Sunday 13 July 2014 11:51 pm

Beyond digital: What will the future look like for marketing services?

WPP’S Sir Martin Sorrell released his list of the top 10 trends shaping the global advertising business last week. Alongside a shift in power to the South, East and South East of the world, and a brewing battle for talent, Sorrell discussed the continuing role of the internet in transforming marketing. While calling it a “tremendous net positive”, he raised the question of what role agencies should play in a market in which consumers increasingly buy direct from producers (using the likes of Google as an intermediary), and where a word like “digital” itself becomes obsolete. So what might the future hold? I speak to leading marketing strategists to find out.


First, disintermediation – whereby customers bypass the traditional brokers when buying a product or service – is creating challenges for those doing the selling. “There are uncomfortable demands on manufacturers at the moment”, says Landor’s executive director of brand strategy Ian Wood. Car manufacturers, for example, are finding themselves taking on the role of intermediaries, he explains. People may be buying cars online, but “all the valuable information is held by dealers, not the car companies. They’re ill-equipped and not customer focused.” Predominantly, customer relationship management agencies (CRMs) are used to bridge the gap and talk to customers. “The simplest thing for them is outsource it”, says Wood. “But all manufacturers are going to have to develop a customer focus which isn’t just advertising.”


But just how hi-tech will marketing get? Colin Gillespie, chief strategy officer at All Response Media, says that the likelihood that we’ll see the “agency algorithm” – where “digital or social signals and other contextual or transaction data writes the brief, posts the brief, crowdsources the response, chooses a winner, bids for the media, analyses and reports on the response” – is possible, but won’t happen quite as imagined. While the advent of programmatic buying is pushing out the old art of media planning and buying, “the algorithm won’t know everything,” he says. But certainly the direction of travel towards a “marketing services utopia” will mean the process becomes quicker and cheaper.


The new environment will also need a  “new breed of account handler”, says Gillespie. “Footfall is still driving how traditional brands market”, says Jaywing chief executive Martin Boddy. “Online, they can see marketing spend and demand, but they still need to understand the relationship between the two.”
So a new creative number cruncher will be required to “carve out chunks of insight from reams of data. They still won’t be data strategists per se, but they’ll know which questions matter”, says Gillespie. Although programmatic buying can ensure firms bring customers through the door, it can only go so far. It will take deeper insights to ensure they’re retained.


Whatever struggles may be ahead, there could be some exciting opportunities within Sorrell’s “post-digital” world.
Gillespie thinks Sky might be the first firm to take its media space to market, showcasing a supply chain shortened by technology. “I give them two years max before some inventory is available through a trading desk. The City will be ready to trade the commodity that is media as easily as it does sugar, cocoa and wheat.”
Harriet Green is business features writer at City A.M.