Digital's Third Wave Is Coming: Don't Miss the Ride

Four Big Opportunities for Agencies and Brands in the Next Wave of Digital

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It's easy to get change fatigue these days. As always, we're hearing urgent calls for brands and agencies to evolve to become more digital, data-driven and tech-first.

You might be forgiven for yawning. In the first place, haven't we seen this movie before? Nearly every agency today has deep competency in search, display, paid social and even content creation. We're good with this stuff. In addition, the more things change, the more they stay the same. TV continues to occupy a significant amount of people's time (4.5 hours per day, according to Nielsen), and brands are still putting a lot of money into it.

But it's no time to get complacent. While disruption is nothing new, brands are finally responding to it in a big way, rapidly shifting their budgets to new platforms. In the next 12-24 months alone, we'll see all of the following:

In other words, we find ourselves in the midst of a third wave of digital, brought on by the rapid proliferation of micro video, messaging apps and devices with larger screens. For digital agencies, it's a bit like the dog finally catching the car. It's great that everyone wants to pay us for our expertise, but we also have to get our organizations in line and show results, or brands will go elsewhere.

In particular, four big (and difficult) opportunities lie in front of us: co-creation, data and creativity, the new breed of native and culture.

Casting a wider co-creation net
Increasingly, people don't follow brands. They follow a rapidly emerging set of artists, who have built audiences seemingly overnight. For example, Vine is still under three years old but already has more than 200 users who have a million-plus followers. The good news is that these new stars are typically open to working with brands and agencies -- and their fans don't seem to mind. That's why we should embrace co-creation to produce content that people actually want to see. If you're looking for help in this area, companies like Tinker Street and Fullscreen can lead the way.

Making data the true friend of creativity
We've talked a lot as an industry about data inspiring creativity, but much of the talk has been cheap. Agencies need to put analysts and creators in the same room. What's more, they need to educate their creatives on what data can do for them. Gone are the days of sleepwalking through elaborate dashboards. Today, social listening tools can help drive conversations; usage data can inform content production; and eye-tracking can reveal what might work (and not) before going live. Companies like Domo are finally making data friendly enough to that everyone can understand it.

Going native
When it comes to mobile, display ads don't work (49% of clicks are accidental). Native advertising can be much more successful, but it has to be done right. That means we need to bring some serious craft, storytelling and awareness of where we're publishing to our efforts. A native ad that looks like a disruptive banner is a disruptive banner -- and will get the same results.

Getting serious about culture
While many media startups and technology companies offer credibility, cachet and great compensation packages for young talent, many agencies still have 24/7 work environments and startling annual turnover rates. Instead, they need to create cultures that respect the work/life balance, encourage diversity and provide tangible opportunities for learning and development.

Digital's third wave makes it an exciting time to be in marketing, but we should have no illusions about its implications. If digital agencies move fast and smart to catch it, they will be the big winners. If not, our clients will find more dynamic partners to move their brands forward. In other words, time to get to work.

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