Why integration is the future for design agencies

Integrated versus specialist is a topic that has been hotly debated in recent years on both sides of the client-agency divide.

For agencies it’s about balancing the need for efficiency of internal processes, with demonstrating true value that you bring to clients, whilst remaining competitive within the continuously fragmented agency landscape.

It’s argued that there is a need for a new model for the ‘agency of the future’ that actually features interdisciplinary teams or even ‘brand experience’ teams, from the very biggest holding companies like WPP, to small and medium sized agencies.

Meanwhile clients want to ensure their needs continue to be met, working with the best talent, fostered in a strong working relationship to help achieve their business goals.

As a digital agency, we made the decision last year to move to a more integrated approach where we added marketing to our design & development offering, and have not looked back.

Initially, we were hesitant to change. Integrated felt like a dirty word. Perhaps corporate. How were we going to maintain our integrity as a design-led boutique digital studio? Are we diluting the offering by not doing one thing?

The need for being more integrated

Where had the move to integrate marketing into our service offering come from? Our client-base had evolved in the initial few years to predominantly e-commerce businesses, where there was an element of ‘selling’ associated with the websites we’d build.

Naturally there are significant overlaps with marketing disciplines that are crucial to consider when designing e-commerce stores. How do we build a shop that is search engine optimised? Is the product page conversion rate optimised? What do the analytics tell us about the effectiveness cross-selling from content? How does the site cater for first time visitors versus returning customers?

Building considered e-commerce stores that take into account design, development and marketing, ensures that we deliver solutions that consider the whole customer journey - from acquisition to long-term retention - and became a natural and desirable service offering for our clients, all under one roof.

Having adopted this model for nearly a year now, I can safely say it has been a success.

Where we originally thought we had lost the cache of being ‘specialist’, we have gained by aiming to build a niche with our client portfolio - we are establishing ourselves as experts in luxury lifestyle e-commerce. This is a balance between understanding the customer and the level of technical experience that is expected within this sector.

Push factors

Brands are now working interdepartmental themselves and in turn seek partners that can cater to this. With a multi-channel approach to their online strategy and marketing, it’s important to convey a consistent message to customers.

Equally with lifestyle e-commerce we see higher conversion rates where there is consistency through the customer journey - from Instagram, to a newsletter, to a blog post, to a product page. When the imagery and message remains consistent across each of these channels, better results follow. This is approach we adopted for London-based jewellery brand Tada & Toy during their Black Friday promotion in 2017, where each marketing channel had a daily message or offer that was consistent throughout the seven-day campaign.

Teams working in harmony

Integrating the design and marketing team early in the process helps to future-proof the website. A designer that has a firm understanding of the number of audience segments from the outset, can then create a design that considers each of them. As a result the design phase includes marketing-led decision making which may include tailored landing pages, menu hierarchy and SEO site structure.

Another important role the website can play is guiding prospective customers from awareness and consideration, eventually into purchase. Having a strategy in place which nurtures visitors to engage with the brand, product or service often builds a higher return once they become a customer.

In turn this can lead to a higher average order value and lifetime customer value compared to one-off purchasers. With Truefitt & Hill, the gentleman’s grooming brand we have a customer acquisition series of communications involving website content, automated emails, and retargeted advertising which educates prospects on the brand ahead of that first purchase.

Finally, speed is a key differentiator for the integrated agency model. Due to the variety of skills a client has access to within the agency team, being integrated allows us to respond quicker and more efficiently than a multi-agency set-up.

Being agile and able to adapt to client needs as the relationship develops helps with not only long-term retention, but building a deeper understanding and knowledge of their business as you help them grow.

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