Agency owners should consider developing new solutions that demonstrate the relevance of the agency to existing and new clients.

In the last year we have all witnessed tremendous disruption in our businesses. The client/agency relationship is at risk; companies are developing in-house agencies; company growth agendas bring in CIOs and other business stakeholders; marketing budgets face constant pressure; and consultancies are swooping in to take away the high-margin business transformation and “Experience Technology" assignments.

This is no time to be complacent. Agency leaders should be developing a future-facing mindset in order to remain relevant to your clients. Prosper Group is dedicated to helping our clients become the “Agencies of the Future” to stay indispensable to clients.

Here are five service offerings you should be prioritizing in 2019 - if you haven’t already.

1.    Real Business Transformation

This is something that agencies need to get better at in the years ahead. In the past, our partnerships with clients were based on their marketing and communications needs. But, the disruption brought about by the digital age has changed all that. Clients need more transformative services and solutions from their agency partners. At the recent Worldwide Partners Summit in London, Prosper Group led a session on how agencies must offer clients deeper thinking that will allow them to transform their businesses for tomorrow’s markets.

Click on the link below to watch Doug Baxter’s presentation to agency CEOs at the Worldwide Partners Summit in London:

Many have already experienced the large management consulting firms making huge inroads into our business by offering these services. We need to develop new models more focused on the metrics that really matter to clients: return on marketing investment, new customer acquisition, profit per sale and client retention, to name a few.

2.    Deep Understanding of Analytics

There are also great opportunities for agencies that have developed a mastery of analytics. Clients resist making transformative decisions described in the first point without appropriate data. There is a new generation of clients whose first question will always be “What does the data say?”. Today, deep learning allows us to take massive and sometimes unstructured datasets and reap relevant, actionable insights and direction.

What’s more, predictive analytics activate those insights by facilitating real-time optimization, ongoing measurement, and even further optimization.

Here are five different data skills your agency may need to master in 2019:

  • Fluency with emerging analytics. Existing analytics platforms will evolve, and new solutions will emerge. To stay current with what’s possible, you’ll want your digital marketers to be fluent with the latest digital marketing analytics.
  • Business acumen. A strong digital marketer will know how to stay focused on business goals and not get lost in the data. That means having the business acumen to know which analytics are meaningful and actionable. Most importantly, they should know how to use analytics to advance business objectives.
  • Data wrangling. Also known as “data munging,” this is the process of transforming and mapping data from a raw form into another format so it can be used for other downstream purposes, such as analytics. These skills come out of data science and traditionally belonged to the data scientists. But as digital marketing becomes increasingly data- and analytics-driven, you’ll want people on your teams with these skills.
  • Storytelling with data. Storytelling usually evokes word mastery, but the rise of data visualization means data can now play a bigger, more visual role in any story you want to tell. The key for analytics-savvy digital marketers is figuring out how to present data visually so people who are not particularly proficient at immediately grasping the meaning of graphs and data can also see the story in the numbers.
  • Proficiency with unstructured data. Unstructured data — data that isn’t stored in a database row or column — has played a big part in the current data boom. That’s because so much of today’s data is created on social media platforms and in other unstructured formats. Think tweets, Facebook posts and comments, or even chat messages with a call center representative. As digital marketing campaigns move to social media, more of your customer intelligence will take the form of unstructured data. Moving forward, proficiency with unstructured data will be key. You’ll want digital marketers who can organize and understand unstructured data and know how to combine and correlate it with structured data for even greater insights.

3.   Strength in Integration and Digital Project Management

Disruptive technologies continue to penetrate and reshape every industry and job role, forcing companies to adapt and operate more nimbly.

To succeed in this competitive environment, companies are embracing digital transformation throughout their organizations — especially in marketing. And, as more digital transformation investment is allocated to marketing, more digital projects will need to be scoped, planned and implemented.

Digital project management is a big bucket that encompasses a broad range of skills and capabilities, some of which we capture in other categories. But here are a few must-have digital project management skills:

  • Proficiency with project management tools like Wrike, Trello, Slack, Basecamp, Liquid Planner, Pivotal Tracker
  • Understanding the software development methodologies — Waterfall, Scrum, Agile and others
  • Familiarity with content management systems (CMS)

4.   Artificial Intelligence: Set to Boom

We have really only begun to scratch the surface of AI’s potential. For example, investments in AR and VR, a small segment of AI, are expected to grow from $11.4 billion in 2017 to $215 billion in 2021.

The challenge now facing agencies is developing an artificial intelligence mindset, in order to make best use of AI-powered tools and tech. There’s a push to explore the myriad ways AI can improve data collection and analysis, create organizational efficiencies, enhance the customer experience and ultimately drive greater ROI.

As exciting as it is, it’s important that agencies keep AI in perspective. It is not a cure-all for every problem. Avoid the temptation to start with the tech; rather, define the problems you want your technology to solve and from there, you can begin to explore AI-powered solutions.

In the coming year, we’ll see a lot of first-adopted AI applications fade away as organizations track and analyze performance data and rethink their strategies. The volume of data created worldwide is growing at a staggering 40 percent per year, feeding a near-unimaginable level of intelligence into organizations attempting to make sense of and activate it. As consumers increasingly move away from the touch interface and choose to converse with search engines and personal assistants, we’ll gain even better informed, more compelling experience.  We are just beginning to understand the possibility of the opportunity of platforms such as Alexa.

 5. Embrace Marketing Automation

Many leaders in our industry fear marketing automation. They consider it a threat to the strategic and creative outputs they historically offer clients. What if clients embrace it and consider the agency redundant?  In reality, automation in marketing frees up valuable time to focus on areas of greater impact - on creativity, communication and decision-making.

Today, you can automate search campaigns, email campaigns, lead flow processes, analytics, content promotion, interactions triggered by actions within your CRM, and more. There’s a tool out there to automate delivery of every message and the collection of every bit of data it generates.

It’s the next step in automation that is exciting. It is the combination of automation and AI. Intelligent automation takes the efficiency and productivity of automation and layers on data analysis, decision-making and even prioritizing next steps. Automation allows for the collection and analysis of super datasets; natural language processing; and machine learning that drives predictive analytics and evidence-based learning.

Applications that interact with your customers and even make decisions about how to interact with them must be extensively tested and monitored closely by team members skilled in AI. ROI cannot be measured in dollars alone. Customer satisfaction must be tracked at various points in the journey in order to fully realize the impact of the technology on your customer-facing operations.

These are five services our clients are integrating into their agencies’ offerings. However, every agency is different. The strongest voice to listen to as you develop and rollout new services is that of your clients themselves. They may not always be able to describe exactly what solutions they need, but will be able to tell you what problems they want to solve and what objectives must be achieved. Your agency’s ability to provide new solutions to these challenges is a golden opportunity for 2019.

Doug Baxter is a partner at Prosper Group, and leader of our digital practice.