A risk-free trip into the future of digital

How do marketers explore and keep pace with the onslaught of new channels, ways to reach consumers and marketing opportunities they are constantly being presented with? If you read the press, you need strategies for content, VR, IoT, customer experience and bots for starters this year alone!

But diving right in without exploring the market fully can be a costly mistake. To help navigate “the new”, I run quite a few of what I like to call Digital Safaris, where I take clients to meet up-and-coming agencies working in emerging areas or approaching marketing challenges in new ways.

Clients like the approach for a number of reasons. It gives them a perspective on agencies and channels they might lack knowledge of. It gives them time to think about how they might go about working with someone new. And it lets them do this without having to worry about getting 50 phone calls the following week from the agencies chasing work. It also gives agencies a chance to meet clients and make a good impression, without the work of a full-on pitch. Since I spend half my time meeting new and interesting agencies/partners, there’s never any shortage of really interesting companies I can introduce marketers to.

There are a couple of reasons why we are seeing an increased demand for this sort of service. One is that what lead agencies do is becoming more varied. Larger, often lead, agencies are constantly adding new skills to the arsenal of services they can sell to clients. Of late that’s been content and social. While this is great for some clients, for others it can lead to confusion about where the agencies’ core competencies lie. At the moment, if a client says they want “content” their creative, media, digital and PR agencies will all put up their hands enthusiastically. And to some extent they can all deliver against this requirement.

This can be problematic for the client if they really don’t know how to evaluate content or even what kind of content they may need. Cue call to AAR for a Digital Safari to visit the breadth of agencies occupying the new space, representing different takes on the area in question and presenting different points of view on what a typical brand may need.

Another reason we are seeing an uptick is that forward-thinking clients are actually happy to take a couple of days out of the office to go and meet new and interesting agencies because they see this as time well spent keeping pace with the market and the ever-evolving agency space. They also see it as an opportunity to get a glimpse into what others are doing and to hear what best practice may be. All this means that when they come to shape the brief, they are better informed and able to move forward at pace.

On a typical Safari, as well as meeting new agencies, we also introduce clients to other types of businesses that might be potential partners. On the recent Safari, for example, as well as content marketing agencies I also took the client to meet Buzzfeed. Start-ups are also high on my list of types of new partner for clients.

So what do clients look for when they don’t know what they’re looking for? It’s a hard brief! Will they know it when they find it? Hopefully after a couple of days spending time with some trailblazers, they may have a better idea of the shape of what they want and they can start to look at how to implement it.

One caveat though – it’s worth keeping in mind what the client isn’t trying to do. They are not necessarily looking to disrupt the relationships they already have and value. When it comes to something “new and interesting” it’s often about adding a relationship rather than replacing one. Many clients liken it to building a bench of worthy partners.

It often helps to think of this exercise in terms of the 70-20-10 marketing investment rule. I often take clients through this model (invented by Coke) in order to help frame where the new thing can fit. It won’t be disrupting your business-as-usual marketing that keeps the lights on and sells the stuff you need to sell today (that’s 70% of the marketing budget/time). Instead it most definitely falls in the 20% or 10% segment of things you need to think about for the future. Depending on your company culture (see article on Digital Transformation) it may fall into your test-and-learn marketing or future planning. By framing these conversations within marketing areas that are longer-term investments with lower risk/budgets, it also helps de-risk the initiatives for those higher up.

What I’ve personally learned from taking many clients on Safaris is that clients definitely need a way to safely explore new ways of reaching customers without disrupting what they know already works. I think a little Digital Safari is a great way to start.