Originally Published on Pharmaceutical Executive on September 24th, 2018

Brands should look to their agencies to be a true data-driven business partner, not just a creative partner.

Becoming truly data-driven is no small feat, and requires an intimate familiarity with a brand’s daily operations, long-term objectives, and overarching organizational structure. To maximize the ROI of every dollar spent in the market, a brand must not only integrate data-driven decision making into the full scope of its business processes, but must also remain flexible enough to make nimble adjustments in line with what its data dictates — which is why many brands turn to agency partners to help them facilitate this kind of overarching shift.

The hard truth, however, is that many agencies have been slow to invest in the talent, technology, and savvy necessary to achieve the level of data-driven sophistication that today’s brands demand. In turn, brands often supplement existing agency relationships with project-based partnerships with consultancies and data firms. In my experience, the nature of short-term collaboration on project-based work rarely lends itself to the level of integration and long-term thinking necessary to drive real transformational change throughout an organization.

Compounding this challenge is the fact that internal analytics teams within most client organizations are typically spread quite thin. These teams are expected to wear multiple hats, and often handle everything from primary market research, targeting, and forecasting to business analytics, marketing analytics, digital analytics, and more. Given this shortage of analytics resources, brands are left with frustratingly few options should they wish to drive a highly effective data driven marketing function. Should they settle for whatever capabilities their existing agency has expertise in, or do they work to shore up gaps by pursuing short-term engagements with a mix of analytics firms and consultancies?

In my view, this frustration is warranted — in 2018, brands should expect their agencies to execute sophisticated analytics in tandem with other consumer-centric offerings. Now more than ever, agencies must adapt into agile, forward-thinking partners with the ability to anticipate and address a vast array of their clients’ business challenges. In the meantime, brands must be especially discerning, and seek out genuine partnerships with data-driven agencies that, unlike traditional outfits, are capable of crafting and executing a comprehensive analytics strategy alongside creative strategy.

Data-Driven Agency Partnerships: A Competitive Advantage for Brands

In my experience, agency partners often have long tenures working on the brands they serve — sometimes longer tenures than brand teams themselves — and represent a valuable resource for client organizations. The very nature of the typical “long-haul” agency relationship drives a clear incentive for agency analytics teams to provide effective, and perhaps most importantly, executable recommendations for brands — recommendations that drive tangible business and marketing impact. Agencies can’t afford to provide a non-actionable data driven recommendation, develop a hundred-page analysis deck, and then walk away.

The most savvy data-driven agencies have the ability to bring analytics to life through real-world execution, and craft a holistic marketing strategy that drives business results. This type of end-to-end analytical approach enables agencies to surface insights that would otherwise go unnoticed. While firms that focus on the data project-based model are often capable of performing the specific analyses a brand requests, this type of on-demand engagement often just scratches the surface of the range of outcomes that analytics can drive — and often requires a significant degree of client-side effort to connect the dots to the overall strategy.

The best agency partners understand their client’s unique business challenges, corporate priorities, and history in the marketplace with a depth that cannot be replicated in the context of a one-off — or even intermittent — project-based relationship. By virtue of this familiarity, analytics-minded agencies are able to pinpoint areas of growth, helping brands achieve the operational dynamism necessary to adapt to market fluctuations in close to real time. Partnering with an analytics-savvy agency that knows the brand’s business inside and out will help the brand achieve efficiency boosts in areas where it would have never even thought to look.

It’s Time to Demand More

Proper contextualization is the key to brands getting the most out of their analytics investment. Analytics are not valuable in isolation; they must be integrated into a brand’s entire approach to marketing — an approach to which only the brand’s agency partner has full access.

Brands are put in a challenging position if the agency they’ve been working with doesn’t have the data-driven capabilities the brand is looking to leverage. But short-term project-based analytics partnerships often fall short of the potential that analytics can drive when meaningfully integrated across an organization’s business practices.

In today’s data-driven marketplace, brands need an analytics strategy that is holistic, integrated, and actionable. If you’re not yet getting that from your agency partner, it’s time to ask for more.

Written by Kevin Troyanos

I lead the Analytics & Data Science practice at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. I have focused my career within the healthcare marketing analytics space, empowering healthcare marketers with data-driven strategic guidance while developing innovative solutions to healthcare marketing problems through the power of data science. I’ve worked to measure, predict, and optimize marketing and business outcomes across personal, non-personal, digital, and social channels. I’ve led engagements with brands that span all stages of the product lifecycle, with a particular focus on established brands. My role is to guide the departmental vision and lead innovation initiatives, effectively positioning marketing analytics as a competitive differentiator and organic growth driver for the agency at large.

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