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Being “Digital” Is No Longer a Differentiator

Posted 21 September 2015 11:00 AM by Dorothy Miller-Farleo @MoxieUSA

I’ve increasingly found myself joking to colleagues that, if you’re not a digital agency in 2015, then it’s going to be a long year. And if you’re not a digital agency by 2016, then you’re not going to see 2017. 

Whatever an agency’s heritage — branding, media, PR, etc. — it seems that suddenly everyone is proclaiming to be a digital shop or (at a minimum) suggesting profound digital chops. While these claims are debatable, what’s irrefutable is this: Positioning yourself as a digital agency is no longer the differentiator it once was. In fact, quite the contrary. 

So what do you do if your heritage is truly digital? There are two extremes toward which most digital agencies are pivoting. From my perspective, neither is necessarily the right way to go.

Door #1: “Full-Service”

A natural tendency might be to suggest your offerings’ breadth by adding language like “full-service” to your positioning. Surely if you’ve been at the digital game for decades, you’re likely to have deeper capabilities than new players on the digital landscape. So it’s easy to see the logic in positioning one’s self as a one-stop shop for clients seeking digital solutions: “What d’you need? Yeah, we can do that.” That’s an agency trap as old as advertising itself, but the truth is that “full-service” positioning is as cluttered and non-differentiating as being “digital.”

The first consequential move I made when I was appointed CEO of Moxie (just last month, for those keeping track at home) was to remove the words “full-service” from our boilerplate. Not only did the language lack differentiation; I felt it exceeded our ambition and was a dangerous place to play.

Why dangerous?

Any student of the marketing game recognizes that, in trying to be everything, you end up standing for nothing. Agencies have made this case to our clients for decades, but when it comes to hearing our own advice, we often fail to listen.

“Full-service” language also commonly invokes an eye roll from clients. Few agencies in the U.S. can legitimately call themselves a full-service digital agency, but even they are hard-pressed to consistently deliver on this promise, particularly given our business’s inherent attrition of talent and the reality that not all regional offices are of the same pedigree despite the name on the front door.

Door #2: “Niche”

The “zig” to the “zag” in claiming to be capable of everything is to carve out a niche in the digital ecosystem. Fundamentally, I like the focus of this approach, but it’s not practical in the long run.

Consider the origins of 360i (search), Digitas (direct marketing) and R/GA (film editing). If you’re smart, you are going to evolve and expand. If you’re part of a publicly traded holding company or owned at a percentage by someone else, the pressure to do so will accelerate your rate of change. It’s Darwinism, nothing more.

You may be able to exist as a specialized service for a period, but this is dangerous territory. Clients are increasingly looking to consolidate their partner rosters. If you’re not careful, specialization may lead to isolation, and an agency without clients is not an agency at all.

So where does this leave us? If not “full-service” or “niche,” what then? The answer lies where it always lies: in the future.

The future isn’t the unknown many make it out to be. We got a good glimpse of it 13 years ago as Tom Cruise hustled through a public corridor in Minority Report. Those 30 seconds of film featuring Guinness, Lexus and American Express “ads” were no pipe dream. They were (as rumor has it) informed by a handful of think tank futurists projecting the future of marketing. Whether you know the scene or not, here’s the gist:

• The future is mobile
• The future is personal
• The future is data-driven
• The future is tech-enabled

Sound familiar? The movie is set in 2054, yet to me it feels a lot like the world around the corner in 2016. And therein lies the opportunity. The speed with which the future is arriving is faster than ever. Distant concepts are becoming realities in short order. As an agency with a digital heritage, we have the advantage of talent predisposed to be forward leaning, and frankly, the responsibility to bring the future into the now for our clients.

Connecting the future with the now = Modern. Now we’re on to something. Modern is timely. It’s relevant and it moves. What’s modern tomorrow will most certainly be an evolved state of what’s modern today. Keeping clients modern in their marketing practices — that’s a proposition an agency with a digital heritage can deliver upon. Let’s try it out.

Moxie – Modern Marketing

Ah yes. That works.

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