It has been said before, but it’s worth repeating: The business world has advanced several years (if not an entire decade) since March 2020, especially when it comes to the new way of working. The rate of change, digital acceleration, and consumer behaviors and expectations is unprecedented — and will never go back to the way it was. There’s no turning back.

The businesses that master change management and continue to adapt to all of this breakneck change with enthusiasm and speed will be the ones who not only survive but also thrive. The ones who don’t, well, won’t.

When faced with disruption (COVID-related or otherwise), embracing the advantages of digital transformation is crucial. Resilient companies have the ability to pivot on a dime and innovate quickly, and thadit’s largely impossible without today’s advanced digital capabilities.

It’s no wonder that more than 80% of organizations plan to increase their investments in digital transformation in the short term, according to Gartner’s 2020 CEO Survey. In fact, total spending on such endeavors is expected to hit $6.8 trillion through 2023. It makes sense: In a hypercompetitive and volatile marketplace, you have to pay to play.

Disruption and Digital Transformation

No, digital transformation is not a nice-to-have or something that can be on a 12- or 24-month horizon. It has to happen now. And rapidly. But how?

Collaboration is as important as ever when delivering results in any industry, but with a distributed workforce and people being able to work from anywhere, finding the right balance between in-person problem-solving and remote working will be key. Orchestrating a digital transformation in such a reality can be a challenge, to say the least.

People now bristle at the slightest moment of friction, even when the rest of the experience is seamless. Whether internally or externally, customer-centricity has become a critical component for everything from satisfaction and engagement to loyalty and retention. Companies need to be aware that meeting people where they are is no longer part of business; it is your business. Find ways to anticipate wants and needs, and you build that relationship on a sounder foundation.

Redefining the Agency-Client Relationship?

As a result, marketing cannot be about the next campaign. That’s for a bygone era, as “black-box” models don’t always work in the current environment. People don’t necessarily respond to the same mix of product, price, place, and promotion as they did even a few years ago. Clients want sure bets, especially with high-cost, high-risk initiatives like new markets, new products, or new creative.

Today, the focus is on building experiences, utility, and value at each interaction. Marketing partners that drive long-term value and prepare brands for the future are those that will succeed — as will those that provide all the information and insights into what they’re doing. Clients’ confidence will quickly wane when transparency falls by the wayside.

For agencies, a much better option is to position themselves as resources. Better yet, take up the mantle of a change management partner that helps clients react to the changing habits, affinities, and loyalties now seen in consumers. Provide that outside perspective that most clients need to wash away the grime often clouding that window into the world. Be the bridge between the consumer and the brand by reimagining what marketing can be for a target audience.

Maintaining Brand Identity (and Integrity) for Clients

Involving an agency in change management to help clients navigate new challenges, even if it’s simply through creative, isn’t always simple. But it is possible and can help clients maintain both brand continuity and consumer engagement. The following are often the best places to start:

Move to Digital as Fast as You Can

Thanks to technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, companies can analyze large sets of data and derive actionable insights while making real-time decisions and optimizations at almost a moment’s notice. This allows companies to better anticipate needs, sometimes even before consumers know they have that need.

These same technologies also allow companies to target and retarget consumers with extreme precision, delivering the right message on the right channel at the right time to increase conversions. Layer that human element onto the path to purchase and shoppers can move online to offline — and back again, if they so choose — building a truly seamless customer experience.

All combined, companies are left with extremely responsive, adaptable, customer-centric brands that can more easily remain top of mind.

Stress the ‘Time Tax’ on Customers

Time, as they say, cannot be bought or wagered. Nor is it in endless supply. Yet many companies (B2B, in particular) still ask consumers to navigate a series of complex steps just to make a purchase. With consumer behavior and customer expectations changing so rapidly, those days are gone — or at least they should be.

Make use of the data available to know thy customer. Ensure everyone on the team does as well. Then, leverage that understanding across every touchpoint, allowing consumers to shape their own journey and save time and energy in the process. Make the process as frictionless as possible.

Continue to tailor messaging to the individual, of course, and offer personalized product recommendations to ease that time tax burden. But go a step further and fashion inclusive customer experiences. Perhaps early access to a sale, exclusive offer invitations, or sneak peeks can further cement that brand-customer relationship.

Rethink the Way(s) of Working

The agency-client relationship has long been collaborative — occasionally combative, to be sure, but collaborative all the same. With marketing now seen more and more as a cost center, however, the way these two parties work together may need a change. The agency and the client must operate in an iterative, quick fashion.

Again, this goes back to data and AI. Combining the two with a bias for action allows for more informed decisions around not only marketing, but also other areas of business. Agencies can empower their teams and reorient service lines to help clients respond intuitively to consumer needs and do so at greater speed and scale.

It just takes a renewed focus on agility to make quicker sense of the market based on the data and analytics. It’ll also take leaning into technological advances to enhance real-time insights. Otherwise, marketing decisions just won’t keep pace with the ever-shortening attention spans and ever-increasing expectations of consumers.

Being a Resource for Change Management

As with any vendor, agencies must continually demonstrate their value. It isn’t enough to continue offering the same ol’, same ol’ for clients. Your role has now changed. Even if you considered yourself a partner in the past, serve as a true resource for clients and their change management. Help them guide their organizations through these unprecedented times to maintain business continuity, brand integrity, and customer engagement.