Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Digital Agency Is Now Obsolete

It's strange to read an article with this headline in a period when digital marketing in India has just begun to take off. It's even stranger to write one.

I write this post with all due respect to digital agencies. I was part of one for a fair period of time myself, and am aware of and appreciate the steps they have taken to bring Indian marketing into the digital age. But I do believe firmly that most digital agencies - some of them established international networks - have stopped evolving. Here's why.

I've begun to believe that digital agencies are taking the moniker 'digital' too seriously. They're confining themselves to doing work for clients purely in the web and mobile space. To most digital agencies - and I've met quite a few in the last few months - building a website, doing some banner campaigns, running a Twitter profile and building a few apps is all that they should be doing. And they build their teams, their thinking, their presentations and their USP around this offering.

There's a missed opportunity here. The rise of digital media - especially social media - has ushered in a new paradigm of communication. Consumers drive the conversation. And, more than ever before, they're keen to interact with the brands they love and consume (or want to consume), in ways that are new and surprising.

Today's consumers are enthusiastic about Liking, tweeting, blogging and creating content for the brand as long as they're recognised in some way for it. They're also keen to get what they're paying for - a single tweet or blog post is often enough for a company to create a Customer Care division out of thin air!

Today's consumers are also looking for great content from brands, be it text, video, photos or apps. They're happy to spend more than thirty seconds with the brand, as long as they're getting something out of it - be it entertainment, information or gratification.

And sometimes, you have to go out of the mobile and web space to give them that. It's simple, really. Today's generation is armed with smartphones and GPRS connections. They carry their digital channels with them, all around the world. We always talk of going where our consumers are...so it follows that we need to be with them - on the ground.

I think 'digital marketing' needs to mean 'technology-enabled marketing'. When you think of it that way, a whole new world opens up in front of you. Suddenly you realise that social media is just a channel to reach your audience and promote your content to them, and that they'll come to your website only when they really have to. An instant later, you're seeing QR codes at train stations, 3D projections in bathrooms and augmented reality-enhanced streets. Soon your mind begins to conceptualise of a radical repackaging campaign and how to create a digital firestorm around it. (All this while stone-cold sober.)

This isn't to say that no digital agency thinks this way. But if you ask them for a run-through of their work, they'll showcase websites and social media. And offer no line-of-sight into this sort of thinking.

I've been screaming about integrated marketing on this blog for a long while now. I've even proposed a model for setting up a digital-enabled integrated agency. But few mainline agencies are ready, or even capable enough, to show the way. It's up to the digital agencies to take a deep breath and consciously evolve in this direction.

It's either that, or go the way the typewriter did.


  1. I think we are an exception. Though i believe convincing a client to a FB campaign is easier than telling him to do mapping and AR. Digital Agencies in India are more focused on doing FB campaigns because every Tom, Dick and Hary can do it . FB makes it so much easier. Great Social media campaigns integrates all the platforms not just FB.

  2. Hahahaha! Rikki hates FB with a vengeance. But great post Samit. Very timely. But I fear most digital agencies are in the Dodo mindset.

  3. It is an easy thing to sell. As digital agency, we dont even try doing things differently. International social media campaigns are way better. Check out the Nokia campaign UK, true blood campaign on FB.
    As far as doing AR, mapping and HGR is concerned we will be launching lot of interesting work in coming months

    Though, eventually would like to build my own product and hire an agency to do all the shit work.