Airbnb’s decision to slash spending on performance marketing and shift more money to brand-building and PR has been the talk of the industry recently. Increasingly embraced by data and attribution-happy clients, performance marketing had been enjoying exponential growth as marketers sought to tie marketing efforts directly to sales.
So when the online accommodation-hosting service discovered that its strong brand recognition alone could be relied on to bring back similar levels of business—without the heavy performance spending—many marketers may have questioned whether they too may have been irrationally exuberant about piling into performance.
Indeed, even when Campaign Asia-Pacific asked industry experts, including performance-agency leaders to weigh-in, most suggested that in fact a balance between upper-funnel brand campaigns and lower funnel targeting of high intent-to-purchase consumers is likely the best approach.
Enter Dentsu’s brand new global repositioning of its performance agency iProspect last week as a full-service media agency that provides the best of performance marketing, together with brand building, courtesy of its Vizeum consolidation.
“I think the questions that Airbnb is asking are actually things that we've been talking to our clients about for a long time,” says Prerna Mehrotra, Dentsu’s CEO of Media for APAC. “Growth today lies at the intersection of brand and performance. It's a blend of both. [The new iProspect] is really about performance-driven brand-building, with ‘brands accelerated’ as the tagline. It's about integrating the power, precision, predictability of technology and data expertise with the wonders of culture, content and storytelling which Vizeum brings to the table.”
Although the announcement was months in the making, it certainly could not have been better timed. Not just because of Airbnb’s comments this month, Mehrotra says, but because Covid has accelerated the appeal of personalised digital offerings dovetailing with consumer desires for brands with stronger purpose. But while a performance-brand media agency strikes the right notes, there have been few specifics on what exactly this combination entails.
While the label conjures up notions of long-term brand recognition and loyalty campaigns that are still specifically targeted with a call to action, Mehrotra says the new agency was formed less around creating a specific product that does both performance and brand, but having the talent, skill and resources to do both in various different creative forms.
Integration of talent
The new iProspect will be bringing a talent pool to market that is different from other agencies, Mehrotra argues. It will combine those with skill sets in delivering omnichannel solutions with others who can delve deep into technology specialisms with clients. In this regard, the new model has been years in the making, since iProspect teams have for years been collaborating with Carat, Vizeum and Dentsu X to provide the performance solutions for their clients. But the new model will put both together in a single agency with different digital-economy talent types working side-by-side.
Within the talent mix, iProspect’s platform specialists are going to be critical, Mehrotra says, since they’ll be creating a platform that will allow the whole agency to combine talents, tech and tools in a more agile way.
Performance with planning and storytelling
With the integration of talent will come the integration of product, and a new kind of performance marketing.
“The products that we want to go to market with now need to harvest audience insights and intent a lot better,” Mehrotra explains. “When we're looking at a pure performance play, it's pure acquisition. We don't look at cultural nuances. We don't look at consumer insights, at the trends that are likely to come ahead, at the accelerators of what are going to drive growth for our clients in the future. The entire conversation is about today, and it's very short term.”
The solutions the new iProspect will deliver, Mehrotra says, will start from consumers, where Vizeum’s cultural category insights will come into play. Vizeum’s strength has been in culture, trend watching and connections planning that increasingly became consumer data-driven, Mehrotra explains.
The goal is that this expertise in consumer resonance through planning and storytelling will be brought to bear with more performance-like precision, but also will ensure the brand strategy and communications architecture are in sync with messaging throughout customer journeys. The performance side will be adding its own data sets, helping to trigger how and when these campaigns should run on specific platforms. Undoubtedly, just how cooperatively the short- and long-term data strategies can actually complement one another, instead of creating conflict and discord, will be one of the biggest challenges for the new iProspect.
These solutions won’t necessarily just be campaign-specific either. The more long-term approach means existing performance discussions around a client’s immediate growth needs can evolve into more forward-looking digital-transformation solutions, Mehrotra says. “So it's about growth today, and transforming tomorrow.”
Relationships to other Dentsu agencies
It’s easy to see how iProspect’s new performance vision blurs somewhat into that of Isobar, Dentsu International’s main customer experience agency brand, which also plays a lead role in ecommerce services.
“There was there was always a special relationship between the two,” Mehrotra says, noting how moving toward a single P&L structure and forming client-specific teams encouraged this. “So if a relationship was managed by iProspect, there were a lot of integrations with Isobar in the past, not just on pitches, but also on day-to-day client delivery.”
Mehrotra only expects this to grow in the coming years as Dentsu’s CXM and media lines come together to combine capabilities based on client needs. Currently, Dentsu International clients are being carefully paired with media agencies based on their needs and whether they fit best with Carat’s ‘human intelligence’ focus, Dentsu X’s creative and experience specialisms or iProspect’s new performance brand-building capabilities. While the media agencies can also cooperate, we’re less likely to see combined Dentsu media pitches than Dentsu International pitches in future, with different combinations from the creative, media and CXM service lines.
Integrating Vizeum and iProspect in APAC
In the past, combining agencies and shuffling teams around was more difficult, since it involved office relocations and creating physical work spaces. Currently Dentsu is rethinking its approach to offices and scaling down its work spaces around the globe. With employees outside of offices, it’s a lot easier to add and subtract team members.
Mehrotra will not talk about the numbers of redundancies involved in the iProspect-Vizeum merger (which by most accounts have largely fallen on the Vizeum side). But of the 8000 new iProspect staff globally in 93 markets, more than a quarter, roughly 2100 are located in APAC’s 15 markets, where there are roughly 22 different offices.
Although the Vizeum brand is being ‘sunsetted’, there are local markets where it will remain active, based on agency size and according to certain client preferences. But by next year Dentsu hopes to have more agency-brand consolidation in place.
For Mehrotra, then, this latest agency integration is a chance to combine Dentsu’s own client-based integration with trends coming out of the pandemic and subsequent industry learnings like Airbnb’s.
“From a timing [perspective], it’s perfect. We’re really looking forward to growing in the region.”