2011 will be a big year for small agencies looking to combine

By Tom Wood @Foolproofer

Published in New Media Age 03/03/2011

The recent merger between Foolproof and Flow Interactive says something interesting about the outlook and ambitions of some companies in the user experience space. When we started Foolproof, much of our work was tactical – briefs were focused on fixing digital customer experiences that didn’t work. But over the decade since, the emphasis has changed.

Clients are more likely to consider user experience systematically and right from the start of the design process. More companies also understand that strategic thinking about digital customer experience can create a competitive advantage. Excellent user experience not only drives sales but also influences customer satisfaction, brand preference, retention and loyalty. The key to this is a strategy that channels customer insight into making better design decisions.

So why does rolling two mid-sized agencies into one make sense? Big doesn’t necessarily mean better, but it can be reassuring for clients embarking on large platform or channel programmes that their partner has got the depth and flexibility to deliver.

Bigger can also mean smarter; a large specialist pool of expertise helps with problem solving. There’s a greater chance that someone has worked on a similar project before and might be able to apply methods that have worked well somewhere else. Bigger can also mean having more influence over decisions. Full-service agencies and integrators now use the language of user experience in their conversations with clients, but some important aspects – particularly the need to involve customers in the design process – are often at odds with their approach.

All this suggests 2011 might be the year in which smaller specialist agencies look to merge and exert more influence. In our sector, I suspect the market will start to divide into those agencies that are happy to be tactical test labs for other people’s thinking and those with ambitions to inform their clients’ design strategy and marketing agenda.

This might also enable an important connection to be made between advertising and user experience. During 2010, the ad industry became more interested in behavioural economics. New thinkers have suggested the role of the creative isn’t just searching for a big campaign idea that will transform the fortunes of a brand, but instead to generate lots of little ideas that nudge consumers into shifts in behaviour. That has always been the way that user experience people think and points to an opportunity to create even more value in the years ahead.

Tom Wood

I’m one of the two founders of Foolproof. Within projects I usually take a role both in planning our approach and in the generative phases of design. I’m also active in gathering client and customer needs into the design space. My particular talent is helping senior stakeholders see and understand the customer’s world in richer detail, and helping them work out how to respond.

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