Published in Sep-Oct 2019
I believe in solving complex issues with simple solutions. Things are challenging due to a difficult economic environment which is stressing purchasing power, increasing competition among brands and increasing media complexity.
Marketers today face the very real problem of reaching out to their customers in an increasingly fragmented communication environment. Today’s young consumers have more choice than ever before in the kind of brands they relate to themselves and their lifestyles, as well as in the type of communication and experiences they consume on their pathway to their desired brands.
It used to be simple; brands would create awareness through TV, entice customers into their brick and mortar stores to buy their products. Not quite so simple anymore as customers can shortcut the process by buying directly through their online portals, or go straight to their favourite shopping outlets which have now turned into experiential theatres. Media is changing rapidly. TV is still effective, but highly fragmented with over 80 TV channels to select from. Social media is rapidly rising at the expense of print. Radio is comparatively marginal and mobile marketing is going to be the next big thing. So, more choice for customers, more fragmentation and complexity for the marketer to deal with.
The bond between brand teams and their ad agencies used to be simple, but then evolution happened. Brands have evolved from relying on their ‘one size fits all’ agencies to deal with a plethora of channel specialists whose recommendations often conflict, and sometimes complement.
The simple old solution of brands turning to a single specialist ad agency has given way to the rise of ‘channel specialist agencies’ to help them make sense of the journey. Generalists no longer cut the mustard. Dealing with channel level proclivities was once the sole reserve of the ad agencies. The demand for specialists has led to the rise of ‘specialist shops’ catering to the different needs of mass media marketing, digital marketing, PR marketing, mobile marketing, experiential marketing and others. There are even more specialists on the way with the influx of data analytics specialists, behavioural specialists, branding specialists, shopper marketing specialists, sports marketing specialists and many more.
I can understand why marketers have increasingly chosen this path. The bond between brand teams and their ad agencies used to be simple, but then evolution happened. Brands have evolved from relying on their ‘one size fits all’ agencies to deal with a plethora of channel specialists whose recommendations often conflict, and sometimes complement. The logic for this shift was the failure of the ad agencies to adapt rapidly enough to the evolving media and experiential landscape that defines the communication industry today. I completely agree that big agencies have brought this upon themselves through their complacency and dinosaur like resistance to evolution.
So today’s young consumer wants to multitask and brands deal with it by... multi-channelling! This has turned communicating to customers into a plate of spaghetti and marketers have opted to create spaghetti of their own in the form of channel specialisms. All of this is done to achieve the simple end of reaching their customers and convincing them to buy their brands. Customers in Pakistan are under tremendous pressure to reduce spending and this in turn puts the pressure on brands, which then have to deal with an octopus arrangement of channel specialist agencies for their communication campaigns. Is this really the best approach to take?
My take to solve the challenge is to tackle it from the centre. Instead of going through the complexity of trying to blend a dozen or more channel specialisms into an equation that works coherently and synergistically, why not tackle the challenge at its core? The human.
In my opinion, human centred communication approaches are the solution. It is an evolving field (as are all fields within marketing and communication). I would much prefer to be known as a human specialist, rather than a channel specialist. There is a new specialty known as ‘Human Centred Design’, which guides brands through the process of addressing their customers’ behaviour. However, I will paint a broader canvas for the sake of this article rather than delve into that specialty.
For a Communication Company (Advertising Agency 2.0) to succeed, the following guiding principles should be followed:
Stop focusing on buzzwords and jargon and start behaving like your customers. Easier said than done.
Learn how to listen to the customer. Waiting for post testing and quantitative end-lines is often too late. Agencies need to rapidly invest in and adopt systems to get quick feedback from their customers.
Be willing to experiment and prototype new ideas. Agencies need to take on small risks for the sake of their future with brands. This is important because human behaviour can be difficult to follow, mandating an element of trial and error. This is much more feasible with new media (digital and mobile marketing) than it is on traditional media due to the costs involved.
Be responsive rather than rigid. Course correction is a real thing in today’s marketing world. Agencies need to accept that even some of the best strategies executed by the most brilliant people fail to resonate with today’s customer. Responsiveness begins with listening and building flexibility into strategies and executions.
Learn how to tackle the channel specialisms well by hiring specialists. No one in today’s world is the master of everything. Agencies need to get better at channel marketing and stay at the leading edge. They need to learn how to collaborate so that they can achieve these capabilities without incurring huge costs. Agencies should focus on developing their human centred strategic cores first, and then plug in the respective channel specialisms. Channel (medium) specialisms are important as are mandatory needs for brand teams.
I believe we should go back to basics. Marketers and agencies have always worked to serve a common entity; the human consumer. Although consumer behaviour and media consumption habits have changed, the point of singularity has not. Marketers should go beyond trends and buzzwords and look to human behaviour to achieve greater effectiveness.
If I had to be a specialist, I would definitely opt to be a human specialist!
Afzal Hussain is Chief Strategy Officer/General Manager, M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan.