IBM recently announced a $100m investment in its Interactive Experience arm. Essentially this is IBM’s global digital agency.

At Econsultancy we are currently finalising our annual Top 100 UK Digital Agencies report. Without giving away too much you will see the likes of IBM, Deloitte Digital and Accenture Interactive ranking highly. 

What is interesting about this trend, apart from the challenge from the management consultancies and system integrators to the current agency proposition, is that they are selling to marketers.

They seek to persuade digital marketers, ecommerce practitioners, marketers more broadly, and the CMO in particular, that they are the ‘future fit’ choice of partner.

The bigger game here is that digital transformation is really part of marketing transformation which itself is part of business transformation. This is the big prize these organisations are chasing and digital is their Trojan horse.

Whilst digital is the catalyst and driver of change, particularly for organisations whose business models have been most digitally disrupted, it looks like marketing as a function within business is to be the primary agent of change.

As marketing is so customer-focused this is perhaps not a surprise. But we as marketers should recognise that we are undergoing changes that are at the vanguard of a movement that will change the entire business. Which is exciting, if also challenging.

There are various ways you can grapple with transformation and change. One common model is to look at it across strategy, people, process and technology.

So how might marketing transform across these four axes?


More companies are now looking at growth. And many of them are seeking to grow by reinventing the customer experience across all channels, driven by digital, to align with changing customer behaviour and their shifting business model. Marketing is clearly in a good position to lead these changes.

Historically capital expenditure has largely been focused on property, infrastructure and “big tech”.

We are increasingly seeing evidence of capex moving towards intangibles like data, content and code. The move to the cloud, remote working and so on, mean investment can be redirected towards intellectual property and the customer experience. This should be good news for marketers.


I have written previously on the subject of ‘pi-shaped’ people and what it means to have a digital culture.

The skills, and types of people, that are most in demand are those which underpin the kind of marketing outlined in our Modern Marketing Manifesto.

But these hallmarks - customer-centricity, collaboration, transparency, multidisciplinary teams, data-driven decision-making etc. – are increasingly being sought across the entire business, not just digital or marketing.


The way we work is also changing. Most obviously ‘agile’ processes are escaping just software development and being applied to digital product development and, increasingly, marketing.

Likewise there is much effort to create more ‘social enterprises’ which are more porous and better at sharing and communicating. Physical environments are changing to support these ways of working.


You may have noticed a trend towards marketing technology ecosystems, or ‘Marketing Service Providers’ (MSPs). Everyone has their ‘marketing cloud’ with a suite of services.

A new marketing technology operating system is emerging. At its heart is data.

Wrapped around that are applications which speak to each other via APIs and build customer experiences using the new building blocks of marketing: design patterns, user experience frameworks, metadata, content-as-a-service.

Over the coming years there is the opportunity not only for marketing to reinvent itself but for marketing to be the change agent that transforms the whole business. 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 15 April, 2014 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)


Thomas Mercado

Thanks for this article! Studying the top 100 digital agencies now and hope see it's SEA counterpart to help with our projects.

over 4 years ago


Ed Lamb

I've definitely noticed this shift a company that's always pushed our clients to adapt their ways of working to better facilitate great digital campaigns (and campaigns that transcend digital), Propellernet have often found ourselves helping with marketing/comms transformation. Until recently the marketing team often recognised the need but struggled to push any transformational changes in approach through because of (a) immediate customer acquisition taking priority for their budget, (b) the need to gain approval from other departments who were sometimes sceptical, (c) no budget available for business transformation/change management as a bespoke task, and (d) thinking being confined to one year budget cycles.

It feels like that's definitely changing though....whether it's the likes of the management consultants or specialists in particular areas that require change to do great work....there's growing client transformation budgets available. And so there should be because the rewards are huge both in terms of customer acquisition and retention...but also in retaining top marketing talent. If processes are stopping great work and great results, frustrated stars will go elsewhere. Interesting times...

over 4 years ago

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