Why Your Digital Agency Might Have a Better World View Than Your Ad Agency

25/10/2012 15:00 BST | Updated 24/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Back in the Cold War, Soviet strategists looked at World maps drawn with the USSR in the centre; seemingly 'surrounded' by China, Europe and the U.S. It was, literally, a view of the World that predetermined a certain set of behaviours. An entire mentality arguably shaped by the simple accident of how information was laid out on a piece of paper. (We in the West of course, could only see an unnecessarily aggressive huge red blob way out to the East.)

Today, marketing folk tend to have a view of where their brand sits that also drives them to behave in a certain way. They have their own brand maps, typically with their 'brand essence' at the centre. It's at the outer edges that the customer tends to make an appearance. It's a map that encourages marketers to focus on what their brand wants to say to customers, rather than what customers might want from a brand. It's a brand legacy born out of the old 'interruption' model of advertising, and I would argue that if you're still using that map, you're going to end up lost.

To make matters worse, many agencies are still using briefing forms that were created in a bygone age. Rarely do you see the customer as the first consideration. Usually, the customer appears some way down the form, in the role of 'target audience'. A target is a fixed point you aim something at. Nowadays, customers are not a fixed point, they are fluid, and the marketing agenda is one of engagement rather than mere message delivery.

I wonder whether a simple change in cartography, both brand and agency side, would help to promote a different set of behaviours, and a more useful set of outcomes.

Digital agencies seem to me to be showing the way forward, often driven by an understanding of how mobile is disrupting old attitudes and patterns of behaviour. New devices and platforms are creating new layers of expectation from people, not just according to what device they are using but even time of day. Your needs and expectations might be quite different when at home or at work, using a PC, compared to what you want from a tablet or mobile on the move, or in a shop.

It may be that digital agencies have a better understanding of the impact that new platforms and devices are having on the 'customer journey'. I'd add the fact that many of today's "digital" agencies come from a direct marketing heritage, and have an awareness of the complexities of the customer journey built into their DNA. Digital agencies contain planners that are sensitive to the complexities of different needs around the many points at which a brand or business can impinge upon customers' lives.

A marketer from a leading cancer charity (for whom digital channels are not just about fund raising, but also about service delivery) explained the importance of figuring this out. The information required on a mobile handset on, say, a bus or outside a doctor's surgery (when you may be in a state of panic), might be radically different from what you're looking for on a PC at home, when you might be seeking in-depth analysis and advice.

Brand marketers need to be more attuned to the fact that customers are at the centre of their lives - and not the other way around. Your digital agency might just have the map you need to help you get there.