As we near the end of 2014, we turn fortuneteller and try to predict what clients, particularly SMEs, will want from their marketing and digital agencies next year.
Here’s what we see appearing through the mists:
A more consultative agency relationship
The investment in social media and tools to make marketing more accessible to individuals and in-house teams will only continue. This could mean the days of agencies doing everything from strategy to execution are numbered.
We already with work with several SME clients in non-technology-based sectors that have in-house coding and marketing production capabilities, and we fully expect this number to grow inline with the ever-growing emphasis on digital marketing.
It’s not to say the expertise an agency holds is no longer valuable, but it could mean that a more consultative relationship is likely, with the agency guiding and providing insight in some parts of a client’s marketing activity rather than implementing it all.
More focus on brand definition
Entrepreneurship continues to be the buzzword of the age and reflecting this is a surge in the number of startups and small businesses (495,935 new UK businesses in 2014 to date*). Against this competitive backdrop, clearly defining your brand and ensuring it remains relevant has never been more important.
The level of understanding of brand development in a broader sense we see from enquiries and clients day-to-day has increased enormously. It also suggests that if you don’t give priority to developing and safeguarding your brand then your competitors already are; the brand that not only reaches the client, but also speaks to them most eloquently will be the winner over time.
Help making the most of the web for efficiency
Applications such as Dropbox and Basecamp have long been part of people’s workflow, even outside of naturally techie sectors, but many companies are only just starting to establish that an investment in creating bespoke web-based applications can create profit in ways other than marketing and sales.
Efficiency orientated applications and tools are becoming more accessible to SMEs, particularly in terms of development cost. Creating these platforms is requested more and we anticipate that this will continue – the benefits are clear; by largely automating some tasks, reducing administration time and improving accuracy, a ROI can be rapid and transparent.
More data-reliant digital marketing
Despite press about the renewed growth of print advertising on a more global scale, digital marketing’s accessibility, relative ease and speed, plus its provision of data will continue to make it easier to scrutinise and justify when it comes to budgets for SMEs.
By comparison, committing to a significant print advertising or direct mail campaign can seem an expensive leap of faith until it starts to bear fruit. In some ways this is a shame; a well executed print or direct mail campaign can really stand out against the sheer volume of digital marketing that everyone is exposed to and can be equally tangible.
Creating a video or micro-site will also continue to be as commonplace a platform for a one-off piece of promotion as once was the production of boxes of brochures.
More specialism, less ‘fronting’
There will always be the client who wants a ‘one-stop-shop’ relationship with a full service agency (though what ‘full service’ actually means now can be hotly debated). This is usually either because they don’t have the time or the inclination to research and put in place a roster of individual specialists or because managing this framework is perceived to be too time-consuming. If the client’s needs are being met then this is all good and well.
However, more and more we are seeing SMEs implement the roster approach. It is quite common for a client to have some in-house skills, a creative agency, a PR agency and a digital marketing agency all in place at once. This can have multiple benefits including better quality delivery, greater control over cost and the ability to replace one element of the roster if needed without disrupting the rest.
This is supported by a recent piece of research in Marketing Week that showed 13% more brands would now go to a specialist consultant or peer first to deal with a marketing challenge than an agency.
Even agencies themselves are being more open about which work is completed in-house and which work requires a specialist partner to collaborate with. I personally think this is positive in the long run as they are being transparent about meeting the client’s needs in the best way rather than be territorial.
Much of the above derives from SMEs having greater understanding of the benefits of building a brand and how to use digital platforms to their advantage than ever before, plus greater need for control these as competition increases.
It would be great to hear from you if you have any thoughts on the above, or additional points to raise, tweet me on @nickatpop
Nick Whyatt is the Account Director of POP, an agency specialising in branding based in Lincoln. Nick’s career spans 17 years, 9 of which have been at manager or director level. POP’s clients include brands such as Interflora, Vera Wang and the University of Lincoln, as well as a range of regional and local SMEs and authorities.