While much editorial coverage has been dedicated to answering the question ‘what will agencies look like in the year 2020?’, by comparison little has been penned about how the brands and clients, the very organisations who are driving much of this agency change, are being forced to change internally themselves to face/cope/manage the many challenges that are facing navigating today’s increasingly complex and confusing marketplace.
This issue recently formed the topic for a roundtable discussion hosted by progressive talent search company The Blueprint and The Drum Network, the findings of which will form a series of articles entitled Brand 2020 to be published over the coming weeks. The Blueprint brought together four leading brands around a table to offer their thoughts on the above subject matter and more.
Change is a constant within agencies who are continually evolving to meet the demands of the clients to whom they deliver marketing services. But what are the key challenges and factors that are driving change within marketing departments at the brands that we all know and love?
Offering their views at the Chatham House Rules roundtable session hosted at The Riding House Café in London were (clockwise from top left) Aedamar Howlett, marketing director at Coca-Cola; Gareth Moss, managing partner at The Blueprint; Catherine Blizzard, director of marketing and audiences at BBC Worldwide; Paul Doran, strategic partner at The Blueprint; Philip Lloyd, head of advertising at Paddy Power and Philip Jackson, global brand strategist at Mondelez.
The theme of the first discussion centred on the complexity and diversity of the modern media landscape and how the on-going challenge of simply understanding what is now possible in terms of getting messages out to consumers is driving them to introduce new ways of working, structures and policies.
Gone are the days when things were quite simple and straight forward – your ad agency and media agency managed your advertising campaigns, your design consultancy looked after your brand, your PR consultancy made sure your brand was getting good stories out to all relevant audiences and your digital agency created your website and maybe they even optimised it to drive traffic. But now the ball game has changed totally.
The advent of social media, search engine optimisation, content marketing and so on has complicated the picture both in terms of what you can do and what, as a brand, you should be doing. Throw into the mix regular changes by key digital platforms such as Google and Facebook and simply keeping pace is a major challenge for brands.
So, how do brands ultimately decide what they should do, when they should do it and how they should do it?
“Just because there are more channels and choices in how you communicate with consumers today doesn’t mean that you have to give more as a brand,” said one delegate to kick off the session. “Today there is a perception that because there are more media channels available to us the answer is simply as a brand to give more and more. As a brand manager you can start to tie yourself up in knots thinking that because you may have added a new channel to your marketing that you need to create something that is specific or pertinent to that channel.
“The danger in that approach is that things can become siloed as you start to set up a team that understands Snapchat, a team that understands WhatsApp and so on. They all go off and do their own thing and before long it just becomes a huge mush of messages for consumers.
“What we are trying to do in our communications is get a sense of clarity, a sense of focus. We can say lots of things and have different ways of saying them, but at the core of all our messaging there needs to be a cohesive thought.”
Another delegate adds: “The way we approach this ‘choice’ dilemma is that the consumer simply doesn’t care, have the brain space or doesn’t spend their time thinking about how to join up all of your brand’s communications. Just because you’ve thrown enough stuff at the wall consumers don’t necessarily say ‘oh, I love the way that Brand X’s Twitter feed matches their website or TV ad’ and so on. Consumers are just not going to make those connections. It’s vital to have a central theme or cohesive idea at a point in time or throughout a campaign so the consumer can get what you’re trying to say to them regardless of the channel you decide to use.”
There was some consensus that the key to keeping things manageable at a brand level was by keeping a core focus/message at the heart of all communications, regardless of the many on- and offline channels now available.
“Nailing your core creative idea that still has the consumer insight at the heart of it is what we always aim to do regardless of media channel,” added another global brand director. “I think where it’s changed is around that combined work between the brand managers or the brand management team and the media team, because that is critical as often that is where the channel choices get made.
“You have to go back to your consumer insight and ask what is happening in the consumer’s life, how are they consuming media and then ask how do we get that right creative idea to them in the right way. I think from a marketer’s perspective what has dramatically changed is the need to make the right marketing investment choices early in the process. Just because there are more things we can do to communicate to our consumers doesn’t mean there is more money in the pot to do everything. It’s about making your media and channel choices very carefully and that requires a different skillset in our people and the external agencies that we work with, so from that perspective things are having to change.”
“The onus is on the brand managers to really understand the brand’s consumers and then work with the media teams to get that right,” says another marketing chief. “There’s no doubt it feels very complex, particularly for those of us who were around in the traditional media days, but we operate with this idea of ‘could, should, must’. We try to reach a position where we can say - this is a bunch of stuff we could do; this is stuff we probably should do and this is the stuff that we simply must do. Having that sense of choice and that sense of focus helps avoid trying to do everything.”
Sir Martin Sorrell was recently quoted as saying that brands had potentially invested too much in digital channels such as Google and Facebook and due to regular changes in algorithms had essentially lost control of their audiences. Is this the case and are brands now starting to de-camp to their own owned channels and media?
One marketing director concurred with this view, saying “That is a theme that we definitely see. There’s some uniqueness to our market in that we can only buy broadcast media in live sport after 9pm. What that means is you’ve actually got all of these very wealthy big players attempting to buy limited amounts of media, which means massive media inflation. That as an aside is probably the biggest factor that we’ve got in our team development. With the male skew of our audience there is an increasing concern about our awareness capabilities in as much as the available time our audiences have online is becoming limited. People can’t be on social media or using their phones any more than they currently are because they have to do other things, such as living and working, and so we are increasingly in a battle in those non-traditional channels for the ability to simply grab someone’s attention.”
Another contributor adds: “That loss of control across multiple channels is an interesting issue. We are the brand sitting in the middle and the more we spread our messages out the more there is a sense that we are losing some level of control. We often try and think about it the other way around, which is that the various channels we use are entrances into what you’re trying to do and say as a brand. So, rather than throwing everything out there and feeling like all my brand’s dignity is dripping out of the holes of my Crocs, it’s saying come into the front door, the side door or through the car park and into our department store and hopefully as a consumer you will arrive at something cohesive and that cohesion is a really quick or instinctive understanding of our brand and what we offer.”
Clearly each brand around the table is facing different challenges as the media mix continues to expand and become increasingly integrated. Let’s be honest, the plethora of new types of agencies – or new agency spins on what is already available – probably aren’t helping to make the picture any clearer about what brands ‘should, could and must’ be doing. But as the brands around the table concluded in this first part of Brand 2020, the key is to be true to your brand, true to yourself and retain a cohesive line of communication open with your consumers through the channels that they use. No longer is it a case of throwing content at every potential platform. It is about have the courage of your convictions and choosing to be one Facebook, but not TV for the right reasons.
One brand director concluded: “There is so much choice in today’s marketplace, but you have to make different choices for different brands and for different consumer channels. I think it comes back to that choice thing about what’s the right thing to do. As marketers, we’re always working with our agencies and are tuned into another kind of supplier, in this case technology partners, but tuning into the consumer and doing what’s right for them is vital. And that is the challenge as leaders of brand marketing teams that we have today.”
“It’s quite an experimental period to a degree, learning what’s right for the brand and for your audience,” concludes another delegate. “You just can’t be all things to all people either. You have to have that authentic cultural tone of voice across everything that you do regardless of the online or offline channel that you are using.”
The next Brand 2020 article in this series will be published online on Thursday 15 December tackle the big issue of Talent and Diversity and we ask the brands around the table how they are managing the diversity agenda within their businesses.