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Building the Digital Marketing Agency of the Future

In the increasingly global digital marketing world, agencies will need to adapt in order to succeed on a worldwide level.

How fast?

Less than two years ago on Search Engine Watch Uri Bar-Joseph offered up a list of seven things that search marketing agencies would have to consider to ensure future success. Bar-Joseph’s list started with integrating services, being multi-device and SoLoMo-friendly, and offering clients a software solution. He explained the need to use both left- and right-brain thinking, to act like a marketer in dealing with clients, and to make content creation a core competency.

In all of these he was right on the money. But now, in April 2015, his list of seven is no longer a guide to how future agencies will evolve. Today Bar-Joseph’s list is the bare minimum one should expect from any marketing agency seeking to present competence online. Leading agencies are going to have to be willing to take five further steps into the future to be competitive and offer real value for clients.

1. Language Skills

Marketers have always been advised to speak the customer’s language. Too often, though, this sort of advice means learning the jargon of the client’s industry or breaking down complex online strategies into simple steps non-marketers can understand. In today’s connected world, agencies need to have the ability to communicate in and deliver work in multiple languages. Agencies must develop the language competencies to service clients in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and, increasingly, Africa.

With more than half of the top 20 on Fortune’s Global 500 companies headquartered in non-English speaking countries, nearly half of all Web pages in a language other than English, and an astounding three in four Internet users being non-native English speakers, agencies will only succeed at a global scale if they can find a way to connect with clients and customers alike.

2. Cultural Knowledge

It’s one thing to be able to speak a language, but it’s quite another to understand the cultural context of that communication. Successful agencies in the future won’t be able to apply things that work in the West to clients in the East or South and assume they’ll work. The differing ethnic, linguistic, religious, social, and economic contexts mean that a great idea in New York might also be a great idea in Sydney, but will fail miserably in Delhi or Dubai. Agencies will need to be aware of the ways in which culture sets a context for advertising online and offline, and be open to using platforms in culturally effective ways.

One agency that is finding success by embracing this sort of strategy in their digital and traditional marketing is mediareach. Their effective Elephant Atta campaign in the U.K. included the development of aYouTube channel specifically aimed at reaching Britain’s South Asian community, a large and growing ethnic minority group in that country.

3. Built for Speed

It’s a truism of the digital world that clients expect things faster than ever. The one-week turnaround is now a 48-hour turnaround, and the 48-hour task is now a 24-hour task, or maybe even a “by close of business” task. This speed puts extra pressure on agencies and stress on creatives and managers alike. Whatever the costs, there is little likelihood that clients will become less interested in speed or more forgiving of an agency that cannot deliver fast. This means that agencies will have to put into place systems and processes that allow them to turn work around quickly while maintaining quality.

Agencies already recognize the significance of speed and the best agencies are already getting out ahead of this trend. In a 2014 interview with Google’s Think newsletter, agencies like Digitas and Performics identified the speed of digital marketing as one of the key challenges their agency was responding to. Solutions that integrate external, on-call consultants, or software solutions that integrate local and remote teams will help achieve this sort of velocity, and firms that can build for speed will enjoy gains at the expense of their traditionally organized rivals.

4. Always Working

There are only 24 hours in a day and an agency team can only work so many of them before quality collapses through lack of rest. But agencies that learn how to effectively pro-source their work and curate a locationally disparate team of experts can work around the clock, offering clients a true 24/7 relationship. Instead of nine people working in the U.S., imagine a team of nine where three in Chicago hand off to the three in Philippines, who later hand off to the three in Mumbai. Just as the Web is never sleeping, so, too, will the team working on a client’s account always be on board.

The notion of a 24/7 agency is not new, of course. The difference today is that 24/7 is not the exception; it is going to become the rule for agencies. This is not about outsourcing work or even crowdsourcing work. Rather it is about prosourcing work and curating agency teams globally so that clients get the round-the-clock support they expect.

5. Local Control, Global Reach

Pulling all of these ideas together, the agency of tomorrow needs to be able to maintain local control over the remote teams that give them their global reach. This sort of control is possible for agencies that embrace Bar-Joseph’s software suggestion, particularly where that software is effective at allowing external, remote, and temporary contributors to an account interact with local brand managers, account managers, and full-time creatives and creative directors. Agencies must be able to maintain local control and accountability but must likewise engage teams globally and remotely in servicing their clients.

Platforms like these for marketers already exist. An integrated software solution, perhaps one that is even opened up to the brands and clients that an agency represents, will be another key difference between the agency of today and the agency of the future.

The Future Is Now

Uri Bar-Joseph was right about the shape of future agencies, but the speed with which that future has arrived means that the agency model needs to adapt further. Clients will increasingly come from non-English speaking backgrounds, customers will be found in non-Western cultures, and demands for speed and attention will only increase. The agency of the future must be ready to meet these challenges and embrace the change to their current models that responding to this change will require.

By guest author Anji Ismail, chief executive of DOZ.