Many articles have commented on the acquisition of creative talent by consultancies to compete with ad agencies. In hindsight, this was a predictable progression as advertisers shifted more budget into data-intensive digital media and at the same time increased expectations for financial accountability. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to extrapolate the trend to the “inevitable consultancy takeover”. However, agencies may be in a better position than they think. Those with strong data science capabilities should not only be able to retain current business, but be a competitive resource on projects traditionally in the domain of the consultancies. How? By aggregating the right talent and understanding the landscape.

The right talent comes first

Data science groups should be built around talent with deeply technical backgrounds with must-have skills including statistics, machine learning, coding, database and cloud computing know-how, communication, and a strategic mind. Then you have to consider the role of data in daily responsibilities but also within the larger marketing ecosystem.

Data scientists spend a great deal of time measuring marketing ROI. It’s the biggest technical challenge in the feedback loop linking plans and budgets, strategy sessions, and campaign execution. For example, if comparing year-over-year sales growth for markets where, say, media was heavy versus where it wasn’t approximates your approach to analytics, then consultancies are a serious threat. And while marketing ROI is a much more complicated calculation than that, the landscape is much bigger. It’s important for agencies to demonstrate knowledge of how non-marketing factors affect a business and its marketing.

Engage past marketing

Data scientists can build sophisticated models (commonly referred to as “marketing mix optimization”) to detect and quantify often complex relationships between marketing and their desired effects. Think: cable TV can lift search activity, which in turn lifts store traffic. But don’t forget non-marketing factors!

Data must account for KPI changes due to the environment (e.g., macroeconomic conditions, weather, competition), operations (e.g., inventory, pricing), and seasonality (e.g., holidays, elections). These inputs affect brand performance and in most cases, marketing performance can only be measured in the context of these other variables.

While agencies are typically approached to answer questions about marketing specifically, having deep knowledge in dynamics such as the relationship between staff turnover and sales, the initial impact when competitors launch a new service, or how much inventory shortages cost the organization creates domain experts in the business. Serving in that role puts agencies in the position to be a valuable resource for departments outside of Marketing.

That’s why finding the right talent, and encouraging them to go beyond marketing can increase an agency’s competitive advantage.