The days of marketers enjoying a linear influence on consumer habits are long gone. We live in a hyper-connected world where technology has sped everything up to such a degree that instant access to information, entertainment, goods or services – all within a great user interface – is not only desired but expected. Retaining consumer loyalty, therefore, has become more of a challenge, as marketers seek to anticipate their next move and tailor their strategies accordingly.
Anticipation, however, is only half of the equation. We must acknowledge the role that the consumer now actively plays in this circle of change. While we continue to deploy new technology to help create individually tailored experiences to attract and retain users, they will continue to raise the bar with their expectations and change the way they use technology to express themselves.
It then becomes more about how we as an industry can keep on driving results with these ever-shifting goal posts. Our strategies need to remain agile to react to a specific trend, accounting for consumer influence and taking a more ‘outside-in’ approach to increase visibility and stimulate growth.
Looking at the way in which we operate across the board is key to implementing this agility. Separate planning and buying divisions no longer work because there needs to be singular accountability towards a brand’s performance, and the dual decision-making process and its effect need to be eliminated. The introduction of strategic marketing investors (SMIs) at OMD reflects this new approach, enabling the fusion of the two roles into one and encouraging a deeper level of singular accountability.
Essentially, we are eschewing the separation between agency and clients, focusing instead on becoming an extension of our clients’ marketing teams. Armed with a deeper knowledge of the clients’ business operations and ambitions, we can then anticipate and predict consumer trends in real-time, with a focused understanding of delivery and impact. This is especially important given the increased attention to making sure every dollar is accounted for and its return measured in tangible terms.
SMIs need to be holistically answerable to the client, not only keeping an eye on their brands’ bottom lines but managing them as well, producing dyamic strategic marketing investment plans. Partnering with data and digital analytics specialists like Moat and identifying, with other key industry players, more robust ways to quantify digital allows us to build a more accurate data set from which to work.
As we streamline this data to create targeted audiences and personalised experiences at scale, innovation and aligned partnerships play an ever more important role. Working with consultancies and start-ups to identify ways to collaborate and enhance our clients’ offering also allows us to broaden our range of services, specialties and – therefore – influence. This integration of the breadth (general) and depth (specific) of our industry is more imperative today than ever before.
With disintermediation, middle-people are becoming increasingly obsolete unless they add value. Here is the crux of the issue: clients will work with the partners they believe – or know – add the most worth to their business. It’s not about media performance or pricing; it’s about tangible improvements to their bottom line.
Data and tech play a key role in defining and enhancing this. Since it’s not a skill set limited to media agencies, competition is strengthening from an increasing number of corners. There is much talk about management consultancies entering the traditional advertising space by adding creative services to their analytical skill set. Whether it’s through partnership or ownership, it is this collaborative spirit powered by technology that will transform how marketing works. The future is even more integrated.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the expression goes. I would suggest adversity fits well too. Comfort and success often bring about complacency and curb our appetite for change. Challenging market conditions, strong headwinds and disruptive trends, like the ones we’re experiencing right now, make transformation not just desirable but necessary. Optimism in the face of adversity is no longer enough: proactive decision making is.
As the role of paid-for advertising is reexamined in marketers’ strategies and other forms of brand building, communications and consumer interactions grow in significance, our industry’s business model is evolving. This has implications for our talent, structures and technology. It also shifts our focus to outcomes rather than just outputs, requiring us to engineer and demonstrate much more than just media performance. Accountability has always been on the agenda but it’s never been higher in the list of priorities.
The debate about the advertising/media/PR agency of the future is as timely as ever, but it has been strengthened by the emergence of digital technologies that have radically altered the balance of power between consumers, brands and media. The pace of change is certainly quickening and forces us to anticipate more accurately and pivot more effectively, for both our sakes and our clients’.
Another thing is certain: the process is well under way and the transformation is ongoing. It won’t be painless, there will be casualties but we will learn to adapt along the way. We just need to make sure the results justify the effort.