What does the future hold for agencies and their clients? Whatever its purpose, any agency’s future needs to be considered within the changing social, cultural and geopolitical landscape. Enough has been written about tech platforms, consumer behavior, automation and so on. What will affect our work — all of our work — is communities fragmenting over politics, hatred being stoked off and online, inequality reaching unprecedented levels, more conflicts leading to more people fleeing their homes, people worrying that their privacy is being eroded, the effects of the climate emergency, a decline in trust across the board, and much more.
These situations will become more front of mind as more people experience them, especially in their local contexts. The opponents to progress are savvy. And within this noisy landscape, creative will take on a different, more urgent meaning. Creative needs to break through with a vibrancy that does justice to the cause and people it reflects while stoking positive emotion and trust. This isn’t about awards, it’s about attitudes — both shifting them and breaking attitudinal barriers. Look at the role creative and communications can play in impacting attitudes on big issues such as marriage equality and racism.
Here a few key shifts that will affect our industry in the coming years:
From marketing to mobilizing
Marketing has been focused on a funnel that leads to conversion, with associated metrics and tactics — a linear path to an ultimate point, with most of the effort focused on the conversion point. This purely sales view of the world is old. A mobilizing approach recognizes that there are multiple journeys and entry points, and that we have to know someone’s mindset at each part of the journey to give them what they need to progress. This also means more effort is needed to build brand equity beyond products and services to get someone to care in the first place — and to stick around.
From siloed to collaborative
A movement is greater than any individual organization, so as more brands wade into the cause space, they can align with nonprofits to broaden awareness. This requires breaking down traditional silos to take an audience journey view of the world. It means central teams supporting local teams and divisions working together towards a unified customer experience. It also means testing creative and propositions to ensure they will be well received in different markets.
Collaboration also means evolving the old model of creative agencies coming up with ideas in a black box — it’s wasteful. Instead, agencies need to bring expertise and ideas, but co-create with clients and partners who know best about specific issues, research and regional contexts. This includes being nimble to react to things happening in the world.
From niche to inclusive
While organizations need to be data-driven and targeted to be effective, they have to always evolve. The reality is that different audiences need different offerings and propositions. Audiences we assume won’t care can surprise us, if they are engaged in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them. This requires constant research, insights and testing. By widening the people they drive awareness with, brands and organizations can also broaden the definition of taking action — becoming a more inclusive movement in the process. Agencies need to listen to how people talk about the issues and use framing that is closer to how they speak and think. Inclusive doesn’t mean one size fits all. It means still being personal, but to a wider number of diverse audiences.
From publicity to persistence
Publicity will continue to be important, but cannot be a means to an end. A launch event or a celebrity video is a great driver of engagement, but it’s just that — a driver. Something has to come next. And next. And next. To cut through the noise, there needs to be a persistence to both journeys and to message, to create sustained engagement over time. Organizationally, this requires a brand and editorial view of the world, on top of the more traditional PR and conversion views. Persistence is about continually sourcing the impactful stories from around your audience’s and organization’s world; about continually learning from your efforts and listening to audience, and about seeing creative as both big launches and smaller messages. Because to break through and spark emotion, we have to make the most of all moments, not just the big moments.