12th July 2017

Something I hear more and more. It may even have a ring of truth to it. But perhaps more evidence of a busted model than lack of agency capability. Either way there is a clear mandate for agencies to evolve their offer to stay relevant.  

In the unrelenting drive for transformation, the ability for modern businesses to rapidly deploy digital products and services is paramount. (I mean things like websites, apps, bots and the AI, data and operational systems that drive them). Some ARE the product. Some enhance the delivery or experience of it. Others are extensions to marketing activity. But as this product/marketing divide blurs, the internal ownership of these intiatives is changing, and with it where they might look for external support.

Marketing teams naturally looked to their agencies. The bigger creative and media agencies certainly can't do tech. And the smart ones don't claim to. Their aim is attention. So they’ve got good at creating and delivering culture led content through digital and social channels. But the creation of digital products and services that deliver a deeper purpose is something altogether different. To some extent it’s where the ‘digital transformation’ consultants have moved in. Certainly in terms of the big internal system stuff. But the things that actually end in the hands of the customer, far less so — that's way too much like hard work.

What about the digital (design/production/ux) agency? Surely this is where the capability and process understanding is? True. But not exclusively. And anyway it's the model that’s bust. Marketing teams need to buy things. Deliverables. And digital agencies have got pretty good at making them. Trouble is [good] tech doesn't get made that way anymore. In an MVP world, flexibility and agility rule. The end product can't be defined up-front. Deliverables become less and less useful and more and more a crutch. The inevitable work around of estimates and contingencies is why many tech projects 'over-run' and give agencies a bad name.

Some might suggest it's as much that Marketing can't do tech as agencies? Which may explain why many businesses have created dedicated internal teams responsible for innovating the experience. Most are drawn to in-house UX, design and development. They don't like working with agencies. They lose control and flexibility. The agency just gets in the way. I've worked with some great internal teams, full of well motivated and talented people creating amazing things. And some less so. But over time I see many suffer with an inevitable bias towards internal audiences and pressures. The gaze drifts away from the customer experience. Flexibility and agility fall away. In short they can lack the perspective and urgency that external agencies can bring.

Enter the new breed of tech consultants (they don't like being called agencies). For them, it’s mostly an issue of geography. Where the work gets done. They drop in dedicated UX, design and dev teams charging on a packaged time (sprint) basis where deliverables flex. Dedicated resources and fresh eyes to break the inertia and accelerate development in support of internal teams. What's not to like?

Not a lot. But as pure tech consultants - guns-for-hire, if you like, there impact is limited. There is still a perspective void. A perspective that looks across the full customer journey and the business to connect the tech to customer experience. To commercial and marketing value. This, for me, is where the customer experience agency wins out. Agencies (like BBD) that offer the best of both world's. The perspective, customer focus and creative approach of an agency with the speed and agility of the tech consultant.

For this to work, both agency and client need to shift expectations and adopt more open working-styles. Agencies need to accept that they need to cede control. Clients need to accept a degree of flex in deliverable and timing.

Do this, and it turns out agencies can do tech. And do it rather well.

The original article can be found at