All of the major networks (including my own, iProspect) have launched standalone propositions in this space. Loosely, it relates to an integrated set of communications activities, usually delivered via digital channels and focused on the delivery of an action, most often a sale, but also test drives, sign-ups, downloads and so on.
In these austere times, clients are attracted by the single-minded focus on business results that these services deliver. Performance marketing sells.
Given the nature of digital channels, technology and a heightened emphasis on outcome-based data, performance marketing has, perhaps unsurprisingly, staked out a position at the geekier end of the communications ecosystem. More brains than brawn and more mathematical than creative. Indeed, this shift in skillsets has started a new battle for agency talent, with analysts, technicians and programmers in the sights of the communications industry for the first time. The "mine is bigger than yours" agency credentials deck is now just as likely to tally engineers as it is Cannes awards.
So far, so good. But the truth is that the model is flawed.
Such thinking skews attention away from the role of great creativity and engaging content. Data and technology alone do not drive consumer action: these efforts need to be harmonised with the development of compelling content - crucially, content that motivates consumer response. And the high levels of personalisation afforded by digital channels means that this content needs to be delivered in myriad forms to ensure maximum relevance with the target audience - often in real time.
All the services that performance specialists offer - paid and natural search, conversion rate optimisation, social platform management and so on - are so much more effective when developed with a big creative idea, and great content at their heart. All the optimisation in the world cannot engage the consumer and deliver the performance we seek.
Indeed, the most powerful performance channel of them all, Google, is increasingly using the algorithm at the heart of its search product to penalise brands that have become lazy. Content needs to be fresh, multiplatform and engaging to the degree that it drives interaction and social sharing; and if it's not, then high search rankings (the key predicator of volume and therefore performance success) will remain out of reach.
So the opportunity is to fuse the two worlds of high performance and great creativity together, leveraging the strengths of both to drive even better results for our clients. This is an opportunity for agencies of every type, and those that do this fastest and smartest will win.
Katherine Levy is away.
Ben Wood is the managing director of iProspect.