Brands of all kinds are looking to partners for help in their digital transformations. Customer experience, data management and technology utilization are among the top opportunities for agencies, but there are challenges along the way, finds a new Econsultancy report produced in association with IBM.

New York, United States (July 20, 2017). Econsultancy, the digital marketing research firm, today released ‘Partners in Transformation – What brand marketers need from agencies,” in association with IBM Watson Customer Engagement.

The research examines how brands are using their agencies today, and what they want in the future.

Throughout the report, response is examined through the lens of marketing performance, comparing “high performing” and “mainstream” brands. This differentiation can inspire brands and help agencies assess clients’ digital maturity to better understand the capabilities that fit their stage of development.

Key findings from the report include:
Over 70% of brands agree that their agency relationships are changing: while 53% of high performers report that change is happening quickly, that figure drops to only 28% of the mainstream.

High performing brands are 63% more likely to be using their agency partners in areas related to customer experience (65% vs. 40%).

Overarching goals are consistent across respondents: over 90% connect their growth with differentiation based on customer experience and customer knowledge.

Over half the sample is not relying on agencies’ CX specific capacities due to data privacy concerns, as well as lack of a formalized approach to customer experience.”

High performers get their greatest value related to CX from the ideas and innovation that comes from their partners: mainstream companies are most likely to cite execution.

Two-thirds of high performing companies have achieved an advanced level of sophistication in handling customer data: this is the most telling gap for agencies evaluating potential clients for fit and services.

5 Trends of Note:
- Turning data into audience insight is the top priority for brands and a huge opportunity for agencies. Ninety percent of brands agree that their growth depends on knowing more about their customers.
- Brands need agencies to help them analyze and act more quickly. The challenge for every brand is to reduce the time it takes to learn and respond effectively. Nearly 80% of survey respondents agree that their brand must be able to respond faster to market trends.
- The forest is the trees – 90% of brands say that it’s essential for them to see their customers as individuals. Helping them overcome the barriers to reliable customer recognition is an opportunity, especially as customer attention and interaction fragments across media and devices.
- Technology utilization and investment planning are growth services. All companies rate utilization as having the great value, and high performing companies rate “helping source technology providers” as the second most valuable tech-related capability their agencies offer.
- Collaboration is a secret to success for both brands and agencies. One of the most telling differences between high performing companies and the mainstream is the strong collaboration they report; high performers are three times more likely to describe their inter-agency collaboration as ‘highly effective.’

“Brands look to agencies for analytic and AI/cognitive capabilities to make sense of complex data and for execution of marketing programs targeted at the right customer through cost-effective channels.” said Susan Reynolds, Vice President, Partner Ecosystem for IBM Watson Customer Engagement. “This report will provide agency leadership a compelling picture of where to focus future investments in service offerings and the skill sets most highly valued by their clients.”

“Agencies are under enormous pressure to remake themselves and their services at the same time they’re helping clients accomplish transformation.” said the study’s lead author, Stefan Tornquist, VP, research at Econsultancy . “The findings from the report underscore important and promising opportunities for growth, but implicit in most of them is rethinking and reforming the client-agency relationship.”

The respondent sample was comprised of marketing executives in North America. They qualified for the sample based on agency use, revenue, sector and seniority. All qualifying organizations reported annual revenues above $250 million, with 57% reporting over $1 billion in 2016 revenues.
The research was targeted at organizations with at least one significant agency relationship, with 90% having multiple agencies. The average across the sample was just over four significant, current agency relationships.

Access the full report here:

Methodology and Sample
This report is based on an online survey fielded in the fourth quarter of 2016 and closing on January 15th 2017, using primarily third-party providers for distribution. Respondents from third parties were offered an incentive to complete the survey. This resulted in 344 qualified responses.
Survey results were supplemented by telephone interviews in North America and APAC with brand side executives in leadership roles with close visibility into their agency relationships.
Detailed breakdowns of the respondent profiles are included in the Appendix within the report.

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About IBM Customer Engagement
Watson Customer Engagement offerings deliver a broad range of capabilities for marketing, commerce and supply chain activities. Designed to complement the skills of forward-thinking professionals like you. To empower you to make better, more informed decisions. Create and deliver personalized, intuitive experiences at every stage of the customer journey. Armed with insights, you can be at the forefront of what’s next—now.

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Published on: 4:03PM on 20th July 2017