This blog post is by Ben Silcox, Head of Data & Digital at Havas EHS.

How does the agency stay relevant? A question being asked everywhere; how to stay relevant today in an environment where our clients' businesses and their marketing needs are changing at pace.

Over the last 18 months we have seen our business change dramatically in direct response to our clients' needs, and thus the strategic direction we are leading them. Clients increasingly need to find new opportunities to communicate with consumers, but in an environment where expectations and behaviour have changed. This is applicable in both emerging and developed markets, as both traditional channels and 'media dark' geographies demand a different approach. Take Unilever, which has recently made a number of investments in startups; from mobile shopper marketing to a content publishing platform.

The continued movement from a narrow media landscape to a broad and diverse one is nowhere more exemplified than in mobile. Traditional disruptive display advertising simply isn't working in mobile; so developing branded experiences, utility and services built on real consumer insight and feedback is vital. However, with brands that have been built up over decades, simply outsourcing product development is too risky.

Agencies responded to 'new media' with the need to bring digital specialists on board to meet demands of creativity in new channels with new rules and knowledge. Now, however, a larger and potentially more fundamental change is occurring – the transition, and in some cases, transformation into technology and product development. The average consumer is experiencing a world where everyday technology is solving real problems, as well as delivering experiences that were never possible. Whether it's Uber providing a cab on demand anytime you need; or Beats using 400 pieces of data to play a song that delights and surprises – but is just right. In this world clients are realising that product advertising and marketing comms – broadcasting the same old messages in a disruptive manner – just won't cut it anymore. No matter how good your banners, no matter how nice your parallax, no matter how agile your build – it's the same approach.

Clients are increasingly asking us to help them bring together technology and data as a starting point for experiences consumers will actually want. This strategic role delivers client value, and provides leadership. Tesco's creation of Hudl is a prime example of clients looking to become technology providers to drive brand growth, data capture, and integrated experiences. Whether it's wearable technology improving the gym experience in the 23 hours you're not sweating on a treadmill, or efficiently making a payment to a friend with Pingit – the need for technology in the agency skill-set is clear.

Clients have been landed with the role of figuring out what technology, data, and analytics they should use to drive development of new and existing customers. We, as agencies, are increasingly expected to have done this thinking – delivering technology and product development – allowing the client to focus on the brand and consumer experiences that will drive business goals.

Traditional marketing development revolved around an understanding, either by proxy or through real data analysis of the groups of consumers to target. Today, technology provides an opportunity to not only understand at a more granular level who these different types of customers are but to create experiences and products to bring them closer to a brand.

Clients have a very real need to understand how to reach, activate and communicate with very different groups of consumers in a way that means something. Interestingly, according to Havas Meaningful Brands Global Survey 75 per cent of consumers globally would not miss most global brands if they disappeared tomorrow. The brands that clearly have a meaning for consumers (purpose and utility) are increasingly the technology driven brands that make life simpler, more enjoyable, or more connected.

To respond to this client need, tech leaders are required to create products and services that change our business model. Away from 'body shopping' and selling time – to scalable platforms, services that can be sold to clients. This is the connectivity between brand, content, creative, and consumers – delivered with the methodology of a tech start-up. Agencies should be driving a 'maker' culture, one that focuses on creating, experimenting, and driving creative ideas through data and technology. Responding to briefs will always be limited to the client's knowledge, but will never beat the best minds working together to create, iterate and experiment.

The need to respond to this requires some fundamental changes to how we think and behave:

  1. We must organise ourselves differently. We cannot develop technology products with a nicely defined creative brief, a handover for concepting, and then deliver to a deadline. We must bring the skills of product development, prototyping and build together with a different process. Spotify have created an organizational structure built around Tribes, Squads, Chapters and Guilds – all in an effort to manage the need to innovate, scale, optimise and continuously release new features.

  2. Whilst planning and strategy have been used to define communication for a moment in time, it also needs to be applied to the development of products and services over time. Evolving from the use of advertising and paid media to push a message and trigger a response to the creation of experiences that will continually engage customers and build brand equity over time.

  3. Projects and budgets have to be thrown out. Technology development requires a completely different application of funding and success measurement. Agencies and clients have to understand the commitment over time to truly develop a product or service that could become part of a consumer's everyday experience. Understanding return and the traditional ROMI (return on marketing investment) needs to be reassessed, viewing value as frequency of use, volume of use, active use, etc.

Adapting to the skill, organizational, and mind-set changes needed is an opportunity and necessity that we as agencies must consider. If we don't, we and our clients will be facing a continuous wave of disruption from technology start-ups who are focused on one thing – and one thing only – the consumer. As Microsoft COO Bob Herbold said, "It's where the technology is changing or consumer habits are changing. In essence, it's gonna have a big impact on you and you better start thinking about the alternatives right now."