Why digital-only companies aren’t ready to lead

by Tony Fannin, president, BE Branded

When you talk with the new digital-only companies, they will tell you that typical ad agencies just don’t get it. For the most part, they are right. Typical ad agencies and PR firms don’t truly understand the online world and thus, have a difficult time of incorporating it effectively in their overall marketing plan. Digital agencies are great at creating new ways of doing things, experimenting, and finding alternative marketing opportunities. This is when they are at their best.

Where they fall short is this is all they do. There are a vast majority of them who don’t understand the core principles of marketing and how that affect real business. Many don’t really want to know the business side of marketing. To them, it’s not exciting enough or there’s too many principles to learn and understand. They can impress prospects with their technology-driven knowhow and passion, but when it comes down to being asked if they can lead a marketing campaign, many don’t really know where or how to start. Almost all of their solutions are online or utilize the newest app of the day with no real solid marketing principles that guide cross-media decisions, individual channel goals, spend ratio, or even how to distinguish between hard and soft objectives. This is where digital-only agencies “don’t get it”.

As organizational theorist James March states, the best companies have the optimal balance of the exploration of digital and the exploitation of marketing agencies. Marketing agencies are used to hanging out with the CMO or the CEO. They understand the business side of their mission. Marketing agencies are great at developing a comprehensive marketing plan to exploit any advantage on behalf of their clients. Now, this can lead to a stale, “this is how we do always do things” rut. It is something all marketing agencies must guard against. They must incorporate the exploration quality from their digital counterparts.

The real trick is to have the balance of exploration and exploitation working in harmony. Experimentation without discipline ends up being a joy ride with nowhere to go and not knowing if you’ve arrived. Until the digital-only agencies understand, embrace, and practice true marketing discipline, they won’t be ready to lead the charge. And in the end, they are the one’s who “don’t get it” because this is about business, not technology.



About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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