To paraphrase a popular saying rather badly: when the going gets uncertain, the uncertain seek certainty. Last year The Foresight Factory introduced us all to a brilliant concept called the ‘Never Normal’ – a world where Brexit looms, Trump is in the White House and tens of thousands of jobs are at risk due to automation. With uncertainty in the market, budgets tighten, clients become cautious and agencies that do not adapt can quickly feel the squeeze.
We don’t envy Marketing Week trying to predict the future of our industry for the next 40 years. In agency land it seems quite tricky these days to attempt even a four-year prediction. The best agencies can and will succeed and flourish in times of uncertainty if they are agile and can provide more certainty to clients at the same time. Building on this idea, there are some trends and ideas which we predict will become even more important for agencies in their ambitions to succeed.
Even greater use of data-driven insight will give more certainty that agencies are targeting the right people and that we really know what they think, believe and do. As well as more traditional tools such as Brandwatch and TGI, the emergence of real-time social insight and analysis such as our methodology, Mapper360, gives marketers a level of insight and certainty which was never previously achievable.
Clients can now access tens of thousands of relevant, real-time social and digital data points to deliver actionable insights and identify high-value audiences. Future marketing programmes will increasingly abandon a one-size-fits-all approach for pinpoint targeting – sometimes this can mean just a handful of people. Those agencies that make better use of data-driven insight will become faster, smarter, more accurate and more cost-effective and clients will seek them out.
And it’s not just clients who are looking for more certainty – consumers are looking for it too as the world becomes more difficult to navigate and understand, and they seek more control. When we tracked patterns of social conversation about summer holiday plans this year, for instance, we saw a 33% increase in those talking about ‘going back to’ a destination. Similarly, when we tracked influencers for a financial services client recently we found that 1990s pop bands are considerably over-indexed. Nostalgia and comfort may well be themes we see more of in the next few years.
There’s also a whiff of 1960s and ‘70s social justice in the air. Consumer activism is certainly on the rise. And the threat that consumers will turn their backs on brands that don’t stand up and deliver for society could become more prevalent.
‘When’ is set to become a more important idea – in other words, determining the right time to deliver a message. We often use behaviour change theory and work with psychologists and behavioural experts to identify key points of incidence or moments when behaviour can be most effectively intercepted with our messaging when working with government departments.
An example would be delivering messages on cyber safety actually at the point when people are inputting a new password. This creates much more efficient and effective marketing and leads to greater behaviour change. Watch out for more of this in all marketing campaigns as behaviour-change theory migrates from the public to the private sector.
There’s nothing new about the move to more integration at agencies. At Four our brand of integration is called the ‘power of together.’ We try not to pre-judge a brief. Instead we bring together the right combination of communications and marketing disciplines with the right sector expertise to meet each challenge. We believe that this move to integration will continue to accelerate as clients seek consolidation, the best answers to their problems, streamlined points of contact and maximisation of their budgets and ROI in times of uncertainty.
As employers, staff retention is becoming as important, or maybe even more important, than staff recruitment in agencies. Four has an enviable average staff retention rate of 11 years across senior staff (and a decent four years across more junior levels who are harder to tie down than ever). This sort of certainty around our greatest asset – our people – is vital for client trust and continuity and agency leaders will need to put this at the top of the HR agenda.
Finally, we will all need to provide more proof. Clients will want absolute certainty that agencies have used their budgets well. Like most good agencies we have our own methodology for evaluation – ours is called Reward. It has never been good enough to measure success on anecdotal evidence or a gut feeling, but in the future we will all need to be even more certain.
Einir Williams is group managing director at integrated communications agency Four Communications.