Observations from iMedia Agency Summit 2016

12/06/16

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By Jim Nichols
VP-Marketing, Apsalar

Attending the iMedia Agency Summit is sort of a long-term tradition for me. I started in marketing on the agency side, and when I transitioned to the solutions provider side I continued to go to this wonderful event – both because it is a great place to do business and because it’s also a great place to take the pulse of our digital industry.

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This tends not to be an app-centric event, though of course many of the brands represented at the gathering have apps that are of significant importance to their ecomm strategies. In a way, that makes this event particularly relevant for understanding the direction in which our industry is headed. Because all signs indicate that app marketing is leaving its niche and becoming a key element of mainstream brand marketing.

I thought I’d report back on three key takeaways from the show, and what they may mean for the digital business.

A Changing Agency Dynamic

Wow, the amount of change in the agency sector from year to year is always dazzling. A couple of years ago, media brands dominated the seller attendees at this event. Everyone wanted a little piece of the media buyers’ time. That time was and is precious. According to iMedia, the 100 or so buyers at this summit control more than $8B in spend – truly an enormous amount of financial power concentrated in just a few hands. And those hands belong to people who want to understand new opportunities to create business advantage.

But this year, it wasn’t media companies that held most of the seller badges, but rather technology solutions providers. Buyer platforms, marketing dashboards, attribution tools, data warehouses, email and other engagement tools. A plethora of the technologies that are key to creating competitive advantage in an industry where programmatic now drives so many of the ad dollars.

Now, in apps, programmatic isn’t as big a factor as in other digital sectors. There are still literally hundreds of ad networks in our space. But the signs of rapid consolidation are easy to spot in our industry as well. Agencies also play less of a dominant role in apps, though app-specific teams and agencies are growing their presence in this digital marketing growth area.

Agencies must continually reinvent themselves to provide the most value to clients. Redefining their relationships, revenue models, and service lines to reflect the new realities of the market. And all indications are that they are doing so in fascinating ways.

All About Relationships

The title of this year’s show was Forging Relationships that Matter. And a big theme under that umbrella was the need for transparency and a shared set of values and measures so that brands, agencies and sellers can truly partner with one another. Providing that sort of underpinning is a big part of what we do at Apsalar. One measurement yardstick. One way of counting. So everyone knows what is expected of them and what will be viewed as a success.

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I had the good fortune to be part of an on-stage discussion about the state of relationships in our industry. Joining me were Carol Wolowic, Senior Manager of Media for Panera Bread and President of 314 Digital; Stephen Heitz, Managing Director of LAVIDGE Digital and President of AZIMA; and Lynn Ingham, President of recruitment firm Digital Talent Guide and President of both Las Vegas Interactive Marketing Association and the Interactive Marketing Association Alliance (IMAA). I was representing both the IMAA and sfBIG, the digital trade organization in the SF Bay area. Thus, our panel represented perspective from all of the key “stakeholders” in digital partnerships and multiple regions throughout the US.

Each of us plays a critical role in the local interactive marketing association in our respective cities. And those orgs are all aligned to foster better relationships between agencies, brands and solutions providers to further the growth of the digital sector.

Over the summer, fifteen such market teams collaborated to deliver a massive survey to understand the state of relationships between agencies, brands and solutions providers. Here’s a list of the participating organizations:

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There was a lot of good news to share and some key areas where we all need to put in more effort. According to the survey, which collected 917 responses, making it one of the largest such research projects of its kind ever, 70% of brands felt that their relationships with agencies were strong. That was a surprisingly strong result, based on the reactions of most people in the room. Strong because there is so much industry speculation about rifts in this critical relationship. So, excellent news for agencies and brands alike.

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The survey also pointed to a DIRECT RELATIONSHIP between the number of hours brands and agencies work together each week and the level of trust between the teams.

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A great reason to rethink business-by-email and consider the need for weekly and other periodic video calls, conference calls, or face to face meetings.

On the relationships between sellers and agencies, there is clearly room for improvement. Overall, solutions providers dinged their agency counterparts for not providing the time and inputs they need to provide great RFP responses. Agencies dinged sellers for trying to exclude them from the process by going direct to clients, thereby weakening relationships.

imaa-survey-results-4What was clear from our speakers is that the foundation of any good relationship is trust and transparency. When those break down, rifts develop that are counterproductive.

At Apsalar, we hope that our platform and data help foster trust and transparency that create strong client/partner relationships. But such data and insights are only one element of an environment that fosters great collaboration, and all stakeholders play a role in creating a positive business environment.

Mobile’s Changing Role

Those of us that are fortunate to work in the app space have an exceptionally strong understanding of mobile technology and what mobile can do to drive customer engagement, revenue, and long-term customer relationships.

Those that are and will be entering the space from a broader digital perspective will likely have less of that knowledge to start, but will often have fantastic new views on how apps can fit into the overall marketing approach of leading brands.

It’s that blending of perspectives that makes me most excited about the future of our industry in 2017 and beyond. The constant change in our space will continue. The “rules” of app marketing will evolve in ways many of us cannot even imagine today. But it’s through our relationships between brands, agencies and solutions providers that we can continue to transform brands and customer relationships for the better.

I’d like to extend my thanks to my fellow speakers Carol, Stephen and Lynn, and to the iMedia team for having us.

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