000 martech companies to navigate. Agencies and the brands they serve must proactively govern all participants within the technology ecosystem to digitally transform. It’s a complex and fast-moving environment where the right decisions separate the leaders from the laggards, progressing brands from simply running the current state and accelerating growth toward the future state.

Agency Tech 3.0: Grow And Transform

Looking beyond the incremental growth agenda and toward an exponential transformation mandate is today’s technology challenge and tomorrow’s business opportunity. Consumers travel seamlessly between sectors to complete life tasks. Grab a coffee. Peloton. Take the kids to school. Hit the dentist. Instacart to order groceries. Walk the dog. Caviar to order dinner. Uber to go for drinks. Netflix to stream a show. Technology breaks down all of the sector barriers, and mobile devices can allow consumers to move seamlessly between channels.

Emerging Web3 technologies are taking hold. The metaverse, NFTs, crypto wallets and smart contracts are moving up the corporate agenda. Agencies are shaping these stories for clients to better engage with their consumers, especially as businesses exercise their new digital muscles.

What’s Next For Agency Technology?

Technology can break down business barriers. The digitization of the end-to-end customer journey is where brands are competing fiercely for a greater share of the consumer. Agencies serve brands, and the technologies they deploy matter. The agencies that think horizontally, execute in alignment, connect through partnerships, build less and assemble more to create productized service offerings should lead and win with clients.

The rewards are high, but the risks are greater. Agencies are not product companies. They deliver services through projects. Product management is not project management; sustainable digital solutions thrive with the former and die with the latter. The shift toward productized services to clients is here, and that requires robust and reliable new capabilities—product management, licensing, digital governance, risk management, partner ecosystems, strategic planning, a team of teams deployment, AI/ML operations and architecture—for agency technology to thrive.

Agency technology is entering a new era of working with clients and partners to capture consumer market share. Agencies excel at innovating to disrupt client business models and are ramping up on technical capabilities to scale pilots into production by fundamentally embracing the principle of valuing progress over perfection. Innovation is important, but productization (when done right) is profitable.

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