The Partners in Transformation: What brand marketers need from agencies report explores the views of senior, brand-side executives on the changing relationship between brands and agencies.

This research, conducted by Econsultancy in partnership with IBM Watson Customer Engagement, is based on a sample of over 300 senior-level, brand-side executives over a range of customer-facing businesses at organizations reporting an average of $1 billion dollars in 2016 revenues.

The report examines pain points and successful aspects of brand/agency relationships as they exist today, covering topics from employing agency assistance in customer experience management, to agencies’ evolving role in data analytics and technology investment.

Though the relationship is changing, high-performing brands are taking advantage of new opportunities being created by the pressures both brands and agencies face from intensifying market competition.

Automation and commoditization have cut significantly into the profits from media buying and production. This has hurt agencies, but high-performing brands are finding new ways to collect help in data analysis, customer experience management and strategy.

The ability of agencies to expand brands’ data-related capabilities is no longer a priority among high performers; instead, leading brands expect adapted agencies to be able to assist with utilizing the technology brands already have (30% of leaders report this area of expertise as providing the most value, versus only 19% of the mainstream).

The most successful brand/agency relationships occur when brands don’t need to rely fully on agencies for outside perspective, with high-performing brands valuing their agencies for sharing CX expertise at nearly twice the rate as the mainstream (31% of HPCs versus 16% of the mainstream). Nearly a third (30%) of the mainstream, by contrast, rely heavily on their agencies to provide a wider industry perspective, compared to only 10% of industry leaders.

Findings include:

  • High-performing brands are 50% more likely than the mainstream to see evolved agencies providing the most value in pushing creative thinking, and assisting with technology utilization. High performing companies rank help in technology utilization as a top criterion when evaluating agency value because they have invested heavily in technology and want to extract its full potential.
  • High-performing brands are 63% more likely to be using their agency partners in areas related to customer experience than the mainstream.
  • Successful brands are three times more likely to say that their agencies collaborate very effectively.
  • Leading brands see the collaboration between their internal teams and agencies in a similarly positive light; high performers are more than 1.5 times as likely to say that internal-team/agency collaboration is “quite effective.”
  • Most high performers see positive changes in their agency relationships, but that’s not true for the mainstream, where only 20% say they’re seeing more productivity