How creating products and platforms led us down a path to full service

“Full-service,” a tarnished agency word, is now necessary to truly owning the customer journey

By John Sampogna, Co-CEO and Founding Partner at Wondersauce.

Over the last 5+ years we have evolved a lot. From products and platforms to social and campaigns to photography and video, it’s something we’ve always found exciting and quite frankly, necessary for survival as an agency. Just when we became comfortable in one particular platform, area or process we evolve. Not because we like pain or constantly having to rethink our structure, but because consumer behavior evolves faster than any agency can.

We’ve also embraced the tarnished and loaded stigmas that is advertising and the idea of being truly full service. For too long, digitally led organizations have become comfortable operating in the background (even the really big ones) and embraced labels like digital agency, product design studio, or social agency.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these labels, they’re just perceived as the niche when in fact they should be looked at as the core. As consumer behavior and brand spends continue to shift drastically it’s time this stigma evolves as well.

Establishing a modern service offering that allows you to reach your consumer in all relevant and necessary touch points is crucial. Partnering with too many niche agencies introduces unnecessary risk, convoluted and overlapping swimlanes, and ultimately makes it more difficult to hold one party accountable for delivering your true KPI.

So to be clear, we’re an advertising agency. We’re just an ad agency with a modern service offering that reflects what’s relevant today.

Here’s what we think that is…

INFRASTRUCTURE + ACTIVATION

Infrastructure is the foundational elements you need to survive as a brand: sites, apps, products, platforms, analytics, branding, POS, CRM, etc. These aren’t always the sexiest initiatives in the world and at most brands with dated IT systems, it can be downright painful to find success. But without a modern infrastructure that makes every trivial customer interaction pleasant, your social ideas, campaigns and massive spots are not going to be as impactful.

Activation is the more traditional elements of advertising and marketing. Campaigns, spots, content, social and anything meant to generate awareness, drive someone somewhere to complete some conversion-related action. This is extremely important and will continue to be. It’s simply no longer the only major area to focus on to drive awareness and customer satisfaction.

We believe infrastructure should lead brand development and be complemented with activation. This is the reverse of how most (if not 99%) of ‘full service’ agencies are structured or approach accounts.

It’s not that they’re all wrong, it’s just historically been the most profitable way to approach this business model. It’s also rare that agencies rooted in traditional advertising also have a core competency in products, platforms, technology and design.

Even the larger traditional agencies who have been investing in digital for the last 10+ years are mostly doing it because they have to. Not because they respect or actually understand the value. They still lead with what’s made them crazy margin since 1960. On the other end of the spectrum, most small design shops and product studios straight up have zero interest in the activation space and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

We believe that building a modern brand starts with infrastructure. Most marketers, big brands, and KPI’s are often about reach, awareness and sales, which makes sense. But to us, this thinking misses the most important element of actually achieving any of it; customer satisfaction and making people’s lives easier.

Even with the internet celebrating its 25 birthday it isn’t until now the brands with outdated infrastructure are paying the price and need to start paying attention. And sadly that price today is very high.

There are a few benchmark brands that have taken this approach and their scale and reach has disrupted massive industry. Companies like Airbnb, Uber and Warby Parker are three that come to mind. Your first interaction with these brands was probably something like requesting a car, running through the rain, jumping in the backseat, speeding to your location, and getting out all without money changing hands. Or maybe hanging out with your best friends in an amazing apartment in a cool city and exchanging messages with the host about a great place to eat dinner. Or maybe it was cutting a mundane chore and saving time and money by shopping from your couch and looking better for doing it.

What do all of these examples have in common? They leave the customer with a lasting sentiment… “That felt awesome, definitely doing that again.”

We believe that user experience is the new branding. And without foundational infrastructure that can evoke these moments of joy, your campaigns, spots, and social activations will be limited.

If your brand, product or service is behind, rest assured that your competition or a few hungry entrepreneurs are working on something that will drastically upset your business, if not change it fundamentally forever.

So back to the topic at hand, how creating products and platforms led us down a path towards full service. Planning and buying media, along with developing relationships with major publishers is now a major part of our business. Mainly because a modern and scalable infrastructure & activation approach needs the most important thing, context. Smart media buying ensures that users who see our campaigns and creative have the right context when we have them in a place to convert. Even better, if we spend months creating a beautiful product or platform, we can now control the traffic which will ultimately gives us much more control over the customer journey.

So while the ‘big’ media agencies continue to fight about media transparency and which “proprietary platform” is stronger, the rest of us can get smart on the best kept secret in the game, planning and buying media is no longer operationally difficult. Whether you’re a 5 or 500 person agency, getting a lean and smart media competency will give you more leverage. It will make your launches more impactful and will give you the data you need to justify your next move. Automation and consumer behavior is bringing an end to companies looking to create a sustainable business solely off of a percentage based media buying model.

If you take anything away from this article please make it be this. In a test, learn and iterate economy, it’s vital to ensure the traffic you’re sending somewhere is accurate, qualified and pushing KPI’s forward. Pairing a lean and effective media arm with your core agency offering is the best way to push your business forward in the short and long term.