Even as marketers seek to build long-term durability for their brands, the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic may scupper some of their best intentions. As some marketers battle the compulsion to keep the lights on and focus on performance measures in the short-term, they run the risk of losing out on building long-term brand strength, speakers at a session at Campaign Connect yesterday afternoon stated.
"For at least the past three or four months brands have had to balance between extreme financial pressures and long-term reputational impact of what they're doing," said Bianca Ghose, chief storyteller for technology firm Wipro, and also head of marketing for Wipro’s consulting business. "Any planning we may have done, whether it is short-term or long-term has pretty much gone out of the window."
Given this context, marketers face an uphill challenge choosing between short-term performance marketing measures and building more durable brands. "We have seen brands shift from performance marketing to brand-building," says Salman Tariq, client director, Dow Jones. He pointed to reports from Kantar, in which 92% of respondents said they would continue to look at ads provided they weren't overly exploitative, even as half of respondents to an IAB survey said they were reducing their performance marketing budget.
Despite this seeming flux in the market, James Hawkins, CEO, APAC, PHD, thought it was challenging to take a hardline view. "Most marketing always pays off in the long-term," he said. "However, this shift may be harder for companies barely getting-by, with cash flows down to a trickle. We can't appear to be tone deaf and ram things down peoples' throats."
In such a fluid environment, many of the old rules of the game are changing and agencies and marketers are yet finding their feet in this new normal world. "Everything we are seeing now is an acceleration of trends that have been manifesting for the last 10 years," adds Hawkins. "We are meant to do more with less, but what we need to do is reverse this focus on short termism and focus on creativity and effectiveness and balance that with keeping the lights on."
For instance, Singapore Airlines deployed its crew as social distancing ambassadors, in an innovative way to build longer-term association with their ultimate customers.
According to Tariq, the pandemic is the time for organisations to both build long-term associations (like WSJ did with Apple) and for marketers to proselytise the impact of new technologies such as Mastercard's contactless payments solutions. "We have embraced change and learnt to do business in new ways," he added.
Meanwhile, as brands are reducing their spend and reviewing their contracts with partners, Hawkins said those relationships that sustain the COVID-19 crisis will be stronger, with agencies and clients coming closer together.
"Brands are spending less, the agency’s are asked whether they derive revenue from % of media spend or whether it is fee-based, they are asking us to take a cut and do more with less," he said. "That galvanises a relationship together, a real firm relationship, whereby we have a clear value exchange. Whether that is looking to close the gap between comms and commerce, making every touchpoint shoppable, helping them switch physical distribution to ecomm platforms or setting up a direct-to-consumer channel —all of these things drive that partnership closer together."
He acknowledged that there are some "more challenged relationships" if a brand is struggling with liquidity: "They have bigger concerns and maybe the agency relationship is something that takes a bit of a hiding," he said.
Tariq pointed out that the The Wall Street Journal’s strategy is to show to clients the value they can provide “not just over the next six months...but show how we are going to be relevant to them two or three years down the line”.
As marketers and agencies debate the way forward. "Brands are getting a lot more humanised," said Ghose of Wipro. "Vendors and production partners are becoming less line items and more human." Her firm, for example, is reconsidering its marketing strategy, learning to prioritise things that matter to people at this time. "We are staying agile and looking to what people are really asking for, trying to make each customer touchpoint personal and impactful."
As marketers think and rethink their pandemic planning, it is also having an impact on relationships with agencies. "Agency and brand relationships are born out of trust ... we are in it together," said Hawkins of PHD. "We can draw lessons from previous crisis, but there is some stuff that is new ... we have to be open and say we are learning."