The Covid-19 pandemic has not only reduced the margins of agencies but is also forcing them to serve the ever-changing diverse requirements of clients, who are demanding more than ever when it comes to overall marketing strategies. So, how are agencies coping up with this change? By transforming faster than ever, experts explain.
Smita Thorat, Founder and CEO of Brandniti, believes that with an effective growth mindset, diverse skill sets, and cognitive and decision-making skills, agencies can overcome problems and thrive.
Agencies with a narrow set of skills tend to approach every problem through the same lens and this limits their ability to offer holistic solutions, said Nagaraj Krishnamurthy, Chief Strategy and Analytics Officer, Madison Media.
“In the early years, broad-based agencies did not appreciate the techniques of digital media. This led to a rise in specialised agencies. Today, mainstream agencies probably understand digital media at the same level or even better than specialised agencies. Mainstream agencies have lateral thinkers who draw upon their disparate experiences to deliver integrated solutions,” he added.
“I've come to believe that anything is possible if you just change perspective. We’ve gone from thinking that MS teams’ meetings just cannot replace the value of ‘real’ meetings, to winning businesses entirely through virtual chats. Everyone now is adding skills they never thought they had the time for. Clearly, challenges of distance (going virtual) were only in our minds, even as consumers ourselves. It's probably even been the most productive and efficient use of an agency’s time, specialised or traditional agency alike. The good news with this perspective is that new-age agencies are already in the front foot. They know the triggers, are prepared for crisis management in real-time and speak directly to their (targeted) audience. While the goals remain the same like any traditional agency, the tools used to do so are future-ready. Campaigns that are only push-based irrespective of media (digital or traditional), will soon have to find other touchpoints. Content is driving conversations and metrics,” added Priyanka Borah, VP, Client Servicing, Dentsu Webchutney.
“Traditional agencies are now thinking digital-first (better ROI or brand engagement), connected with the digital arm of the brand to be more relevant and cost-effective. The turnaround time and breaking clutter expected by brands is showing upward trends. On-boarding (virtually and remotely) and retention of this talent (for the long term) is an exciting challenge for both new-age and traditional agencies,” she said.
Brand owners seeking integrated solutions from agencies, is not exactly new news. Most evolved clients have been demanding this and benefitting from it for more than half a decade.
The difference now, following the pandemic, is that almost all advertisers have realised that integration is key to business growth. One simple reason is that consumers are now far smarter, less interested, and far more demanding, said Kishan Kumar Shyamalan, Chief Growth Officer and South, Head, Wavemaker India.
“However, connecting the dots of media, content and technology for business growth requires not just the right expertise and experience but also a mindset to ask the right questions that can fuel growth,” he added.
Need for agencies to imbibe new skill
Borah said the need to have newer skill sets in these times is paramount. One should have a relook at the function of HR and how this function could be made more fundamental to the business.
“The need is for new-age agencies to find the next differentiator and traditional agencies to broaden horizons, and also to think long term. So the question we should be really asking as agency leads are: What can we do to upskill our current workforce and equip them with tools and invest in long-term set-ups? If data and analytics is the future for new-age agencies creating content on brand love, how can I set up a data analytics, plus research first team that arms the creative teams while ideation? Can strategy, data and crisis management teams be merged into one vertical?” she added.
As they say, marketing is not about the products you make, but about the stories you tell. One needs data and analytical skills to shortlist what story to tell as well as understand human emotions to craft the story. Experts believe agencies should also have an understanding of technology to make the story contextual and relevant.
Krishnamurthy said, “To survive, agencies must acquire skills in data science, consumer behaviour and adtech.”
We must remember that the consumer is not phasing their lifestyle/buying choices and perception based on Covid. Over 12 months now, consumers have adapted to a change, and this change is likely to go on for another eight months, at least. Consumers adapt to environmental stimuli and set their expectations accordingly.
And the same, Borah said, goes for brand managers and hence the brand too. A brand that understands that a consumer has been exposed to these sets of stimuli will plan long term. The range of choices, or the lack thereof, has set demands and marketers have to be able to plan for its effect in the long term.
“Specialised agencies in 2021 now have leaders who think digital-first, brand managers who’ve been exposed to brand metrics based on measurable and correctable real-time data and consumers have become more vocal, experimental and adaptive. While the demand will be for future-ready full-service agencies, specialised agencies will continue to have the benefits of attracting a certain kind of talent. It’s exciting to wonder how agencies will continue to adapt and upskill its existing workforce and draw like-minded brands for their business,” she added.
Krishnamurthy suggested that the need of the hour is the marketing outcome backward approach, not the media-forward approach. This is the approach of hallmark mainstream agencies.
He said, “The select specialised agencies that have in-depth knowledge in a particular form of media will find favour as a complement to mainstream agencies.”
In a nutshell, experts said that the demand from the brands’ end for holistic solutions is not short term.
Increasingly, there will be more and more brands seeking integration between their communication, media choices and technology decisions, said Shyamalan. And agency partners need to re-orient their product offerings, talent pool and way of working to meet this demand. In his belief, integrators or all-rounders will be far more important and effective in winning as they bring much better awareness.
With holistic solutions, creative thinking, and new-age strategies, the demand from brands will be here to remain, said Thorat.
“In these challenging and unpredictable times, integrated ad agencies fuse online and offline marketing strategies that place them in a win-win situation. Despite digital hogging the limelight and maximum budget, other mediums such as TV, print have their fair share of positive points and are surging regardless of the challenges,” she said.