Which trends from 2020 will continue into the new year and which will not?
Most years, I’d be eager to count down the “top ten trends” that will impact brands, but this year is a little different.
For brands, there’s one big trend that matters above the rest: we’re in a new reality. We’ve heard this sentiment often, but there is a huge disparity between brands who just want to “get through it” and those who have begun to face and figure out this new landscape. It’s agencies’ and marketers’ jobs to show how facing this shift head-on will give brands a huge advantage over those who haven’t. It’s a matter of embracing and acting on change to be a leader, or just managing decline. Having said all that, there are three things that we should all keep in mind:
Be more DTC: While some brands have already taken some big and difficult steps forward, others seem to hope that things will go back to normal. A vaccine can halt the spread of a virus—and thank heavens for that—but it won’t reverse fundamental shifts where the business landscape or customer expectations are concerned. For example, D2C is more important than ever. Even if you’re not a traditional DTC brand, chances are you’ve seen your business relationships get disrupted while customer or audience engagement has become all the more important. Incorporating DTC experiences into your business should be at the top of your to-do list, no matter who you are or what you do.
Test more, learn more: The need for more DTC experiences is one sub-trend of the new reality. Another is the need to test and learn—a lot. Brands are going to have to place some smart bets. Testing, learning, and incorporating (or scaling up) the things that work will be crucial for ensuring investments in innovation will pay off.
Connect the ecosystem: Let’s say you’ve decided to embrace the future head-on: you’ve made customer engagement a priority, and you’ve begun to test some new stuff. Good—you’re ahead of the game. But now, how will it all fit into your ecosystem? How will you combine the new pieces with your existing ones to create a connected brand experience? It will make your company uncomfortable and change how you do things. That’s where most companies back off. Customers see the lack of connection and they, especially now, find it easier to move on from brands that don’t connect their experiences. Brands have got to be able to answer those questions.
In your opinion, what will 2021 look like for advertisers and agencies?
The era of WFH has been here for a while now, and you’ll be in a relatively strong position if you’ve figured out how to hold on to the things that make you special—collaborating effectively, offering the best possible client service, providing a great employee experience. Being nimble and creative isn’t easy when the way we work has been disrupted, but clients have also been disrupted, and they’re counting on their agency partners to figure out the way forward. That’s been a big motivator for us, and a reason why we’ve been able to help our clients to such a large extent.
In the digital world, we’re prepared for a lot of change and uncertainty. Digital is where everything is converging now. The briefs we’re seeing (especially new business briefs) are throwing all kinds of new challenges at us, but new opportunities are coming along with them. Our advantage—we’re digital. We have a direct view into the way new technologies are emerging, and we’re able to use data to forecast tiny adjustments (like in the ways we serve clients) as well as larger shifts (like in the way we allocate our resources on a larger scale).
Giving clients the ability to “try before they buy” is also going to be important. We’ve spent a number of years now bringing together rapid discovery and rapid prototyping, and we’re glad we did. It’s helping our teams, as well as our clients, introduce innovative technologies and try new ways of working in a very low risk but high fidelity and nimble way.
What will your clients value most in the next 12 months?
We know exactly what our clients will value—agility, flexibility, and the ability to execute in an incremental way while building toward the big vision. Our clients know where they want to go, but they need us to help them plan and figure out how to get there. In many cases, they want to go after that game-changer—whatever it happens to be for their brand—but change isn’t easy. They need to know the surest way to tackle the most rewarding risk. Providing that very granular, strategic path and paving it with proof points and incremental success isn’t easy to do. That’s where they really count on us—our digital-first approach, unique ways of getting the customer’s point of view, our ability to design the experiences that matter but also connect them through a dynamic, harmonized ecosystem.
What agency models and skills will emerge by 2022?
It’s a time of change, and new subspecialties and experiments will pop up everywhere. But the ability to put everything together and the ability to co-create will be the skills that will matter most. It’s about understanding how platforms and technologies connect, as well as mapping experiences to the customer, as well as driving action with brand experiences. People talk about platforms, experiences, and brands, but comparatively few are bringing them all together. There are always a number of agencies and client teams in the mix on every engagement. Being flexible, collaborative, and having ways to co-create will be the key attributes of any successful agency.
As countries are entering lockdowns again and vaccines begin to roll out, how should brands look to resonate with consumers?
Above all, be empathetic. Almost everyone has experienced some kind of pandemic-related suffering since early 2020, and no two people have had the same experience or feel the same loss. At the same time, pretty much everyone wants to turn the page. So, understand how to move forward responsibly and humanely.
With all that in mind, brands should explore ways of adding something valuable to peoples’ lives. There’s so much that’s evolving regionally, personally, nationally, and globally, and a brand that can be flexible and supply services that make life easier will be at the forefront.
As the last point, brands have to remember that our frames of reference need to change. “Legacy” once meant “analog,” and “evolving” meant “going digital” (or holding ground with digital natives). Now, under-connected digital systems are the new legacy systems. In that sense, a DTC brand without a seamless connection to the physical world—the world that people are eager to participate in again—will miss out. It goes without saying that DTC experiences are crucial (the ease, the seamlessness, the relentless customer focus), but by shoring up a digital core and strategically adding a retail experience around it, brands have one more way to engage, test, learn, scale, and find that game-changing “next big step.”