Ben Kidney
Dec 18, 2015

Digital tactics do not a brand make

The future belongs to the agency that understands consumers' passions and tensions, the power of creativity and how to make brands relevant.

Ben Kidney
Ben Kidney

Since the inception of digital as a discipline, digital agencies have lived and died by delivering projects on time and on budget. Those who survived became very good at it. Digital agencies and the industry as a whole pioneered project-management methodologies, created robust frameworks for ‘statement of work’ documents and built intuitive software solutions to manage project resourcing and budgets. Once a project has been delivered on time and budget, planning for the next begins. This process repeats and is the backbone of every digital agency.    

Conversely, the network or traditional agencies have received a bad rap for their lack of digital capabilities and ability to deliver digital projects. I’m sure in many cases this reputation was warranted.  

However, what is often overlooked by the digital industry and its major players is that an innovative use of technology or a great digital/experiential tactic does not make a brand. A brand—the strategy and creativity developed by people to build that brand—requires a profound understanding of human nature and the psychology of consumers. The skill required to build a brand platform is grounded in philosophies that are the culmination of decades of dedication to our craft. I have witnessed the passing down of this disciplinary wisdom from master practitioner (planning director) to Padawans (junior planners) at the historically ‘traditional’ agencies I’ve worked at. I have not witnessed this mastery or mentorship within the digital agency environment. Traditional agencies and planning should be recognised for this with at least the same level of reverence that is afforded to people who know that a GIF is not native to Facebook.

It is fair to contend that traditional and digital agencies have stuck to what they are good at. Traditional agencies in building brands and understanding consumers and digital agencies in understanding technology and delivery excellence.

Clearly this is simplistic and a generalisation, however what are the risks for traditional and digital agencies in the above scenario?  

Traditional agencies become the butt of digital agencies jokes about catering trucks… But really the risk I speak of is that traditional agencies lose touch with the platforms, technologies, and devices that the consumers spend their lives on. They become less relevant in an industry landscape going through constant change, with new channels and opportunities to connect and add value to consumers lives appearing every day.  

For specialist digital agencies the risk is that of never quite taking the time to understand consumers (people) and their motivations, or how to build and maintain the relevance of a brand across a complex consumer mindset and channel ecosystem, or how to build the strategic or conceptual development of their staff. And so their thinking and outputs remain tactical and largely executional.

So who is better placed for a post-digital revolutionary world? I’m clearly biased, I wouldn’t work where I do if I didn’t believe that the future belongs to the agency that understands consumers' passions and tensions, the power of creativity and how to make brands relevant.

An agency’s modernisation is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. It requires an openness to change, a willingness to feel uncomfortable, transparency, accountability, hard work and above all else great people. For the agency that gets it right, the rewards will be great.  

In the digital space I often like to say that if your delivery is [email protected]$ed then everything else is academic. You won’t retain a client post beyond one project if it was a terrible process and the product (website, app or experience) is buggy. In other words, a brilliant strategy, awesome creative, and an insightful user experience will not mean a thing if the site crashes.

Until now this has been the downfall of traditional agencies.

However it is simply no longer a given that so-called traditional agencies can’t deliver a complex technical solution. We all need to evolve, continue up-skilling, even the much lauded digital agencies. 

Ben Kidney is head of digital at Ogilvy Melbourne



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