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Op-Ed: Brand Agency, Meet Digital Agency

Now that the summer interns have scurried back to school, it’s time to soldier on with our normal rotation of op-eds (though you can expect fall interns to chime in imminently). This latest entry comes to us from Jonathan Forstot, director of marketing at San Diego-based brand agency, MiresBall. Here, Forstot touches on how to overcome the disconnect between traditional brand strategy and website development. Take it away, sir.

You’ve selected a top-notch digital agency and are ready to launch a major website redesign, but your lead brand agency—which helped determine the brand’s strategy, voice and much of its look—is out of the loop. In fact, they were never actually in the running because they don’t have the technical background for a web development project of this scale. It’s understood, but the agency still wonders why they’re not contributing to such a high profile brand initiative. It’s a common disconnect that happens almost automatically, and one that has created a chasm between traditional marketing strategy and website development.

Is this scenario inherently flawed or is it rooted in logic, if not practicality?

Traditionally, the brand agency is responsible for strategy and design, but since a website is viewed as a stand-alone project requiring specialized skills, it’s often handed over to the digital shop, top to bottom. Even though the digital experts may also be sophisticated strategists, they are at a disadvantage because they didn’t develop the brand strategy. As a result, a website centered on brand strategy isn’t the priority. Digital platforms are increasingly important parts of the marketing mix and websites, like any other point of contact, should be driven by the brand strategy, not its back end programming.

The answer does not call for brand agencies to add more web capabilities. Instead, clients can use the brand agency from the start by establishing a strong partnership. While the digital agency is looking for answers about site goals and other important metrics, the brand agency can focus on more strategic questions: have you thought about the brand’s voice on your new website? Does the page design reflect the brand’s positioning? Does the site feel too technical for your down-to-earth personality? Brand strategy is more than following a style guide and using the right Pantone colors. It speaks to the core of the brand—its positioning, voice and values, look and feel.

It’s time for your digital and brand agencies to meet. A brand agency can educate the digital shop about how strategy was developed and paint a vivid picture of the brand, not to mention find ways to collaborate. Many digital projects lack a strategic foundation simply because they were not given one, not because they were ignored.

For a client-side marketer, there is a vast pool of agencies with a diverse array of specialties working in an increasing number of media. But with all this unbridled marketing potential comes great risk. Regardless of the approach or the medium, applying core brand strategy to online and offline marketing remains key, as it always has. The brand agency must provide the tools necessary for clients to do that at every turn, while finding ways to remain a seamless part of the process without adding undo complexity or cost, especially when collaborating with other client partners.

Yes, you’ve chosen a digital agency, but don’t assume your brand strategy is covered. When you break the news that your brand agency didn’t get the web work, challenge them to find a way for their strategy work to drive it.


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