Chris Lockwood, client services director at Alpha Digital.
2021 quite often felt surreal. Like those blockbuster movie voice-over intros, “If you thought 2020 was unpredictable, wait until you see what 2021 has in store”...
A sequel no-one was quite anticipating. And this year I feel we’re in for a bit more of the same. While some patterns of life are returning to a resemblance of normality, there is still the change in habits which are likely to remain with us. I’ve picked out a few trends we’ve witnessed which are likely to grow and dominate the next 12 months. I hate predictions, so let’s call these extrapolated evidence-based trends.
Branding has never been more important
Behaviours have changed. Digital adoption which traditionally may have taken a decade has been witnessed in the space of a few short months. 50% of Australian consumers have experienced new shopping behaviours, according to a McKinsey report, with 30% trying new brands. Brands are also realising that performance marketing is not the only way to connect with customers and only focusing on Google search is not a healthy way to grow your business. This combined has resulted in ad prices skyrocketing, we have seen Facebook's average cost increase 32% more than last year, with Google ads up 27% since 2020 (aggregated across Alpha Digital’s client set).
Authentic content to dominate
Cinema has taken a hit over the last 18 months or so, but its impact is being felt outside of the big screen. People crave real-life relatable content. Much like the decline in the ‘Hollywood film ending’, consumers are seeking out things to watch that resonate more with their daily lives. Similarly in marketing, there’s a move towards user generated content and ads which look rather less like polished campaigns. Create entertaining content without overt messaging and you start to get through the barrier with Gen Z. It comes back to pull, not push.
Which is why we’ve witnessed the astronomical rise of platforms like TikTok. Here consumers are able to get snapshot videos to entertain; more often than not, the ones that go viral will be of ordinary people doing things in an extraordinary way or something surprising. Tapping into a music soundtrack that everyone else is using for their own videos. It’s about connecting with the zeitgeist in real-time.
Younger audiences, those under 30, don’t want to be targeted. They want to be impressed and entertained. Brands that have been able to do this in TikTok, have succeeded without needing their message included. There are some really great examples of this from Schwarzkopf, Princess Polly and Hello Fresh.
Tactic, no that’s a strategy
Agility in marketing is no longer a nice to have. It’s a core strategy. The requirements demand that testing new channels is done with data and an applied rigour to it. This is as true for TikTok, now more popular than YouTube, as it is for Twitch, the gaming platform which has exploded in its mainstream appeal over the last 18 months. The most popular streamers made millions over the last couple of years, Summit1g amassing almost $6m in three years.
It’s no longer just endemic advertising on Twitch either. Gone are the days of just headsets and games being touted for viewers. Now it’s Medibank, IAB and Gillette as the subculture has definitely stepped into the spotlight with 30 million Daily Active Users (DAU).
There’s a highly engaged audience that is ready to participate in a community and brands need to understand how best to identify brand advocates who they can work with to grow their audience together.
This again is another trend which was growing prior to COVID-19, but it’s been supercharged now and become operationally crucial.
International supply chains have taken numerous hits and it’s resulted in brands needing a lot more transparency in where product items are coming from and how they make it to our shores. It’s also resulted in a number of brands looking to on-shore a vast number of production and manufacturing operations.
This point could take up a whole series of articles. Between the eradication of cookies as we know them, iOS14 and iOS15 updates, along with Facebook’s news ban, marketers understand the dangers of putting all of one’s collective digital marketing eggs in one tech giant’s walled basket. That’s even before we come back to the increased hikes in ad prices I mentioned earlier across the dominant duopoly.
It comes back to prioritising what you can control. This will continue and evolve into 2022. Owned media is a chance for you to be your own shop window online. The tried and tested customer journey channels of creating engaging content to draw people in, and keeping them through email, will still apply. First-party data remains as trustworthy as gold. The over reliance on search is becoming a thing of the past from clients I’ve spoken to. Changes in organic search from Google as well through its new MUM super algorithm will see more budgets pulled back to focus on owned content creation I suspect.
Agility in mindset and approach, will also mean a reduction in commitment to big marketing campaigns. Rather than going big and hoping for the right result, now we’ve started to see clients aiming for smaller campaigns where learnings are applied in real-time, and iterations can feed improvements. A/B testing is a staple now for those using digital platforms. More data is feeding better consumer experiences.
Moving away from just hitting an audience, to truly engaging with them more effectively will breed better marketing. And the regulatory changes which are taking place already will force the hands of those that don’t go willingly.
More CMOs I speak with are seeking to embrace change. Be that in diversity of their campaigns or the purpose behind their brands. Many are also moving away from discounting. When a marketer has an engaged audience where there’s a relationship which has been established and fostered, then the need for seasonal discounting to the same degree is not needed.
Snapchat and TikTok are the big winners here as brave brand managers are willing to risk getting it wrong, in the hope of reaching an audience they haven’t typically engaged with.
The demands on the industry were there before COVID-19. But it’s highlighted the issue. The IAB recently released its statistics on the issue of talent shortages in the industry.
This issue has been driven by a number of factors; the increase in e-commerce adoption from consumers, the lack of access to international talent and the move by big retailers to boost their internal teams. As content creation demands increase, so too are the size of teams needed to service those expectations of consumers. Some of the senior people are moving out of agencies, which leaves less people to train those coming through the ranks.
All of this leaves agencies fighting for the talent that is still keen to work on an array of clients in that agency setting. My advice for those looking to get exposure to big brands early, is that agencies offer you more experience to learn than anywhere else will. You’ll also never be bored, so if a varied day is what you’re after, all of us still have something to offer :)
We’ve already seen great initiatives from IMAA, who together with Facebook, is offering member agencies a program for staff to increase their digital advertising knowledge and skills.
Graduate programs are another good way for agencies to get hungry people through the door. And for young talent it offers exposure to working on big clients straight away. Alpha Digital is now entering its third year of running our program. We've seen the benefits of offering people exposure across the board to all facets of our business, before they choose to specialise. This training academy is vital. We are considering digital training loops for current staff as well, doing it twice a year, which provides a continuous stream of new talent not only to the agency but to the industry as a whole. Allowing young enthusiastic individuals to sink their teeth into large complex accounts and increasing the industry's talent pool at the same time.
Hiring from other industries as well is something worth considering. Those from a financial background are likely going to be good with numbers. Given how the industry has shifted towards a data-rich environment, this experience will be hugely beneficial for those making the switch. The upskilling for specific vertical knowledge and the softer side of client relations is something which can be taught on the job. Short intensive courses are one option for those with transferable skills.
With that all being said, for those under 28 the main motivator is money and that’s not likely to change at the lower end of the salary brackets in the industry. Younger people also rightly demand a clear path for progression. Timelines should be based on personal development and not budgetary constraints, no one wants to wait for a position to open up. It’s now expected that there’s a personal development plan and there’s a clear outline of what the future looks like. This is a good thing and something I wish I had earlier in my career.
Keeping people in the industry means not burning them out, which is still a topic which needs to be addressed industry-wide. The importance of mental well-being has never been higher. Since the pandemic, we’re hearing more people open up around issues with their mental health and employers, no matter where they sit, need to listen.
Reevaluation of what is important has happened in and outside of the workplace. After March 2020, more of us are considering the values and purpose alignment within our purchase choices, as well as professional choices. It will be the businesses that are able to act with agility and that create workplaces that live these values everyday that will succeed. For those employers who think they can get by on 2019 approaches, well the talent pool is shrinking and there’s plenty of competitors in and outside of your sector that can provide a more suitable environment for the best talent.