Agencies featured in the UK Digital Agency Census share how data and privacy changes, transformation projects and the post-Covid ad spend boom are shaping client demand.
Spending on digital advertising and marketing by British advertisers has been booming lately.
It’s a trend that has benefitted digital agencies up and down the country, helping firms recover, move past and in some cases post record revenues in the wake of Covid. But which services and products are the focus of advertiser attention, and how have agencies responded?
E-commerce and customer experience
Uncommon Creative Studio is known for eye-catching brand advertising. But as partner Jonathan Goodman tells The Drum, it’s seen a huge uplift in demand for customer experience (CX) expertise in the digital arena. He joined the agency to launch its CX practice 18 months ago, having helmed M&C Saatchi’s Lida.
He says: “If you go back maybe five years, a big pitch for a brand to develop a new brand positioning would have traditionally meant work by an advertising agency on an advertising campaign. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but the demand has changed now a lot. Businesses are realizing that a shiny TV campaign isn’t going to cut it; you have to be developing a brand right through the entire ecosystem.“
The agency’s work for British Airways is a case in point. Like many of its competitors, the surface area with BA previously engaged with customers and its opportunities for establishing and reinforcing customer loyalty have shrunk. Price comparison sites and digital travel marketplaces have eaten away at direct commerce, while airports themselves don’t offer much of a chance to provide a world-class travel experience. But a better CX approach could make sure there’s no wasted opportunities to leave customers with a great impression of the operator.
Goodman says: “We aim to build brands from the inside out,“ which from a digital experience perspective means examining “what that brand looks like across its digital touchpoints, its physical touchpoints, how it communicates to the world and brings new people in.“
“How does it come to life when I book a flight, when I’m at the airport, when I’m on the plane, on the digital screens, on the app? It’s about identifying where you can show up for the brands you’re working with. There’s a lot of demand for that,“ he notes, “especially from those bigger brands that really want to shift and change their body language and move forward – not just with a shiny campaign, but with something that feels really authentic all the way through, whenever you touch a brand.“
While Uncommon has been seeing demand for wide-reaching projects, Adam Mobley, managing director at Harrison Carloss, says his agency is picking up more specialized, niche work from clients in the same area. “E-commerce builds is where we’re getting huge demand at the moment,“ he says. The Staffordshire agency, which specializes in digital marketing strategy, was ranked fifth best in the UK by its own clients.
He explains that with consumer expectations for quality service and easy transactions growing, brands need agency expertise. “Everyone’s expecting everyone to do more, do it quicker and do it easier. We’re getting a lot more requests to do more complex e-commerce integrations to things like Klarna.“
Elsewhere, Mobley has seen rising demand for social media strategy and paid social consulting – a long tail effect from the increased social activity seen during the pandemic. “There’s a huge demand for social media, everybody’s trying to guide [clients] the right way.“
Married to both areas is a client focus on attribution and the ability to understand ROI. He says: “There’s definitely a big drive for more thorough data, which comes back to website builds and more complex tracking tools.“
Developments around personal data – namely the deprecation of the third-party cookie – are among the biggest demand factors, Matt Read, business director and head of digital at Space & Time (ranked third in the UK by its clients), tells The Drum.
“We’ve seen a big increase in clients looking to embark on full analytics audits and GA4 integrations. Similarly, with the deprecation of third-party cookies by Google Chrome creeping ever nearer, we’ve also seen an increased demand from clients around our programmatic offering. Specifically, clients are looking for future-proof solutions,“ he says.
The other area of significant client interest for Space & Time, Read says, is educating clients themselves around personal data changes and their impact on businesses. He says: “We’ve seen a lot of interest in training. Given the changes around cookies, iOS14 and Google Analytics, clients are keen to undertake training across areas including analytics, paid social and programmatic, and so we’ve seen a real increase in the demand for training.
“Clients are focused on these areas as there are fundamental changes happening within them that can’t be ignored. Clients are aware that they are going to have to adapt to GA4 and a cookieless future, and so are trying to prepare by developing their understanding and integrating solutions now ahead of time.“
To make sure it is meeting that demand, Read says Space & Time has doubled down on its own tech stack investment, launched a new training division and created a new cookie-free product called Precision Press. “This allows for detailed levels of customer targeting, based on location, interests and topics, but without relying on third-party cookies,“ he explains.
“We have invested in creative and creative technologies to align with the changes widely adopted by the adtech industry. Delivering highly-engaging creative formats at both scale and speed allows for greater creative insights and learnings about what motivates consumers.“
Meanwhile, at Brainlabs, UK chief exec Jo Lyall tells The Drum says that consulting on data has become a major growth area for the company. The team has seen increased demand for consulting on first-party data strategies, advanced analytics, attribution and media measurement.
“It’s directly related to what’s happening with the platforms and partners that we’re working with, because they’re all increasingly on this journey toward automation and machine learning-led decisioning, and to make the most of that you’ve got to be able to get the right inputs going. That’s about quality of data, consistency of data, the ability to track all the way through to purchase, and then lifetime value is a real kind of trend for our clients as well.“
A media agency that operates across the globe, Brainlabs was ranked as one of the best agencies in the UK by industry peers in the Digital Agency Census.
Like Space & Time, it’s managed to boost its ability to supply those services, either by retraining existing staff to focus on those areas or by hiring in new talent. “15% of our workforce is now in that area. And if I project that forward to where we expect to be in the next three years, it’s definitely going to be 20-25%.“
Lyall also notes that the agency might consider acquiring new companies outright in order to scale its operations; this month, it bought influencer marketing agency Fanbytes for an undisclosed sum.