Code Worldwide

Agencies, beware - Consultant tanks are on your lawn

Matt McNeany

Matt McNeany

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Tanks: pretty deadly (by German artist Hans Hemmert)

If you needed any more proof that technology and marketing are becoming one and the same, look no further than the recent article in Adage entitled Tech-Consulting Giants Slide Closer to Creative-Shop Turf.

So if there’s a turf war happening, who’s going to win? With the big IT / Management Consultancies arranging their tanks on adland’s lawn, it raises interesting questions – particularly for agencies who haven’t yet built a compelling Marketing Technology infrastructure offer into their traditionally campaign-focused Creative Technology teams.

The sweet spot between tech, creative and data

The article repeatedly underlines the fact that “the tech side is looking to learn the language of brands” not least from Glen Hartman, global managing director-digital consulting for Accenture Interactive:

Everyone is coming to the same place, trying to find the sweet spot between tech, creative and data

Few would disagree with this, and we certainly don’t. The question is who owns each part of this new holy trinity. That remains to be seen, but there’s certainly only a few players who can credibly claim to offer a one-stop shop right now, such as our Silicon Roundabout neighbours SapientNitro and LBi.

The challenge of blending of art and science 

by Rodney Lochner.

But back to the Tech Consultants. Are they credible? Creative agencies will have a thing or two to say about that. Consultants don’t have the brand know-how, right?  Aren’t they just logicians and engineers rather than nimble and innovative marketers? Well, as Deloitte’s Mike Brinker admits, his natural competitors are:

very strong on the business or technical side, but not creative... and digital agencies are very good on the creative side, but have no depth in business knowledge or enterprise technology.

So therein lies the conflict. The intersection of tech, creative and data is a hard place to credibly sit; whether you claim to own all three or not. As we know from doing this for years, being a technologist who loves the whims and leaps of the Creative process is hard. And it’s rare; as are Creative people who don’t feel compromised by the rigour of technology.

The aces held by agencies 

Achieving this blend isn’t the only hurdle for the IT Consultants to clear. To randomly pick on Deloitte, buying a mobile shop and talking about UX doesn’t suddenly make them trusted brand advisors. And having long-term relationships with CIOs is a good starting point, but they can’t yet lay claim to marketing strategy.

In fact, CMO relationships are the aces in agencies’ hands. Faced with a business challenge, a CMO’s default move is to call the agency – and there’s significant inertia against changing that reflex. Plus agencies will fight tooth-and-nail to protect it. However, as marketers take a longer-term view on enterprise architecture and continue to organise themselves accordingly, forming Marketing Technology teams (by one name or another), then the distance for the Consultants to bridge from CIO to CMO becomes ever shorter.

And as Accenture Interactive’s CEO Brian Whipple says, "clients, in my view, are finding it more credible to reach into marketing from technology" rather than the other way around. Of course, he would say that. But he’s probably right (although, we would say that too). It’s also worth noting that another facet of agencies’ relationship advantage is that this turf war doesn’t only exist in the world of digital marketing. Powering the offline brand experience also requires enterprise technology and a nuanced appreciation of brands and the creative process, so this represents another layer of relationships for agencies to defend.

Get on the Marketing Technology express 

Clearly a Consultant clawing at the door isn't the only threat to the traditional agency business model and it certainly won’t be the last. But as usual, there's also

But as usual, there's also huge opportunity. To illustrate this choice, there’s a great CMO quote from a recent IBM study that we often use:

I feel more like a CIO than a CMO! I have marketing automation, CRM, listening platforms... I'm up to my eyeballs in technology.

You can read this as a panicked plea for the world to stop turning, or as an excited child with a brand new train-set. It doesn’t take a genius to see the opportunities in Marketing Technology right now, so you can guess which way we read it ...all aboard!

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(Note - there's been some great follow-up content on this post, so please check out the follow-up on who's best placed to help CMOs with Marketing Technology and also how Agencies are striking back at the IT Consultants.)