by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) There was a time, not long ago, when digital marketing was largely thought of in agency circles as encompassing a decent website and a team of community managers interacting with consumers across one or two channels. Success was measured in likes, shares and fan growth before social media became media in a social world and access to your fans suddenly had a price tag.

Today, the term “digital” is a holdall for so many components of business that it in itself is becoming vague, while success is far more clearly measured in sales and business growth.

Closing the gap

As the gap between marketer and consumer narrows, we are understanding more than we’ve ever known about the lives and preferences of those enjoying our products, or not enjoying them, as the case may be. This places a new set of demands on brand owners as inbuilt learning dictates new product formats, routes to market and usage occasions. Harnessed correctly (and timeously), there are enormous advantages to be gained.

Corporate citizenship has also been elevated to the fore, as consumers have the mouthpiece to complain, rally support or praise the behaviour of big business. In this new era of transparency, everything from pricing to product ingredients and operational sustainability is up for debate. Consumers are no longer restricted to voting with their wallets.

The talent divide

As entire industries undergo their own inevitable digital transformation and are enabled the opportunity of unprecedented access to customers, there is exponentially growing demand for experts (both individuals and businesses) to guide the way in the local market. Yet, considering the relative infancy of digital marketing and especially in its more niche subsets, the size of the demand for talent, in particular, far outstrips supply. This has two inevitable implications:

First, the war for talent is a barrier to radical growth because the search-and-select process makes it hard to scale. There is such a wide range of ways for experts to apply themselves, from working remotely for global clients or gaining employment with top corporates taking digital in-house to joining a management consultancy, development house or an agency.

Secondly, as the go-to discipline for agencies seeking to grow their scope of work and, more holistically, champion their clients’ needs, the input costs given the lack of supply are at a premium to more-traditional disciplines, pushing output prices higher as a result — up to 20–30% at times.

Playing catch-up

As media, creativity and data collide to create our marketing future, there are many who will benefit in the short-to-mid-term before the masses catch up to a place of digital egalitarianism. In the agency world, so, too, will supply and demand balance, making talent more widely accessible.

Finally, as the understanding of digital skillsets gains traction, there is also no doubt that downward pressure will be placed on pricing and accountability. If anything, the idea of payment by results may finally be measurably achievable after years of pushing the paradigm but not having the tools to deliver on it.

Future favour

While many have said in times gone by that fortune favours the bold, in the enormous transition that we are all undergoing as a commercial imperative, I assure you that, in our digital future, the only fortunes to be gained will be through action.


Tom Fels 2016With over a decade of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of Publicis Machine. He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.

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