Brands are slowly coming back to the realisation that long-term brand building is just as important as short-term revenue growth, says MediaCom APAC CEO Mark Heap.
Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific at MediaCom’s Blink Live conference in Singapore, Heap says brands are starting to understand the holistic digital marketing approach they need to take as the industry evolves.
“It’s about both short-term and long-term brand effects,” he explains. “There’s a lot of clients really struggling with that balance right now. They’ve gone through this period of ‘let’s put a lot of money into digital, and because it’s in digital, we’ve got to measure it, and then we can optimise it’.”
This is only to be expected, Heap said, because as passé as it seems now, the digital marketing economy is still extremely young and many brands saw it primarily as a new sales opportunity. As the industry has matured, with the proliferation of new tools, technologies and strategies, so has understanding around what constitutes a full-spectrum media plan.
“There’s been probably a disproportionate focus on retail tactics at the expense of building strong brands,” Heap suggests, which has led many brands—albeit successfully in many cases, he admits—to focus on “response marketing rather than emotional brand building”.
“I think clients have realised and there’s now a bit of a swing back, and they want to know how to build that upper funnel as well, focus on—this sounds very old school now—but familiarity, consideration,” he says. “Those old, brand funnel metrics are becoming a bit more in vogue again now.”
The landscape is exciting, Heap says, because the room to create complex, integrated digital strategies has only really just started. “The most successful marketers will be the ones that can build out a complete marketing ecosystem and think ‘we do need long-term brand building, but we also need to shift product’. We need to get demand in, we need a response strategy and some really good call to action, but we also need to drive emotion and keep people interested,” he says.
Ten or 15 years ago, he continues, the strategy meeting may have consisted of “right, this quarter it’s all about a big brand thematic”. That is more or less obsolete now. “It’s now going to be that these things have all got to live concurrently and be exposed to people simultaneously in different formats, at different parts of either the purchase journey or emotional need state. There’s a complexity to that which is both staggeringly frightening and incredibly exciting.”
In terms of the scary side, Heap points to the prevalence of voice search, which many brands are still learning how to engage with.
“Increasingly for a lot of low-involvement products, where I think a lot of consumers think ‘to be honest, as long as it’s one of the leading brands, I’m not that bothered’, people will talk to the smart fridge, or with Alexa, or get Google to add it to the shopping list,” he says. “For brands I think that’s really frightening, because all of a sudden they’re just cut out of the conversation.”
On the other side, Heap says many clients have an appetite for innovating their digital marketing strategies. For some capabilities, that means taking them in-house, but Heap isn’t worried about what this means for agencies.
“I think we’ve evolved from feeling that that is a threat and something we’ve got to compete with, to now seeing that sometimes clients are really smart to do that for really good reasons,” he says. “But there’s still a role the agency can play, because clients build their own capabilities, and what they then lose is a broader context of what good looks like,” particularly a couple of years down the line when the industry has in all probability shifted once more.
With so many tools and constant innovation, Heap is confident that agencies will have plenty of work to be getting on with. “People find it hard enough to work out what to do with one element of this conundrum, let alone map out an anatomy of what an amazing marketing ecosystem looks like in 2020,” he says. “But it’s incredible, and that’s where agencies can add a huge amount of value.”