Twenty years ago, the media landscape was vibrating with the buzz generated by a brand new type of communications service provider: the interactive agency. In the wake of the dotcom crash, however, things quickly changed and it would now seem that the integrated marketing- and IT services once offered by the interactive agency have been assimilated by and split up between the ad agency and the IT-consultancy. So, is the interactive agency thereby out for the count, or is it still a viable business? Is there still a need for it?
1. The Interactive Agency: a Conduit Between Marketing and IT
As a digital creative, I much too often start working with a new client, meeting with either the marketing side or the IT side of a corporation (depending on the nature of the assignment), and eventually inevitably stumble upon the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the board room that no-one wants to talk about. There is a rift that goes straight down the middle of the organization: Marketing and IT just won’t talk to each other! They often see each other as completely unrelated even though they often serve as opposite sides of the same coin. Sometimes they even outright sabotage each other’s work, in what amounts to a petty turf war over budgets, or the ears of the board of directors.
This is in itself not a mystery – IT and marketing people come from completely different worlds and don’t speak the same language. IT people deal in logic and talk about usability, functionality and the distribution of information. Marketing people, on the other hand, are purveyors of emotion and talk about impact, communication and the purpose of persuasion.
I submit that the interactive agency is the cure for this communicative ailment, simply because interactive agencies straddle the divide between IT and marketing.
On one hand, interactive agencies are savvy to how networked computers form the nervous system of a modern corporation. They realize what information technology can bring in terms of opening up communication channels, both within and and outside a company. They understand how procurement-, inventory-, logistics- and sales processes relate to business system platforms. They know how to make data work for you and how to make data in any form a shared and moldable commodity across the organization, ensuring that it can be properly capitalized upon.
On the other hand, interactive agencies also understand user experience and how to make it adhere to strategic brand directives. They can translate core values into interactive principles and help maximize both the impact and retained emotional and intellectual substance of a marketing campaign. They can integrate a multitude of media types and help marketing transcend the limitations of one single channel. They know how to make marketing more precise, talking one-to-one instead of blindly broadcasting to an unknown, unspecified mass audience. And, most importantly, they know how to let interactivity take your marketing from mere communication to actual transaction, involving IT on the commerce end, producing measurable results that go straight into the books.
In fact, one-on-one customer interaction should really be considered critical for all types of businesses, in order to create new opportunities and capitalize on them. Appropriately, where traditional marketing usually takes the form of a monologue, web-based interactivity creates a dialogue between sender and recipient. This closes the gap between communication and actual transaction, creating clear return on marketing investments. Interactivity also paves the way for increased brand awareness and customer loyalty and lays a foundation for strong, sustainable long-term customer relations. This way, interactivity can help marketing achieve concrete sales effects that are clearly visible on the bottom line.
And this is where marketing and IT need some help. On their own, their budgets are often spent one-dimensionally on somewhat lopsided, more or less self-serving efforts, where true ROI is but a distant goal.