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How agencies can use technology and data as levers for growth

Technology and data as a driver for growth may seem like an obvious statement but within the advertising agency world, there has been some friction to adapt and change.

The line between technology streamlining and creating efficiencies, versus wiping out entire careers and job functions, is a thin one in many people’s eyes. Contrary to this, a panel at The Drum’s Agency Acceleration Day APAC in October championed the need for a mixed approach of human talent and technology to become a future-facing agency business. 

The panel included Digimind APAC general manager, Stephen Dale; Facebook agency development lead for APAC, Matthew Drury; and Happy Marketer founder, Prantik Mazumdar.

For Mazumdar technology is inherently a growth tool for the business and he outlines two ways in which it can power an agency business. “I think what's important is to identify why are you using tech. And there are two fundamental use cases that we found, either it made ourselves more efficient and productive and hence more profitable. The other one was to add value to clients, to bring some set of services out there.” 

Too much data can be overwhelming

Having a focus on why you are using either tech or data was a common piece of advice from the panel, as the more tech and data is available, the more it can feel like a burden and not a help.

For more traditional agencies, a key barrier has been feeling overwhelmed by data, says Digimind’s Dale.

“Probably the biggest challenge that I see is that there's so much data that it's difficult to understand trends and it's difficult to understand what to look at. Sometimes it's difficult to understand where to stop in order to help that aid creativity and I think in some ways it can feel like a hindrance, but if you structure things in the right way it's easy to help guide that creativity,” he says.

Once the purpose or strategy behind investing in technology has been set, the next question if often around whether to build or partner. 

Facebook’s Drury says that often there’s friction between partners and agencies but that this view needs to evolve. According to him, “an important point is that I think there's a misconception in the industry that creative tech partners are going to take away business from creative agencies, and I'll say it now, creative agencies, your jobs are not at risk because the idea is still important. The versioning of that and the testing methodology from your idea is where the creative tech comes in place, it's not at odds with your business.”

Technology and partnerships

For Happy Marketer’s Mazumdar, the agency has taken lessons from consulting firms at looking at where it can re-use technology, services and take its own best practice to a point where it is scalable for more that one client, which in turn creates a more sustainable business.

In terms of when these partnerships work, technology can play a part in parts of the agency business model that is often a point of frustration. One of these being new business and pitching. The group agreed that partners could be brought in earlier to create stronger pitches.

For Digimind’s Dale, this is particularly pertinent with data, and the opportunity is to “use technology and data to come up with something that's quite different and look at innovation to really help to drive the business forward, to really drive real return on investment.

"Social listening comes up in a lot of agency pitches, we get a lot of agencies coming to us with different data requirements. We are asked a lot for performance-based metrics, which are important, but we also need to look at things like product development and what are the next things that are going to be important for our consumers? Or what's the next service that we can develop and really start to basically expand our services or enhance our services to deliver back good consumer experience?  From an ROI point of view, looking at performance alone, probably we'll just maintain it.”

How is technology changing the future of agencies?

To this point, there is a difference in the needs of agencies now and in the future, according to Facebook’s Drury. With a lot of the investment in technology now being around creating efficiencies, so around things like creative versioning and media. But he advises agencies to be thinking about what sort of business they want to be in the future and to partner on short term technology but build for that north star.

“What is the business that you want in the future? What are the clients that you want?”

He says,” I think partnering is the right first step. The sort of partnerships that I've seen succeed here are where you have a core layer of product, which is effectively your web-based tool, but then having the service layer around that and getting agencies to understand the full suite. So you give them a Swiss Army knife and maybe they use a can opener, but actually there's a load of other tools that they could be using. So, getting the agencies to understand the service layer. From that you've got that integration into the agency business process, you have trust within the agency's teams, so that if they want to acquire you or they want to do something a bit more integrated, they've got that experience there, so I definitely think partnering is good because you get a flavour for it. Secondly, I think if I was at an agency now, I'd be looking at the next year or so and asking - what do I need to partner with? Or what do I need to acquire?”

The glue then piecing all this together needs to be talent, according to the panel. Specifically, where stories and business problems need to be challenged or understood.

“There's enough talent, enough automation at the data, tech and data visualization side. The other question is, again, how do you tie it back to the client, their problem, how do you break it down into a road map? So that consultative approach, I think it's a hard one, but that's something that you're going to have to hire for, if not train for,” said Mazumdar.

With technology and data being core growth levers, the need for the right talent is still at the heart of the agency business. However, the first step to being smarter about why you use data and technology, and therefore who you hire to power it, is knowing what business problem you want to tackle and what type of business you want to become. 

To register your interest in next year’s event visit the Agency Acceleration Day APAC website.

Featured by The Drum

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