Digital marketing tools & marketing agencies

Marriage, spider's web or ecosystem?

Peter Desmyttere
June 17, 2019
⏱ 7 min. read

Marketing agencies are ‘early adopters’ for digital marketing tools. Over the past few years, they have put a great deal of effort into digitising their organisation, much more than the marketing teams for which they develop actions and campaigns. There’s been a successful marriage between marketing agencies and marketing technology. However, the explosion of marketing technology providers, the fragmentation of the office landscape and the emerging digitisation of marketing teams (the clients of the agencies) are endangering that marriage. 

The result is a tangle of technology around an agency, a client and the suppliers of both parties (mainly freelancers and niche professionals). Where technology is meant to make life easier for marketers, it now often causes confusion, frustration, misunderstandings and loss of time. In this article, I will zoom in on three scenarios that you find in practice and share my vision on the best possible way to use digital technology within a marketing agency.

Scenario 1: the marketing agency hardly has any tools and processes

With Husky, we regularly organise workshops with marketing agencies. We gauge how they digitise, how they set up and manage their internal processes, but also whether they can communicate quickly and professionally with customers from within their organisation. About half of the marketing agencies acknowledge that they do not have their internal digital organisation in order. The internal planning is done in outdated systems and the campaign planning for customers is usually made in Excel. All other digital tools hover next to this plan and don't integrate with the essential tools. In this scenario, the marketing agency struggles with its internal organisation and can hardly communicate with and report to the customer quickly and professionally.

Scenario 2: there is a good marriage between MarTech and the marketing agency, but the customer is not a part of it.

Modern marketing agencies know that there is now a tool for every process or action that makes work more comfortable, cheaper or more efficient. Digital marketing agencies, in particular, have understood this very well. They juggle tools for project management, marketing automation, social publishing, KPI dashboards, time trackers, rank trackers and email publishing platforms. The technological landscape surrounding digital marketing agencies is, therefore, starting to look impressive. 

Top students have a digital tool for just about every organisational question or need. Many of their digital tools are also integrated so that they have a high-performance internal organisation. However, the digital agency organisation is entirely separate from the digital team organisation at customers. As a result, a lot of emails, Excels and PDFs with marketing data are sent out.   

What often happens in practice: the data contained in MarTech tools are exported to Excel or PDF because (in their experience) this is the only alternative to performing data exchange using the same logic. So, for example, the marketing planning of the marketing team from tool A is translated by the agency via Excel into a marketing planning in tool B. Or the marketing agency will export a results dashboard to PDF, which is then used by the marketing team on its own (among many other dashboards). As a result, the number of emails, Excels and PDFs is increasing alarmingly in the communication between the marketing agency and its customer.

On the one hand, all these separate tools and platforms have been built with the sole aim of making the work of marketers easier, more organised and more efficient. On the other hand, in the communication between agency and customer, they only provide more emails, Excels and PDFs. Ironic.

Scenario 3: the marketing agency works within a digital ecosystem

The marketing agency of the future will go further than setting up an internal digital organisation; it will build a digital ecosystem that optimises not only internal communication and organisation but also ensures professional communication and reporting to the customer. Our research shows that the ecosystem between agency and customer consists of 7 components:

  • sharing marketing planning (communication and campaigns)
  • providing insight into the task planning (who does what when)
  • the rapid availability of timesheets (time spent on projects, actions and campaigns)
  • sharing KPI dashboards with results (data that is often kept at an agency)
  • the use of digital proofing systems (which should make the approval of documents and designs faster and more comfortable)
  • providing insight into the media budget (how much and which media the agency purchased)
  • the use of chat to reduce the overload of emails

A brief interpretation of the terms API, iFrame and iPaas:

  • API (Application Programming Software) extracts marketing data from one digital system and places it directly under an agreed form in another digital network.
  • iFrame means that a part of the screen is framed in a digital tool, and a display from another digital system enters that part.
  • With the iPaas solution, an Integration Platform As A Service is used (an integration software that can act as a Hub between thousands of digital tools). 

In the above example:

  • Both the agency and the customer make the communication planning in Husky (central planning, always having overview).
  • The marketing agency uses a planning software XYZ for task and studio planning, while the customer's team uses Husky for this purpose; however, via API, tasks from one system become visible in the other system 
  • The timesheets (time worked) of the agency come from XYZ, but they are made available via the API directly in Husky.
  • The marketing agency draws up its KPI dashboards in Klipfolio, but they arrive in Husky in real time (so that the customer has a direct view of the results).
  • Designs and documents are placed in Husky's digital proofing system for approval (no emails or different PDFs required)
  • The marketing agency keeps track of its media purchases in Smartsheet; via an intermediate software (iPaas). 
  • focus both agency and customer on the use of chat (agency via Slack, customer via the internal chat in Husky) to reduce the overload of emails: a Slack discussion can be seen in Husky, and vice versa 

In this scenario, there is a perfect marriage between the digital organisation of the agency and that of the client. The situation sketch above is evident if the marketing agency had only one customer. But that is hardly ever the case, with a few exceptions excluded. At the same time, a marketing agency is always working on actions and campaigns for several clients. Every customer has her strategy, her organisation and her digital tools.

Marketing agencies must take the lead in building digital ecosystems

The solution for better communication with and reporting to the customer, therefore, lies in marketing technology that makes the exchange of marketing data between different platforms easier. But technology never stands alone; success with marketing technology is also a matter of people and processes. That is why there is an individual responsibility on the part of marketing agencies that have to put their customers on the road to proper use of MarTech within the mutual relationship.

Nothing will become impossible in the future MarTech ecosystem. Technology offers a solution to a problem that is still created today by (a lack of understanding of the functioning of) technology. The role of the marketing agency within the MarTech ecosystem will be threefold, in my opinion:

  1. Integrate MarTech tools in the customer's environment

    Is the customer helpless in the field of digitisation? Then provide insight into the tools you use to manage the client's projects, actions and campaigns. Explain to customers why you use a particular tool and allow customers to view results directly in the tool. 
  2. Act as an advisor and trainer when the customer is 'searching' for the right tool(s)

    Does the customer work with a specific email publishing tool for the e-newsletter and (light) marketing automation? When, as an agency, you have a better technological solution? Think of it as an essential part of your service to advise the customer on the way to a better tool. Set it up with them and organise training sessions to get the most out of the digital solution together. 
  3. Use integrations to exchange marketing data from your platforms with the customer's platforms.

    This solution is the 'nec plus ultra' of a MarTech ecosystem and the technical aspect of a collaboration between the marketing agency and its customers. As mentioned above, APIs or iPaaS are documented gateways to an application to request, create or modify items. Thanks to them, marketing data in one application can remain managed by the marketing agency and be simultaneously visible to the customer in another application.

I admit: the playing field of marketing technology is quite a challenge for marketers who have historically come from a creative angle rather than from a technological nest. But thanks to proper guidance - from the technical guys within the marketing agency or through the intervention of a MarTech player - the communication and reporting between the marketing agency and its customer(s) can be raised to a higher level.

Do you have any questions about this article, or do you as a marketing agency (or as a customer of an agency) use a different solution? Feel free to let me know by filling in the form below.

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