“What will a strategist do in a performance agency?”
This is how people I know from the industry reacted to my news of moving to a performance agency a few years ago. I confidently replied that I think the goal of my role will always be the same, and it will actually make me a better strategist.
In my past roles, my training was mainly focused on understanding the consumer, how they relate to a brand and its identity, the context, etc. These are all important factors to think about but the benefits are only expected to be realised in the future, with some degree of intangibility.
The approach of performance marketing has added a new dimension to how I think about strategy. Performance-focused marketing does not imply the absence of strategy, nor does it mean that the impact is limited to the short-term; for example, getting someone to use your product and interacting with them often will build brand affinity in the long run. Immediate business objectives serve as milestones and concrete markers to discern a brand’s progress towards its long-term strategic goals. The eyes can gaze far ahead, but one must still look at their feet as they step forward.
Coming from more traditional agencies, I was also exposed to a myriad of frameworks and thinking, which I consider to be foundational in my development as a strategist. These frameworks provided me with a good starting point for almost any brief. However, in traditional advertising, the things you can do are generally limited. During my stint there, more sophisticated media channels were not the norm.
At its core, being a strategist entails having a deep understanding of human behaviour. However, an insight is only as strong as its execution. Working for a performance agency not only enables me to understand people, but also offers a wider range of opportunities to act upon them. In contrast to more traditional agencies, there are many parameters available when buying media that allow for a dynamic planning framework. More than having a test-and-learn perspective, we are equipped to deliver more valuable actions; we have moved from reaching broad audiences to offering unique and personal experiences for the individual, thereby having a more relevant approach.
Discovering new things on a daily basis is one of the most exciting parts of the job. Agility is key for a strategist to thrive, especially in a performance agency. I always emphasise its importance to my team and inculcate it in all they do, whether this is exploring new audiences or being creative with their ways of thinking. This shows in how they ideate, how they work, and what they deliver. Being open to different possibilities, understanding that some things beyond the initial hypotheses might work, is a good trait to possess. More importantly, we can take all these learnings at speed and turn them into precise actions.
Lastly, the use of data is significantly more prevalent in performance agencies. While the broader industry is starting to utilise the data available, a data-driven approach is in our DNA. Data is not the enemy of creativity. In fact, it can be used as a multiplier. As a strategist, it does not restrict ideas, rather, it is an enabler to provide stronger recommendations, supported by facts. It instils the discipline of going beyond anecdotal evidence, which can be biased or incomplete. Creativity and effectiveness can come from the most unexpected places, and realising this early on is essential.
Today, there is more potential for our role to maximise the impact we deliver to clients. Integrating everything I have learned so far in my current agency, M&C Saatchi Performance, has ultimately made me a more holistic strategist.
Justine Guerrero is the Asia-Pacific strategy and insights director at M&C Saatchi Performance.