The traditional agency offering has been shifting constantly in recent years.

In its infancy, the industry was made up predominantly of full-service agencies, but for the last ten years or so specialist agencies have ruled the roost.

In this period, it has become the norm that companies looking to have a new website built go to a web design agency; brands who want to launch a marketing campaign go to marketing experts and businesses looking to rebrand go directly to a branding team.

Full-service agencies have been few and far between during this time, but they are reclaiming their stake in the industry of late and hold a growing share in the market.

Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies report

These multi-disciplinary agencies present an attractive proposition for businesses who have previously had to deal with a multitude of specialist agencies. If a business partners with the right agency, they can be treated as an extension to the team, involved in key decision making, instrumental to strategy definition and consulted on major digital decisions.

Functioning in this way is also attractive to agencies, who often find it difficult to effectively advise clients on and execute a single aspect of a company’s digital strategy without expertise and knowledge in other areas.

It isn’t surprising, then, that ‘strategy’ has become a prominent buzzword within the industry.

In recent years, this has progressed further. Where strategy has previously been employed as an optional extra within the web design project process, it is now being offered as a service in itself by many agencies.

Let’s find out why.

Strategy as a Service

The most well-known manifestation of “Strategy as a Service” is the Discovery phase.

This process has traditionally been used to kick off a digital project, such as a website build, bringing together all key stakeholders and ending with a clearly defined plan of what needs to be achieved and how the project will be delivered.

While the inclusion of Discovery as a phase in digital projects is nothing new, the provision of DIscovery as a standalone service is.

Companies have started to recognise the value of an independent Discovery process, before the project kicks off, during which an agency is invited to take a more holistic view of their strategy and business objectives.

The world is becoming increasingly digital and businesses are desperate to push what is possible. For board members and senior leadership who don’t also have strong digital knowledge, the best way to achieve this is to bring in experts who can guide their digital strategy and introduce these individuals to a range of digital opportunities.

From a start-up which needs detailed strategy in order to secure funding to an international business which needs to involve a high number of stakeholders in its planning phase, a self-contained discovery process can be hugely helpful.

When an agency is involved in defining a client’s strategy, it is able to build a strong and informed understanding of the client’s business objectives, pain points and success criteria, as well as define budgets and timelines for the full project. The agency can also advise the client on where best to allocate their budgets in order to achieve the maximum return on their investment.

To put it simply, projects based on a collaboratively defined strategy bring more rounded results and better ROI.

Strategy encourages a holistic approach

Now more than ever, digital projects require a holistic approach.

Providing a quality digital experience has become so much more than simply building an impressive website. As the landscape continues to evolve and new technologies are introduced, the many moving parts of a company’s digital footprint must be considered and addressed together in order to achieve the best results.

Many companies are now taking a ‘Digital First’ approach, whereby partner digital agencies support them with their own digital transformation. These agencies are expected to provide advice on the latest trends and recommend innovative improvements to the company’s end user experience.

This approach requires inspection of all digital aspects including social media strategy, security considerations, marketing campaigns, data regulations, hosting and SEO.

A complete discovery phase will consider all of these factors, as well as marketing spend, digital road-mapping, attitude to risk and roll-out planning, thus building a strategy which spreads much wider than a client’s new website.

For instance, at JBI Digital we had an exciting start-up approach us recently looking to have a website built for their medical tourism business. They wanted to channel their entire budget into the website’s UX and functionality, without concern for the supporting marketing or roll-out plan.

Instead of taking this work on, we advised heavily against this approach, presenting the client with data which convinced them to simplify the project specification with reduced functionality. This not only allowed us to bring the website to market quicker, but also freed up some budget to allow for a marketing plan to be launched alongside the website as part of a considered roll-out plan.

A decade ago, a traditional web design agency would likely have taken on the website project without a second thought, building an expensive new website for the client without consideration for their wider digital presence, leaving no budget for supporting activities.

According to Gladly.com, 71% of consumers want a consistent experience across all digital channels, but only 29% say that they are getting this.

It is in situations such as this that the provision of strategy as a service is becoming increasingly pivotal to the success of digital projects..

Good for agencies, driven by client needs

The rapid growth of “Strategy as a Service” can be attributed to the fact that it is both attractive for agencies and driven by client needs.

From an agency’s point of view, being involved in a client’s business strategy brings with it the potential for guarantee of future work. Once this strategy has been defined, the client will be very likely to go back to the same agency for subsequent projects..

Starting a project by thoroughly exploring and defining strategy is also more cost beneficial – an agency sells time and expertise, and the more efficiently these can be applied, the better.

Finally, it is very easy to overlook the fact that agency staff enjoy working more closely with clients! Doing so makes us feel more involved and, subsequently, more invested in client successes.

From a client point of view, priorities are shifting from short to medium term, and a relationship which revolves around clear strategy definition serves medium and long term progression.

Businesses are no longer just approaching agencies for individual projects – they’re looking for a comprehensive digital presence, and this requires a concrete understanding of the business’ strategic intent and digital goals.

It is therefore clear that the industry trend towards providing strategy as a service has been motivated by client needs as well as agency wants.

Digital strategy’s ever-growing importance

The increasing role that strategy has come to play in digital projects is a marker of the ever-changing nature of the industry.

To put it simply, collaboratively defining business strategy with an agency facilitates a relationship through which the agency can act more like a partner than a supplier. Clients are able to utilise the agency’s expertise, trusting their strategic inputs and recommendations because they know that the agency has a strong understanding of their business, from objectives to KPIs and beyond.

With more and more agencies transitioning to a full-service offering, the impetus for strategy as a service is ever-increasing. This will benefit agencies and clients alike, as it allows for a more collaborative relationship, backed by insightful evidence bringing better results for the agency, the business and their end users.

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