Disruptive Technology Hits Marketing Agencies Hardest

These are the basic tenets that apply to almost every business niche, but I believe they apply to marketing-related businesses especially hard. As a business owner of an interactive design firm for 28+ years and a graphic designer for 14 years before that, I have been in this industry for almost three quarters of my life. In that timespan, the industry has gone from analog to digital typesetting, “cut and paste” to desktop publishing, huge stat cameras for producing negatives for print to creating responsively-designed digital marketing collateral that could be read on a variety of mobile devices. Companies that didn’t embrace these trends as they came along are no longer with us.

While one might think that, armed with fantastic tools like “Photoshop” and “Adobe Creative Suite”, agencies like mine would benefit from needing less staff and labor hours to create ads, brochures, annual reports, etc. But the end result was quite different. Clients rightly or wrongly felt that the reduced time and labor hours to create a print project meant they could expect shorter delivery deadlines, which meant the existing team worked longer hours. The new digital design programs also required retraining existing staff and/or hiring new employees with totally new skill sets.


The Internet Disruption

The next disruptive technology to radically change the advertising and marketing industry was, of course, the Internet. Almost immediately, new firms whose employees were more likely to be engineers than graphic designers sprung up. These web design firms commanded five-figures just to talk to businesses who wanted a presence on the World Wide Web. Fortunately, for us, they were lacking in good design skills and we lost very few clients, while “best practices” took shape and we got up to speed. The Sutter Group learned early on, it was never good to be on the “bleeding edge”.

But TSG once again had to adapt. At first, we tried training up our existing designers. While the spirit was willing, the time to ramp up was too slow, so we looked for developers to add to our roster. Unfortunately, in those early days, it seemed every developer was really building his or her own proprietary system. That often meant, if they left your company, the system they created for you could not be understood by anyone who came in to take their place.

Fortunately for us, we found new open-source Content Management Systems (CMS’s) like “Expression Engine”. Our in-house designers learned to use it relatively quickly, so it became our recommended backend system for many years. More and more, we are building sites using the most appropriate technologies that fit the particular need, so WordPress, Kentico, or even custom applications built using frameworks such as Laravel, we added to the mix.

The Social Media Disruption

The latest iteration of disruptive technology is social media, content-driven marketing and Five Channels. Ironically, it was these open-source systems coming online and becoming more user-friendly that allowed for a boom in blogging, aka self publishing on the web. Everybody went from being engineers to being writers and the web was flooded with content, turning professional writers into a devalued commodity.

Microblogging sites like Twitter and Facebook segmented some of the content into social media platforms and a new type of agency sprung up overnight focusing on just one type of marketing – the social media marketing agency. Again, TSG put the revolution into context and only hires professionals who understand these technologies for what they are, and what they could be. Many social media agencies, now long gone, failed to be good storytellers.

Today, our agency stands ready for the next disruptive technology, armed with designers educated in branding and marketers grounded in good storytelling. Having the benefit of nearly three decades of creative service under our belts also provides us the advantage of being technology enthusiasts who read fast and deliver consistently. Life is short, and it’s even shorter for agencies that cannot adapt as quickly.