Just before the holiday break we released our first HfS Blueprint focused solely on the Digital Marketing Operations market. In the past, we have covered customer experience management along with marketing in the same report, and this year decided to break out the front office processes and look at them in a narrower scope, including our Contact Center and Digitally Enabled Contact Center blueprints, and this most recent endeavor in digital marketing services. It quickly became obvious that while service providers have varied strengths and value propositions across each of these areas, the blurring lines between front office functions is creating confusion- and opportunity- in this quickly changing market.
Digital is all about realigning to the customer
Changing customer demands are driving companies to up their investment in digital marketing. The way customers prefer to communicate and consume information is forcing marketers to rethink their strategies, as well as collaborate with other business units for a greater holistic customer view. Whether it’s advertising on social platforms, understanding customer segments on the web or mobile apps, or putting out relevant content for greater personalization and sales conversion, the need for speed and efficiency is top-of-mind for marketers. Because these expectations and preferences are constantly changing, marketers are tasked with becoming nimbler and more efficient organizations in order to be increasingly competitive. Some of the buyer-service provider dynamics include:
- Maturing digital marketing operations are driving investment: The maturity of digital marketing services buyers falls across a broad spectrum. We spoke with some buyers at the very beginning of their journeys, converting paper-based materials to digital formats. Others already have a solid digital marketing strategy in place, and are looking to further optimize and create efficiencies in their operations. As buyers mature, the burgeoning volume of digital assets becomes a greater challenge to manage—which often falls upon their service providers.
- “Better, faster, cheaper” is table stakes: Not surprisingly, cost reduction still ranks as a top driver for digital marketing operations services. Buyers have ever-increasing expectations for speed and efficiency with reduced budgets. The need to reduce turnaround time and time-to-market for campaigns is common. Many clients view their service providers as an extension of their teams that they can often use in off hours when timelines are tight. On top of these increasing pressures, most buyers are also looking to their service providers to deliver market insight, thought leadership and innovation.
- Customer experience is impacting governance models: While the front office traditionally operated in siloes, digital is driving a convergence of traditionally disparate departments. Often under the purview of an “engagement or experience officer,” leaders are learning to reach across functional siloes, between IT and lines of business, to deliver on a more holistic experience for their end customer. This, in turn, increases the complexity that service providers deal with when setting expectations and delivering on services to their client stakeholders.
It became very apparent while doing this research exercise that it’s getting harder and harder to draw a line between “marketing” and other front office functions like customer service and sales as we move to a more holistic customer experience viewpoint. As the edges of front office services continue to blur, the services that providers offer overlap and the competitive landscape will get more complex, with more niche/specialty service providers entering the mix. Many providers not included in this report were on the periphery of digital marketing operations because of their approach to customer experience; the coming year will see greater development of their value propositions and emergence into this competitive landscape in the coming year.
Also, a shift in the way that buyers and providers work together: the need for higher value services from buyers is often easily expressed but not as easily adopted by various stakeholders within client organizations. The combination of embracing the ideals of design thinking and brokers of capability within client organizations will help to enable a better reception of new ideas and strategic thinking with digital marketing operations service providers. Buyers need to be willing to work with service providers on this type of end-to-end CX initiatives. This often involves using service providers as change agents to bring together multiple internal stakeholders across the front office in their siloed organizations.
The bottom line: service providers have a big opportunity to continue moving into the realm of strategic and cause disruption in this market.
This is not only an opportunity for new entrants, but also really an opportunity for service providers which have a greater breadth of services to grow their existing relationships, evolving beyond isolated engagement to more comprehensive marketing operations services. Right now services in this market are often consumed in a more piecemeal fashion, but buyers are interested in adopting services from providers where they have trusted relationships. The majority of buyers interviewed for this report were interested in expanding the scope of the relationships with their current service providers and experiment on new platforms (i.e. social media platforms as they arise). Service providers which are focused on thought leadership will win these expansions. For some, digital marketing operations will mature into another commoditized, race-to-the bottom BPO service for cost takeout. But the smart service providers with a well-planned talent strategy and plans for intelligent automation have a real opportunity to disrupt the agency model and gain a greater chunk of marketing spend.