Needless to say, 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride for agencies and their clients. On the one hand, there had been industry-wide layoffs and budget cuts. On the other, with Covid driving the world online, the pressure is on for businesses to fast-track digital transformation.
For Rika Sharma, managing director of Digitas APAC, “it’s been a year of doing more with less.”
“Essentially, we’re having to make every dollar more accountable for business goals. Therefore, it’s meant a mindset shift on both sides - to make sure that agencies are entrepreneurial, better at anticipating client issues, leaner and solution oriented.”
As well as stricter limitations in budgets, Sharma says clients are also demanding a wider portfolio of offerings from their agencies, purposely finding ones which have the skills to marry data, strategy, technology, media and creative.
“Most agency partners are either pure play creative agencies, media agencies or digital agencies delivering digital campaigns. Now, clients are demanding their lead agency be orchestrators across brand discovery, frictionless path-to-purchase or post-purchase experience,” she says.
The ‘Now Normal’
Anisha Iyer, managing director of OMD Malaysia, says agencies now need to help clients on their journey to changing up their media mixes, as the new world of consumer engagement gets a reset.
“The destination is still the same, but you might take a few new twists and turns in the journey in order to get there.”
Whether it's building reach or salience from a top-of-funnel perspective, or tightening measures for harder performance metrics, Covid-19 has turned those processes on their head, and has more people following their gut, says Iyer.
“Part of what Covid did was it put a little extra emphasis on believing in your instinct. You don't have a prescription for everything and no one knows what to do in a situation like this because it is new to us and new to the world. Relying on your instinct is critical,” she explains.
As the media mix becomes increasingly complex in this new consumer environment, Vikram Bansal, APAC’s global agency marketing science lead at Facebook, says the new ecosystem has grown from consumer behaviour, which has seen a reset as Covid limits our shopping experiences to our own homes.
He says: “People are spending more time indoors, more time communicating through devices, being entertained, or basically going about their daily activities, digitally. And it's now becoming second nature. The digital market was fairly mature before this situation, so its growth has been a sophisticated one.”
OMD’s Iyer says one “silver lining” has been the “fast track of digital acceleration” for clients and agencies alike.
She says the new focus on digital has also helped to somewhat ease pressure to deliver return on investment (ROI), but also notes: “Not delivering ROI is never an option. It’s marketers’ main job, it’s why we exist.
“With digital, you're able to be so much more precise in the kind of consumers you're trying to reach. It's a much more efficient and effective media, and the entry cost is a lot lower than what you would look at from a threshold perspective on offline,” she says.
Fulfilling demand with digital
Kenn Costales, owner and lead consultant of Singapore-based performance marketing firm Monolith Growth Consulting, says the move to digital should still be accompanied by a longer-term mindset.
“We try to get clients to think not only in the first one to three months, but also look at the fifth and six months, or even one year ahead. A lot of business owners right now think in a very narrow timeframe. We need to remind them that we can’t just push sales hard, because that's going to impact the brand perception later on,” he says.
The continued migration to digital has given agencies the opportunity to help clients evolve their media mix. Machine learning allows practitioners to streamline campaign structures as a way to save time and resources whilst maximising the chance to increase ROI.
Costales says machine learning is a great way to enable teams to continually improve campaign effectiveness, and encourages leveraging the Facebook Discovery Commerce system to help add a significant level of simplicity in an increasingly complex environment.
He explains: “Discovery Commerce enables clients to find success if they leverage an agency, or leverage any of Facebook's advertising platforms. What it allows you to do is find new markets that you wouldn't have otherwise thought of, to better create demand in a very saturated digital market.”
Facebook’s Bansal also draws on the example of Discovery Commerce. He says the system is easy to understand and implement for agencies which can help build skills across the growing e-commerce platform.
“With digital, agencies have the opportunity to reorganise themselves and bring different parts of the business to provide a more unified solution, and work in a more agile manner,” he says.
Agility and flexibility
Iyer says while expectations have changed in what she calls ‘demand generation’, agencies must focus on the consumer journey across digital platforms and see how it has evolved, even in its short lifespan.
“It is important to understand that the consumer journey isn't fixed. It is going to be fluid, it's going to change. The consumer journey is not going to be linear,” she says.
She says going into 2021, agencies must not sacrifice short-term benefit for long-term gains.
“The fundamentals of how you plan for a client or how you plan business will not change, you will still have an annualised lens of where we are or where we will exit in 2020. And therefore, where we should exit in 2021,” she advises.
Digitas’ Sharma says in every scenario for 2021 brands need to try and find the “right balance” between performance and brand marketing.
“Eventually, if budget is a critical constraint, focusing on performance marketing over brand marketing would be a short-term solution as it allows marketers to focus on measurable business impact. However, as we advise clients, it takes the combination of the two in a world where personalisation and building meaningful relationships with consumers has become paramount,” explains Sharma.
Although agencies will be pivoting to engage with the new consumer journey, Bansal says they must not forget the Holy Grail of advertising and marketing is innovation and the skill of creative thinking, which agencies have in abundance.
“Agencies have that intrinsic culture of being free spirited and bold, and after Covid ends we will need plenty of inspiration to rebuild clients,” he says.
While the brave new world of marketing may be much more digitally focused, the agencies which take the age-old tenets of marketing and apply these fundamentals of human behaviour to these new channels will score the most success for their clients.