OPINION: Marketing Society - Agencies must adapt to clients' online demands

Do you remember when advertising ruled the world? Do you remember when direct marketing was going to replace it? Do you remember when media independents were going to replace media dependents? The past has a strange way of staying with us despite our best intentions, and for new media, this is just as true.

Do you remember when advertising ruled the world? Do you remember when direct marketing was going to replace it? Do you remember when media independents were going to replace media dependents? The past has a strange way of staying with us despite our best intentions, and for new media, this is just as true.

When Results Business Consulting started up ten years ago, market research and telemarketing were seen as on the fringe, if not outside, the scope of marketing communications. Both have since been drawn into the mix of services that contemporary marketing communications advice aims to deal with. So too, that formerly most unfashionable of businesses, fulfilment, has become recognised as a cornerstone of the e-commerce ambitions of both dotcoms and legacy businesses.

Ultimately, of course, the consumer cares not who or how their goods get to them, just that they do. The converse is that if they do not arrive, or arrive late, the whole process gets blamed, not just the delivery mechanism.

Somewhat scarily, recent research has suggested that not only will the disgruntled consumer move to another online source, they may also boycott the offline physical legacy store too. There's a clear warning there for all those legacy businesses cranking up online offerings.

As far as marketing communications is concerned, the delivery side of things has traditionally been seen as downstream and not a desirable part of an agency or consultancy's strategic positioning. But new paradigms bring new opportunities.

When there is a goldrush, people typically flock to sell shovels. With the internet, the modern equivalent of the Wild West dash for wealth, there are some smart operators positioning themselves as 'shovel' suppliers to online gold diggers - providing end-to-end internet fulfilment services for e-commerce, and expertise in product sourcing, warehousing, call centres, customer care, data-driven relationship marketing, web site design and maintenance, delivery, and collection and processing of returns.

At a time when marketing communications businesses are being constantly berated for not seeking to move up the food chain to the strategic end, this looks suspiciously like a paradox.

The link, refreshingly, is customer service, that cornerstone of every corporate mission statement, and absentee from so many action plans. The internet is, and will remain for some time yet, an unpredictable and evolving part of clients' businesses - and they are going to need help.

Ultimately, clients are seeking guidance, support and insight into their business problems and look to our agencies for this. E-commerce is nothing if not a challenge, and to many, almost virgin territory - the Digital West, perhaps? So what we see is no paradox.

Where advisers can deliver leading-edge business solutions and their downstream implementation, there will always be clients who want that reassurance and peace of mind, just as there will always be those other clients who will always want a downstream specialist. Ah, clients; don't cha just love 'em.



Tony Bond is head of corporate development practice at Results Business Consulting and a member of The Marketing Society.



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