Not for the first time, yesterday I spent some time with a potential client who had been through the digital agency selling process and had, quite frankly, been sold a Digital Pup. Digital lipstick on a pig, if you excuse my mixing of metaphors.

Because these days the world of digital agencies has become one that is both mature, and simultaneously full of snake oil. Of the top 10 digital agencies by revenue in 2017, Accenture topped the pile, closely followed by IBM, Atos and BAE Systems – yes, the same BAE Systems that develops weapons of mass destruction.

The Digital Pup takes the form of an integrated digital solution for marketing. A sales funnel writ large in bits and bytes. Your customer onboarding processes. A web site and a bit of social media.

It’s sold as a known answer to a knowable question. You want digital? We’ve got your digital. Here it is in a nice box with a ribbon on top. You now have digital. Carry on, as you were.

This is bullshit.

Actually, it’s worse than bullshit.

Even if this wonderful digital in a box thing were to work (and I’ve seen clients where they’ve just been left to try to work out what the box does after the consultants have headed for the hills), if you create a magical omnichannel digital client or customer acquisition service and leave what your organisation does otherwise untouched, you’re going to have one heck of a customer retention problem.

Because we’ve all been there. The allure of the selling, the signing of the contract. The resolutely dreadful experience that being an actual customer then provides. And that’s been the common practice before you get a Digital Marketing Cloud Experience (TM) overlaid on top.

Our expectations now as consumers of digital services have changed. We mostly now know what good can look like. It’s not enough to make the selling process digitally integrated when the actual service is stuck in analogue and paper models. We know that if a five-pound package from Amazon can be tracked at every stage of its journey from warehouse to door, then as sure as hell we want the services that we are paying tens, hundreds or even thousands of times more for to demonstrate the same levels of transparency and accessibility. Yes I want it web-enabled. Yes I want it on my mobile. Because that’s where I live these days.

As I write this I’m looking down on a piece of a paper that I received from my bank this morning. Telling me about a crucial change that occurred to my business bank account five days ago. Yes, the bank has integrated omnichannel digital marketing. But its processes are rooted in the days of paper, and that becomes abundantly obvious in every action they seem to take.

Doing “digital” is about addressing that stuff, not just about attracting new clients into the same shitty services. It’s about thinking how products and services can be delivered in completely new ways when you are unshackled from the traditional barriers of cost of distribution and time of distribution. It’s about acknowledging that everything these days is veering towards transparency and you can no longer hide behind process or organisational boundary. It’s about acknowledging that, and then doing something about it.

But of course that’s hard, and challenging, and chaotic. Its not something that can be easily put in a box marked “digital” and sold to the next under-informed punter who knows they need to do something but can’t be sure what it might be. And the big consulting firms (as well as many small ones) are now lapping that up.


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