If there's one thing my team and I know about marketing in 2018, it's this: Agility is everything.

It's agility - being ready and able to adapt to the changes we see in our industries, and to pivot when the data tells us to - that can mean the difference between flying and failing.  

Right now, there are a lot of changes brewing in the digital marketing landscape. Agencies that want to survive - let alone thrive - are having to drastically rethink how they operate, who they work with, and the value they bring to their clients. The days of cookie-cutter formulas for success in the digital age are over. We're moving into a new paradigm, one characterized by flexibility, specialization, and cross-pollination.

Enter: the anti-agency.

What is an anti-agency?

The anti-agency is discerning, nimble, and deeply versed in experiential marketing.

Anti-agencies see themselves differently than the traditional marketing agencies of the past. We like project work and one-offs, as well as long-term relationships. We're educators, partners, and support staff. We believe in delivering value quickly and exactly where it's needed - not selling our clients on unwieldy packaged services.

Above all, we know that in today's utterly saturated digital ecosystem, simply getting louder will not bring brands more attention from their customers. Brands need strategic, authentic, experiential, and targeted campaigns, and that's where the anti-agency excels.

What led to the emergence of the anti-agency?

In the last several years, marketing agencies have been seeing a shift in the industry.

Brands began bringing their digital marketing activities in-house - slowly at first. But that change has sped up this past year, as major brands like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble have decided to increase their in-house marketing capacity, and some of the largest marketing agencies saw their client list shrink precipitously.

There are multiple reasons for this shift, but one is that, thanks to analytics programs, brands are in more control of their data than they used to be. And as that data has become more and more crucial in achieving brand goals, companies just aren't as willing to let someone else - i.e. an agency - have complete ownership over how it's interpreted and put into action.

There's another, larger issue at play here, though. Digital marketing itself has changed immeasurably over the past several years.

Consumers have become so inundated with content that they'll scroll past whatever doesn't immediately catch their attention. Algorithms have changed so that even getting your content onto a user's feed, so they can then scroll past it, is harder every year. In this current market reality, more is absolutely not more.

Instead, brands are realizing that they need to build stronger connections with their customers. This is, after all, the age of the connected consumer - they don't demarcate between their online and offline worlds the way consumers did even 3 years ago. They expect seamless experiences, ingenuity, and honesty from the brands they give their time and money to.

This is why we've seen experiential marketing rise to the forefront of the marketing playbook. Brands have to be able to make their mark with customers in the offline world, as well as cut through the online noise, if they want to be truly memorable.

Creating experiences - giving your customers a chance to interact with your brand in a real way - is where the anti-agency comes in. We understand how marketing and design should work together. We know that conferences and events are prime opportunities to make an impression on customers, and we help brands optimize those engagements. We know, above all, that not every brand wants an agency as the gatekeeper of their digital message.

Welcome to the era of the anti-agency - I think we're in for a pretty exciting ride.

Published on: Apr 17, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.