The Agencies of the Future: Two Paths

Digital transformation and marketing technologies

I’ll resist pointing out that you’d expect Forrester — techno-analyst firm that it is — to put technology ahead of strategy and creative for agencies. But I see this argument as an element of commoditization, and the devaluation of thinking over execution.

The technology trend in the background is automation, preceded by clients who decide they can bring agency work in house with support from the technologies: analytics, data, testing, etc. Extrapolate that trend and agencies will be blown to bits, as businesses of all sizes and shapes undergo ‘digital transformation’ and determine that the skills linked to marketing data and technology are primary, and need to be brought in house.

When so much is getting baked into the technological infrastructure, however, the path forward for agencies may be, paradoxically, to move (once again) into the ultrastructure, and to resist the temptation to become merely the engineers that feed and clean up after the machines. The ultrastructure: the world of ideas and meaning, conjecture and gesture, research and connection, narrative and context.

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There are two paths before that hiker, and both lead deeper into the fog. source: David Foti via Unsplash

So, expect a bifurcation, where many will double their investments on the technologies underlying digital transformation, and find themselves — unsurprisingly — transformed into technicians, monitoring the meters and dials of dashboards.

Others, perhaps the few, will hold to a different trajectory, relying on more direct appreciations of human intent, sifting through evidence at smaller scale, and looking for advantage in ancient logic, rather than algorithmic crunching of unimaginable datasets.

Some of us will hold to what we can comprehend, what we can encompass, staying closer to the immediate pressing and patterns of people in the world, and not the third-order derivative of their actions, captured by beacons, flickering on a screen.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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