The Future of Digital and the evolution of the Digital Agency

In this manic early-decade confusion I propose that a new type of Agency is emerging – the Creative Tech Agency – which is digitally creative, innovative, agile and hungry. I also propose that the traditional Advertising Agency is soon to become a symbol of what we will very quickly look back on as the bloated past of pre-digital communication channels. The future is small, specialized and digital.

The Hole in Most Digital

There’s something wrong with a lot of digital. It seems off-centre, incongruent, lacking in fluency. Much of it seems to miss the point. But what is the point of digital? The point is that digital is a channel in it’s own right. It is no longer an after-thought, it is the key to almost all marketing campaigns because we don’t just visit online, we all live online now. Therefore all digital products and services are brand experiences now. Digital is no longer just functionality, it is an all encompassing touch point which must match and enhance the non-digital version. This is the potential of digital, but it is obvious that so many Agencies (Advertising/PR/Marketing/’Digital’/Marketing) have failed to grasp this. Proof of this is easy to find in all the high profile but barely designed or unresolved websites with a total lack of offline-online brand continuity, lack any thought for the user experience or interaction. But it isn’t just websites, it is apparent in badly executed mobile apps, unusable back-end systems, incomprehensible software interfaces and quick ROI social media campaigns. It seems everyone and anyone has jumped into digital without much thought or experience of how to do it. But how and why is digital creative so different from non-digital creative? Why is it that some of the best offline agencies have found it so difficult to do digital?

Linear and Non-Linear Thinking in Digital

There is a type of thinking that I am going to call Linear Thinking and another type I am going to call Non-Linear. They could also be called Logical and Intuitive, or Left hemisphere and Right hemisphere. Or even simply Thinking and Feeling. What ever you want to call them the difference between them is well known – one follows a pre-ordained linear ‘appropriately logical’ path and is based on cognition, the other jumps about laterally on a non-linear path and is based on emotion and feeling. Both are needed in non-digital and digital creative work, but there is a crucial difference between them – in digital non-linear thinking must be in a much tighter relationship to linear thinking than is the case in non-digital. This is because digital is experiential and must be based on user interaction underpinned by interfaces underpinned by digital technology. In non-digital this is less of the case – creatives go off and come up with their ideas and pass their ideas ‘over the wall’ for the non-creatives to implement. And here is the key to why some Advertising Agencies turned Digital Agencies have such a hole in their digital – they pass their creative ‘over the wall’ to their Tech team without any involvement of an interaction designer, UX consultant or coder. Even worse, in a lot of agencies the Tech Team isn’t even part of the same company and the creative is biked over with instructions to just build it. It is obvious what this approach results in: unresolved, incongruent digital which provides no brand experience value and can actually damage brand perceptions. The other version, (in reverse), produces slightly better results – a Tech Agency builds the technology and then buys in the creative to be stuck on at the end  – and is the exact digital example of what designers complain about in product design, nicely summed up by the saying ‘putting the lipstick on a gorilla’. The digital produced is generally functional, robust but again lacks the necessary innovative and experiential elements needed to hold up the brand expectations of customers. Many of the uninspiring iphone and ipad apps currently available will have followed this kind of process, and when using one of these apps it is very clear what is missing – the user experience. The app works fine but it provides nothing other than the functionality. This is the case with a lot of digital knocked out by Advertising and PR agencies at the moment – it works fine but does nothing more. It adds nothing, creates nothing, dreams of nothing. So what is needed to create interactive emotional digital that competes and transcends the best offline creative work? Equal collaboration between Advertising Agencies and Tech Agencies is one possibility. Or better still, a new type of agency which incorporates great tech and great digital creative in parallel internal processing. This type of agency is beginning to emerge from the maelstrom – and I call it the Creative Tech Agency.

The Creative Tech Agency – creative, technical, collaborative, digitally hungry

A new breed of Agency, specific to digital, is emerging with all the necessary skills to deliver innovative and robust digital for their clients. These agencies are generally small, agile, digitally born and extremely collaborative. They begin from extreme tech and seamlessly, without friction, incorporate creative into that tech. These agencies approach digital with a binocular vision – they have one eye on the tech and one eye on the creative  – as they continually match creative ideas to creative tech solutions. The human being is the centre of everything via interaction design, user experience, behavioral economics, usability, digital branding, heuristics. Creative and Tech exist together, in a symbiotic embrace, one unable go very far with out the other. This is what I call digital creative  – a qualitative mixture of linear and non-linear thinking, the former led by technical constraints and digital innovation, the latter by human experience and brand. Generally because the Creative Tech Agency is born into digital, and has a solid tech background, it has the confidence and the understanding to produce work that engages and interacts with audiences and pushes past the limitations of traditional offline advertising in order to reinvent what advertising can do in the future via emerging online channels. Tech is the key driver for success in this  type of Agency as everything is built on top of new and bold technology. A Creative Agency that incorporates a Tech Agency will not deliver the same quality of creative digital because non-digital creative will lead with non-linear thinking first, and will therefore encounter all the problems traditional Advertising Agencies are encountering now when they try to buy in non-native Tech.

The Future – Guerilla Digital and Specialization

The future of advertising is already here. Advertising has no home, it most move with us where ever we go. From newspapers to magazines to radio to television. And now into digital. But digital is fragmented and comprises many new and yet to be invented micro-channels. It is easy to see why the traditional Communications Agencies are in disarray. You can almost hear the screams of incomprehension as smaller, hungrier, more agile ‘guerilla’ specialized digital agencies win more and more accounts from them. And as they turn their large bows into digital, they will keep turning and never find the steady course of digital they are so used to and so want because as they turn digital has already moved on, evolved and been reborn. Over-bloated and standardized, large traditional Agencies are set to become a reminder of what we are leaving behind as we enter a decade of fragmented-unified digitally led advertising, conceived and executed by Creative Tech Agencies. Let’s get ready to rumble.

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