Ian Manning says while media agencies haven’t changed much in two decades, that situation is about change – in a big way.
South African media agencies have remained relatively unchanged for the last two decades. They may have added an econometrician here and there, and most now have some sort of digital capability, but typically the changes are incremental, not revolutionary. They haven’t really altered the way they do business. This could all change much more rapidly over the next few years.
The increasing popularity of media such as Facebook and YouTube will drive a more rapid shift towards content marketing. Content planners, like paid media planners, need to optimise the exposure of messages to consumers as best they can to achieve the brand’s marketing objectives.
Broadly speaking, there are five content types: information, education, entertainment, inspiration and reward. The challenge for the content planner is to find the right balance of these categories to achieve the brand’s communication objectives.
However, content planners have limited powers. Although they can plan a perfect content strategy and go a long way in influencing brand metrics by boosting relevant posts that resonate with the audience, they are not in control of what is shared and therefore organically boosted. Nor have they control over what other messages a consumer sees.
So, content marketing is not yet able to replace paid media; it’s still ‘in addition to’. For content marketing to be fully effective, it needs to be integrated with the often higher-reaching paid media strategy. The challenge, of course, is that content is typically planned by a different agency to paid media and often uses entirely different processes, objectives, strategies and metrics.
To integrate paid media and content planning effectively we need a fundamentally different approach to strategy. We need to look at strategy as three-dimensional – balancing the content (what the brand wants to say), the consumer view (awareness, consideration, purchase etc) and the response objective (brand metrics, brand response or direct response). This means the days of a single objective and one piece of creative are probably over.
We need to deploy communication levers across a range of objectives simultaneously by optimising the mix of content across all channels, balancing budget and channels throughout the purchase journey, while managing the mix of brand (long term) and response (short term).
Assuming that we reach this level of integration, there is another significant challenge for the current model. It’s no longer enough to lay out an annual or quarterly strategy and watch the implementers and buyers take it from there. Today’s communication is in real time. Speed trumps perfection. In the digital and social world this is relatively straightforward as we are able to see which creative or content resonates with an audience or delivers immediate responses. We can react in real-time by creating messages based on the insights gained.
The issue in the non-digital world is that it takes too long to get feedback and often costs too much to make real-time changes. But, by looking at the plan in its entirety, insights on the TV could be gained using digital channels and a strategist could then optimise and balance messages across all channels.
For this to work it would require a strategist to have a view of, and decisive power over, the TV creative (typically the main creative agency), the digital creative (often a digital agency), the social content (social agency) and the media plan (media agency).
In this example, the current model would require four strategists and a host of execution people, each with their own processes and ideas. Clients are left playing referee. What chance does effective integration and optimisation really stand?
Fully integrated offerings will emerge in time, but in the medium term, clients will probably need to appoint ‘3D’ strategists or consultants to drive the overall strategy and measurement, allowing the agencies to focus on the strategy for their respective disciplines.
Media owners, meanwhile, will take on more of the implementation planning for their inventory and do more deals directly with clients. They are in a better position to offer real-time optimisation and implementation services, potentially funded out of a small discount sacrifice. This, alongside programmatic and self-service solutions, will mean that media agencies will have to shift some of their attention away from execution and towards strategy and measurement.
The implications are profound. Media agencies are primarily funded out of execution and most of their staff is execution-focused. They will need to find new business models, skills, structures and processes. Of course, there will still be some room for old school media execution agencies, but many will morph into ‘3D’ strategic consultants, while others will integrate with digital or creative agencies. Either way, the landscape will look very different by 2020, or sooner.
This post was first published in the February 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
Ian Manning has been in the media Industry for over 20 years in both local and global roles, having held various management positions including the head of client services, international at ZenithOptimedia in London and CEO of MediaCom in South Africa.
IMAGE: 3D printing / Virtox
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