Having read Gideon Spanier’s recent article about tech giants daring to bet on brand, and especially Airbnb’s permanent shift from performance marketing to brand marketing, it left me asking myself whether we are in danger of falling into old traps again.
I find it interesting that, as much as the world around us has changed, we revert back to the same old questions – brand or performance, digital or traditional, broadcast versus narrowcast, bottom up versus top down (and credit to Google for recognising there’s a messy middle in there too). Tech companies spend more on brand, big brand companies pivot to direct-to-consumer and spend more on performance. And so on…
These are false dilemmas. It has always been about and, not or. Brand and performance, digital and traditional, bottom up and top down.
Having said that, the past year has seen a rewiring of our economy, of our ways of working and, importantly for us, of how we use data. Covid-19 has shifted a lot of things, but we’ve also seen dramatic shifts in regulation around advertising, in client organisations and in consolidations – agency and media owner side. And all the while, it’s been a year when offline media owners have responded to the persistent threat of digital giants. We need to embrace that with a rewiring of how we approach media.
The danger is that, as all channels become digitised, we can find ourselves in a situation where the execution leads the strategy. To be over-simplistic about the role of a media agency, we have to answer a number of questions that come out of the business task: who do we want to reach, where and how can we reach them, what do we want them to do and did it all work in the way we wanted it to? And throughout all that, how can data help us get better answers to those questions?
The worst-case scenario is where data leads everything rather than supports it. So, the questions become: who can we reach with the data we have, where and how can we reach them with that data (in as many variations as possible), how can we do something immediately that we can track and how do we use the data we have to prove our contribution worked?
I’m being inflammatory, of course, but we need to be careful that we don’t become too narrow in our approach, because it’s very difficult to succeed when the execution leads the strategy.
You can see it playing out a little already in the conversations around the death of the cookie, where we already seem to be losing focus on why these huge changes have been made and are jumping on how we can use first-party data as a replacement. In our data-led marketing world, let’s make sure we don’t restrict what matters most to all businesses: business growth.
Talking to more and more of our clients, I can see a definite shift in ambition to a new, rewired way of approaching marketing: people-focused (fusing data with genuine understanding and empathy), greater emphasis on purpose and values (business-led, not marketing-led) and a more connected view of how to deliver growth through integrated planning.
So, as we look to an increasingly digitised and hugely exciting new media landscape, it’s on us as media agencies to ensure we live up to that ambition and use data to underpin and support our strategies – not fall into bad habits about binary (siloed) marketing approaches, and allowing the execution to lead the way.
Natalie Bell is chief executive of Manning Gottlieb OMD