There’s one thing that underpins pretty much everything we do here – user experience. Or UX, if you’re cool.
UX is what it says on the tin. To ensure an audience gets a complete online experience one must provide them with the complete package: the brand story, the website design, the overarching tone and the value of content. And to provide the complete package requires multiple skillsets that often one digital marketing agency cannot supply alone. Given that website SEO is firmly rooted in its UX, it’s in everyone’s interests that clients and multiple agencies play well together.
This was the message conveyed last week during a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) discussion about agency integration. It was revealed that integration and collaboration between agencies and the client isn’t just nice for UX; it’s essential.
Speakers expressed that it is much harder to be a client-side marketer in today’s digital environment than ever before. Collaboration and integration of skills enhance the knowledge base that informs the content that gives marketing teams the resources to evolve their brands.
According to research by Aprais UK, agency integration is considered an important dynamic in 75-90% of cases. Compare that with 26% of cases in 2010, and just 3.5% in 2009. It’s a relatively new trend, reflected in the evolution of new tech, but nevertheless a recent Econsultancy client-side study revealed that 83% of respondents saw a direct relationship between integration and increased revenues.
It was pointed out that younger agencies, where different digital technologies play different roles, and where new platforms are in place to make the integration process a lot easier, are, as you might expect, more likely to collaborate. It’s certainly a model that this creative agency was built upon. In the end it’s a trust thing, which again is something that very much underpins UX.
The point is, it’s about fostering a culture of partnership– it’s a long-term relationship that must be fostered and cared for. A marathon, not a sprint. And this is now the norm – consolidating the brand experience, coordinating timings and message tone, and customer data drives conversion rates.
So, who should lead the charge? In most cases, the client, although if a branding agency is involved then it too should play a major role in the organisation side of things.
In which case, what can agencies and clients do to provide an open and candid environment for complete collaboration?
1. Firstly, ensure every company involved is ready for integration – make clear who the decision-makers are and how they oversee.
2. Deliver one brief to everyone. It doesn’t need to be long; in fact the top line of the brief is all that’s needed to present the challenge. Agencies can then collaborate on how to solve it.
3. Resolve the money question upfront. Silo budgets and create an even playing field. Efforts might be misplaced or misdirected if you have two agencies on retainers and one on a pay-per-project basis.
4. Agencies may come to you with an agency-first creation. You must evaluate all the ideas with a customer-first outlook, to bolster UX.
1. It’s important to take the initiative – be proactive, honest and open in all collaboration plans. There can’t be any secret recipes and all success metrics need to be transparent and shared.
2. Agencies should each nominate one ‘client champion’ to deliver ideas in a cohesive message and tone to the client, ensuring the process of gathering material is uniform and smooth.
3. Plan ahead and stay fluid. For instance there may be a point where a marketing agency leaves its duties and the advertising agency takes over, and this should not come as a surprise to anyone.
4. Use technology to enhance relationships and communication.
5. Agencies also must recognise the importance of face-to-face relationships, meeting other teams and clients as often as they can. Perhaps have collaboration areas in agency offices where everyone can come together regularly, and holding these meetings at a different agency each week to keep the tone fresh.
UX relies on the output of complete quality and tone, and the resounding message is that agency collaboration is a must for survival. Anything less than complete openness will be a creative inhibitor. The days of working independently are no more with the evolution of technology we are currently experiencing. Consolidation of skills and integrated communications solutions are crucial to telling the whole brand story.