Pressed to come up with an adjective that captures their single most important professional attribute, most self-respecting marketers - even in pre-internet days - would likely have responded: 'forward-thinking.'...

Pressed to come up with an adjective that captures their single most important professional attribute, most self-respecting marketers – even in pre-internet days — would likely have responded: ‘forward-thinking.’

As the turbo-charged Digital Revolution, like a rocket hurtling into cyberspace, surges past its fifth year, an aptitude for innovation is proving all the more critical. As increasing numbers of clients and agencies jump aboard the internet, driving the emerging art and science of interactive marketing to new levels of dynamism and sophistication, most industry professionals are agreed: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Ranging from high-powered multi-national giants to small, savvy stand-alone agencies, the 10 shops profiled in Strategy’s Third Annual Interactive Agencies Supplement reflect the blistering pace of change in the dot com universe. As companies move to fully integrate the internet into their core business strategies, they are seeking the right agency partner with the right blend of traditional brand marketing smarts and leading edge technological know-how – no easy task.

‘The internet is speeding the pace of innovation and the globalization of supply and demand’ says Peter Mosley, creative director of marchFIRST Canada. ‘The traditional business paradigm is now a barrier to imagination and execution. You simply can no longer treat your business model, brand, and systems as independent entities with little interaction.’

Michael Vasquez, president of Rebellium.com, agrees. As one-to-one relationship marketing becomes technologically and financially feasible, he sees companies changing not only how they do business but transforming the business model itself. ‘We see ourselves as agents of change for the digital economy’ he says.

During the past five years, the internet has experienced three distinct waves of evolution: from companies establishing a corporate presence on-line, to developing e-commerce transactional sites, to building and measuring one-to-one customer relationships. Today, as technology enables marketers to more finely measure their return on investment, a whole range of on-line disciplines — web design and development, usability testing, application development, and on-line marketing — are concurrently reaching new levels of maturity.

‘During the second wave, many agency-based interactive shops got lost in the shuffle because of a lack of technical bench strength to respond to the market’ says Michael Shostak, president of the Interactive division of Vickers and Benson Direct+Interactive. He believes that the present third wave, the customer relationship wave, is where the traditional agencies again have an opportunity to catch up with the market, particularly those who have tackled the technological challenges.

‘Fusing creative with technology and being able to reach anybody anywhere anytime is exciting and challenging’ says Connie O’Brien, co-managing director of Modem Media Canada. ‘The web is the most immediate medium we have because you can read results in real time. And measurement and ROI are critical – the days of building a website simply to have a website are over.’

Stuart Sherman, managing director of Digital@JWT, the interactive arm of J.Walter Thompson, believes some marketers fall into the trap of letting technological solutions override the marketing objective, losing sight of the consumer relationship with the brand. ‘To the consumer, the company is its web site. That’s why we build brand building applications on the Web, treating digital space as just another marketing tool.’

Peter Munck, group creative director of MacLaren McCann Interactive, claims that traditional ad agencies wield competitive advantage over the spate of business consultants now jumping into the fray to help companies with their digital projects: ‘Business consultants aren’t communicators, and ultimately, the internet is a communications medium. Ad agencies are still the experts at understanding how to communicate to consumers.’

According to Chris Emergui, president of BAM Solutions, specialists in on-line marketing, the big agencies in Canada and abroad are now understanding the marketing potential of the Internet: ‘Their clients want a share of their advertising budgets to be spent on driving traffic to their websites. We believe the most cost-effective way to do it is to advertise on-line. When consumers see well-placed and well-designed banners, they can act immediately; traditional media simply doesn’t afford the same kind of immediacy.’

Marketers have traditionally been frustrated by not really knowing what works and what doesn’t, he adds. ‘If you place an ad in a magazine, you don’t really know how many people read it. On the net, we can track everything we do: we know exactly how many people saw an advertisement and how many clicked and visited your site.’

Similarly, Lowell Wintrup, president of Tone Interactive, is pushing the limits of on-line marketing with innovative e-mail marketing campaigns click-through analysis, driving impressive results. ‘Most internet advertising does little to take advantage of the virtually unlimited potential of the medium. When we talk about results, we mean results, as in sales leads and e-commerce transactions, not just impressions and click-throughs.’

Over at Devlin Applied Design, the term ‘user-friendly’ is being radically transformed by a team of specialists helping marketers understand how to build visual interfaces that maximize customer traffic and loyalty.

‘Web design isn’t just graphic design for the web – it’s about information design and creating a user experience’ says Tom Wong, Devlin’s creative director. The company’s unique ‘Usability Lab’ is pioneering sophisticated web development and applications that will have profound long-term implications for the evolution of web marketing.

Armantus, a successful independent interactive shop founded in1997, is staking its future on their conviction that the integration of all marketing communications will converge on the internet.

‘For every off-line activity in marketing communications, there is a counterpart on the internet – advertising, direct marketing, public relations, promotion, customer service, etc.’ says Armantus co-founder Andrew Keyes. ‘Now, for the first time, it’s all in one place. That doesn’t mean the internet will replace all those disciplines in the real world, but they can serve as a focal point for restructuring all those activities in a more integrated fashion.’

‘We’ve been passionate about the Internet since the early 1990s,’ he adds. ‘Over the ensuing years, we’ve only become more and more convinced that the future of marketing and the Internet are inextricably entwined. We believe it’s only a matter of time until the medium proves itself the dominant force in marketing communications.’

Also in this sponsored supplement:

- Armantus p.E2

- BAM Solutions p.E3

- Modem Media p.E4

- Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive p.E5

- MacLaren McCann Interactive p.E6

- MarchFIRST p.E8

- Digital@JWT p.E9

- Rebellium.com p.E10

- Devlin Applied Design p.E12