Defining 'The New Normal'

by Mark Newcomer, Mirum

Today, digital agencies are defining success in a new way. Historically, success was about meeting immediate client needs, such as developing a website or mobile application – and doing that on time and on budget.

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As agencies got better at this, the effectiveness of change was layered on. Meaning not only launching a new experience, but paying attention to its impact on key metrics, such as conversion rates and customer satisfaction. In fact, combining project success with business outcomes is the hallmark of the current standard digital agency case study, and something to which clients and analysts pay very close attention.

Today (and really into the future), success is in helping translate a client’s long-term goals into action-oriented plans. These long-term goals typically seek to transform channel and product experiences to bring a company, product or business unit substantially forward. In the process of tackling longstanding objectives, we build sets of digital assets and connect those assets to physical worlds like retail stores, homes and cars, to name a few.

Requests sound a lot more like “help modernize my lead generation capabilities,” “help me bring new product experiences to market” or “help me execute a new capability at scale.” At this level of strategic challenge, it is not about just one project anymore, but how a set of projects move an organization towards its goals. Therefore, success has a new layer, strategic goal achievement over a period of time. This is often measured through the eyes of the C-suite and a company’s bottom line. 

Furthermore, success does not stop there. From my perspective as Chief Strategy Officer for Mirum, a global digital agency, these newer realities lead us to also measure success internally more holistically. We need to take the whole agency-client relationship into account. Success is about how our strategies and plans are adopted, and the ability for these plans to truly guide a transformative effort for clients and different agency teams. It’s about how the execution of projects produce the highest possible quality of work for promised/expected business results. It’s important to think about how we are creating credible, meaningful, satisfying and lasting partnerships with a business at all levels, including the C-suite. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, agency team members must feel a sense of reward and accomplishment. If we are successful in all of the above, but we lose our best assets (people) along the way, we are ultimately unsuccessful in the end.

The “new normal” is that clients are increasing their reliance on the “right” agency partners to be part of larger business transformations. Interestingly, many businesses are now turning to digital agencies to take on this role – versus management consultancies and/or their traditional agencies — making digital agencies as important (if not more important) than any within an organization’s agency stable. Traditional agencies’ involvement will continue to be key with regards to advertising, media, and the variety of campaigns that drive behavior, but they are taking more of a secondary role, drafting from the foundation laid by a digital agency. In other words, a digital agency has to build something before a traditional agency can market it. Management consultancies will continue to provide high-powered, upstream thinking, but will struggle to offer true creative services. They will continue to excel at production outsourcing and the large-scale systems integration work underneath the surface.

Ultimately, all agencies will compete heavily for work that will eventually lead to building or marketing an experience versus starting an engagement with that assignment. To understand where an agency plays in this new world, one only needs to look at the requests coming in as a proxy for how they are viewed. For example, those that are just asked to “build” are the production shops of the future and may not get the upstream opportunities. Those asked to help create the future will have the most ability to be a long-term partner, which will likely include some piece of the production pie as well.

For agencies to adapt, they truly need to understand where they operate in the agency value chain and choose be the best in their space, or commit to re-working themselves in order to occupy a different space. The desire for the latter will be strong, but tempered by the ability to make the real changes. It will be in this next period of transition we will see a new set of winners and unfortunately, some losers.  

An example of the “new normal” is one underway for our team right now. A financial services brand approached us with a lofty task – help enter a new market, with a new brand, and a unique value proposition as part of the product offering. Right out of the gate, we recognized this was no “build” task, but one seeking to create a new future for this particular brand. We are working directly with the C-suite to help them navigate possible options and will be using innovative design techniques to bring ideas to life. And yes, we will eventually design and build; but we will plan, strategize, develop business cases, create prototypes, and lay the foundation for a new business model first. However, to win the right to design, we needed to win a strategic consulting engagement first. Furthermore, to maintain the right to design, we need to deliver a credible and approved strategy for launching a new brand into a new market. Developing that level of partnership with our clients is now our “new normal.”

Mark Newcomer, Mirum

Mark Newcomer, Mirum

About the Author: Mark is a business strategist with over 10 years of digital experience across market research firms, interactive agencies, and Accenture's management consulting practice. As Chief Strategy Officer for Mirum, Mark works at the intersection of business transformation and digital experiences. His responsibilities include running the strategic services teams, leading strategic engagements, and helping position Mirum for the future.