New report reveals digital differentiation is disappearing whilst investment in tech booms

New study shows growth in digital spending, marketers’ plans for in-sourcing digital capabilities and significant investment for machine-based technologies like programmatic advertising and AI.

Marketers across the globe are at a key inflection point according to the new 2017/18 Global Digital Outlook Study from the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) and Forrester, which revealed that more than 75 per cent of agency leaders and in-house brand champions agree the term "digital" is losing its relevance and will disappear within five years as a meaningful way to differentiate agencies and the marketing tactics related to technology.

Designed to explore digital marketing trends, the global survey of 216 client-side marketers and agency leaders also uncovered a widening gap in how agencies and clients view innovation. It found that while agencies see innovation in terms of design thinking ("solving existing problems in unique and novel ways"), in-house marketers most value being first ("doing something that’s never been done before" or "embracing new technology before our competitors do").

Matt Griffin (pictured above), founder of Deepend and guest editor of the study and The SoDA Report, said that while the term digital may be on the out, consultancies anchored at the forefront of technological change will continue to evolve as they always have – creating and designing customer centred solutions, tapped from deep insights on human behaviour.

Says Griffin: "Whether the medium is a CD ROM, the World Wide Web, Virtual or Mixed Reality, AI or any other technical advancement that will undoubtedly come our way, the human-computer interface will continue to change, as too will the processes and structures of the companies that create them. There’s never been a more exciting time nor a better opportunity to design the connected world."

Kath Blackham, managing director of Deepend and representative to the SoDA Board of Directors, said the outlook for the digital marketing industry is strong: "Emerging technology is heading in an exciting direction and it’s a massive focus for us. At Deepend, we’ve already been working with chatbots and conversational interfaces for a while, and our scope of work will continue to grow here. These technologies are already changing the way consumers expect to interact and engage, so our dedicated creative technologist is partnering with both our clients and internal teams to take advantage of the rapidly shifting landscape."

Further key findings from the 2017/18 Global Digital Outlook Study include:

Spending – 43 per cent of marketers are increasing their investment in digital marketing and, and nearly 50 per cent of marketers are now spending 50 per cent or more of their entire marketing budget on digital.

Emerging Technology – over 40 per cent of marketers plan to "significantly increase" their investments in programmatic advertising, AI/machine learning, chatbots/ conversational interfaces and AR/VR in the next 12 to 18 months. Here, 69 per cent of agency leaders also agree that the growing prevalence of AI technologies and conversational interfaces will "significantly impact" the way their agencies will design for customer interactions.

Optimism – Agency leaders are bullish and 86 per cent project that 2017 will outpace 2016 in terms of profitable growth. That said, concerns around the commoditisation of digital work and the impact of nearshoring/offshoring both reached five year highs. Around 58 per cent of agency leaders also identified the increased in-sourcing of digital capabilities by client-side marketers as an area to watch.

In-Sourcing – Client-side marketing leaders continue to build their in-house digital capabilities with nearly 60 per cent stating they now manage social marketing execution, customer insights/analytics and aspects of web and mobile experiences entirely in-house.

Innovation – 89 per cent of client-side marketers rate their organisation as either "somewhat or very innovative" when it comes to digital marketing initiatives (up 24 points from 2016). 73 per cent also believe that their current organisational structure fosters the ability to innovate while agency leaders hold a nearly polar opposite, with 48 per cent saying their clients’ organisations hinder their ability to innovate.

Inflection – The theme for this year’s study and report signals a period of accelerated change and the increasing importance for marketers and agency leaders to decipher nuanced signals amid a decidedly complex market conversation.

The 2017/18 Global Digital Outlook Study has been released in conjunction with The SoDA Report, a bi-annual industry publication that brings together research, thought leadership and case studies from some of the world’s leading digital agencies and technology innovators. This year’s report includes contributions from renowned agency and technology brands such as Deepend, Huge, Big Spaceship, Firstborn, Mirum, SapientRazorfish, MediaMonks, Doberman, Wondersauce, Instrument, Google, Adobe, Forrester and more.

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