No, we're not an “agency”

Why we think of ourselves as a digital product team rather than an agency.

Now, you may have heard me introduce Wiredcraft as a ”digital product agency”. Why? It’s easier for people to start wrapping their head around what we actually do.

And every time I use that term, I cringe a little.

Why, you ask?

Because this word is associated with the advertising and marketing titans you all know. And I’d like to think we’re not the same type of animal.

The agency model is eroding

If you want an honest (and very detailed) take on the industry, I can’t recommend enough Jules Ehrhardt’s piece: “State of the Digital Nation 2016”.

The WPPs of the world aren’t having a great time.

Threatened by big consultancies and tech companies, commoditization of their services, reduced spend from their clients (P&G alone slashed $1bn of their ad & marketing budgets in the past 4 years)…

That alone explains the waves of “restructuring” and “consolidation”.

We don’t really feel that we’re part of that traditional agency world…

Agencies just don’t get “digital product”

In the past few years, as we’ve been entrusted by brands like Nike, Starbucks and Burberry to lead on their core digital investments in China (their most important market), large agencies have been reaching out.

The interaction is invariably the same:

  • Some VP of Digital or Director or Innovation contact us saying he’s heard of us and would love to discuss how we could work together.
  • We set up a meeting.
  • Our 10 minute presentation is met with confused stares.
  • We follow up with details on product design, build-measure-learn, omnichannel analytics strategies, KPIs for O2O, DevOps…
  • We’re then being asked about “Digital transformation”, “VR” or “Big data”.
  • At this stage we start counting the minutes until we can return to the office and actually do something productive.

I recently sat in a meeting with a Fortune 100 and their lead agency, one of the big ones, pitched the idea of a “Big data & AI” campaign (which really would have been a few dozen of lines of Python).

When asked about “what success looks like and how we measure it” (a very standard question at Wiredcraft), I was told that the initiative was “for branding and that it can’t be measured”. I made a few suggestions, and mentioned NPS as an example. Both the client and the “Director of Marketing” from the agency asked what NPS is…

So far I haven’t met a large agency that “gets” digital products.

It’s all about the “Wow effect”.

User experience, technology & data are an afterthought, the yucky necessities that the “tech guys” will figure out once the creative geniuses come up with their next big idea.

This is as far opposed as possible to everything we believe in when creating digital products. Ideas can be important, but execution is king. And (product) culture trumps this all.

Then what are you?

We do the actual work. We don’t subcontract to a bunch of freelancers.

We work through and through with our partners, from framing the business goals to setting up the CI/CD and the analytics dashboards.

We know our stuff. The person you’re talking to has done it before and knows firsthand what’s possible and what’s not. This is why we have product owners, not account managers.

We’re only interested in results. We’re disciplined ( and look closely at the numbers, whether you’re on the data intelligence, DevOps, development, PM or design team.

More than anything we’re a partner, not a vendor. We embed ourselves in our clients’ teams and work hard to gain their trust.

This has a cost…

Good, cheap and fast: you can only pick two. We’re not interested in doing bad work and we believe velocity is key to success. That means we’re usually more expensive than the competition.

There is an opportunity cost for our team as well. Not all organizations are mature enough to make a distinction between IT, marketing and digital. We almost never are engaged by either IT or marketing.

Now, if you’re a digital or innovation team and need to get sh*t done, you may want to give us a shout.

Just keep in mind we’re not an ”agency”, we’re a digital product partner.

Ronan Berder
Posted on November 21, 2018 in Company, Strategy

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