Mobile Agencies: soon to be surplus to requirement

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When we set up the digital agency Glue, over a decade ago, my concern was that, rationally, Glue should not exist. How long could it be before the other agencies caught up, thus making ‘digital agencies’ redundant?

Smart mobile agencies are now wondering the same thing. And so are marketing clients.

Do they, for example, have a ‘Poster’ agency on their roster? No. So why do marketing people still have mobile agencies on their rosters?

Most of the marketers I talk to don’t particularly want to employ mobile agencies. (Any additional agency on the roster is additional hassle.) They are forced to employ specialist, single-medium agencies when the incumbent agencies are incompetent.

The big question is how long the window of incompetence stays open.

Meanwhile, what are these mobile agencies being used for?

In part, they make stuff that incumbent agencies cannot make – a short-term fix to a skills shortage. Some mobile agencies make things the incumbent agency actually can make, because they have a nervous client – acting as a comfort blanket.

Other mobile agencies are involved in mobile strategy. Although you might expect them to be doing this, in many cases they can’t charge for ‘strategy’ because clients don’t have budgets for it. Agencies have to throw in the valuable stuff for free, and try to make money on production.

Very few are being used to develop their clients’ digital strategy. (Ironically the place where they might be of most value.) Mobile is not just another new media choice, it is a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour.

For years, the marketing industry asked, “will this be the Year Of Mobile?” It will soon be difficult to conceive of what a non-mobile world could possibly be like. It’s already difficult for consumers to conceive of that. It’s a moment in time when consumers are significantly ahead of marketers.

Yet there is still no long-term case for a specialist mobile agency. In 2004, Christopher Booker argued (after a 34-year investigation) that in all of literature there are seven basic plot lines. There are some basic plot lines in marketing too.

None of the marketing people I talk to wake up thinking, “I really want to do something mobile”. They are more likely to be concerned with the core tasks of marketing – acquiring new customers, retaining existing ones, achieving greater sales volume, increasing distribution, not giving away discounts… These are the basic plot lines of marketing, and mobile is simply a new context.

Until mobile becomes ‘normalised’, and old-school agencies catch up, marketers may still need to hire agencies that specialise in the medium. But they will do so reluctantly, and they will hope for a day, very soon, when hiring a mobile agency would be as daft as hiring a poster agency.

So if you are running a mobile agency and wondering how long before your window closes, well I reckon half as long as I had. Possibly less.

Shaun Varga is the founder of Ingenuity and author of Brilliant Pitch