We’re all finally settling down from our blockbuster of a consumer forum in Chicago last week (check out http://blogs.forrester.com/consumerforum for summaries, thoughts, and highlights from the event) and processing some of the learnings that came out of our client conversations. I didn’t end up listening in on very many of the main tent speakers as I was pretty booked with one-on-one sessions. These are 30 minute, in person meetings that forum attendees can book with the analysts of their choice to discuss business issues. I was definitely tired after my few days of back to back one-on-ones, but to be honest, I came back to the office pretty recharged. I’ve been so heads down on research of late, that it was really nice to engage with clients face to face. I really enjoyed sharing ideas and meeting the real people who are out there reading my research!

One topic that came up several times in one-on-ones with different clients is: the role of the service provider in the next era of marketing. We’ve all been talking about integrated marketing for years. And this year’s forum theme pushed integrated marketing even further by looking at how to "Humanize the Digital Experience." This means the entire integrated customer experience.

As marketers finally start building integrated marketing programs, what service providers will they turn to?  Do specialist agencies like search marketer icrossing or email ASP Responsys have an advantage or a disadvantage over more full service interactive agencies like Digitas or even database marketing services companies like Experian.  How will marketing services providers enable integrated marketing that humanizes the digital experience?

My take is that there are three models for how a marketer engages with service providers to get the services they need to create integrated marketing programs:

1) Full service agencies — I put into this category both full service interactive agencies (Digitas) as well as traditional agencies that have interactive and direct teams (OgilvyOne).  The advantage to the full service approach is that it is a one stop shop.  Of course the disadvantage is that full service agencies are most often not best of breed in any given interactive channel.  Their generalists are probably not as good at search as icrossing, or building an advergame as Arkadium would be.

2) A network approach — In this model, a marketer works with a specialist agency that is part of a family of other agencies that specialize in different areas.  This approach assures marketers best of breed partners, and also ostensibly makes channel integration easier because partner agencies are familiar with each other and have technologies which can easily work together.

3) Myriad stand alone providers which the marketer manages himself.  This approach is similar to the network model in that the marketer gets best of breed specialists.  But it relies on the marketer to find all of the right partners and get them to work nicely with each other.

Which model makes the most sense for your needs and organizations?  I’m leaning toward an evolved #2, where one agency plays the general contractor role and actually pulls together and manages the partners best suited to the marketer’s needs, even if they are outside of his agency "family."  What do you think?