This article is by Murray Streets, Director of Strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand, and was originally published in the National Business Review (NBR).
We’re lucky enough to be living in the world’s ‘rock star’ economy, with a stronger primary sector, migration inflows strong and the (Auckland) housing market up. And judging by the key indicators this confidence is set to remain in the short to medium term.
Yet talking to colleagues and peers, the marketing communications business seems tougher than ever. To borrow a term from the US Military, marketers are operating in a ‘VUCA’ world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Budgets are tight and decision-making is becoming ever more laboured. It’s a paradox that in the ‘always on’ age of now, many in the industry are feeling a loss of momentum and an increasing aversion to risk.
This hesitancy in our industry seems to stem from two factors. First, there’s often confusion about changing consumer behaviour. Where are our audiences (really) and how do we best engage with them in a post digital era? Secondly, if we’re completely honest, client-agency relationships aren’t always set up to face the challenges a world like this throws at businesses. While the pressure to deliver in the short term intensifies, longer-term focus on brand building and the partnership this requires can actually weaken.
Here are five ways to navigate risk and forge stronger marketing partnerships.
1. Seek genuine revelations
Insights aren’t what they used to be. Most are observations or facts, not uncomfortable truths or revelations that brands and business can create value by solving. Marketing risk increases when we rest on assumptions or don’t challenge ourselves to look at things afresh. It often said that we should make things people want rather than relying on advertising to make people want things.
2. Foster a culture of provocation and disruption
It’s a truth today that businesses fail when the pace of change outside them out-strips the pace of change inside. Think Blockbuster Video, the music industry or more recently taxi companies. Businesses must disrupt themselves before competitors or other forces do. As Christopher Luxon, CEO of Air New Zealand recently stated: You have to decide to happen to your future rather than letting your future happen to you.
3. Model collaboration
Collaboration doesn’t happen by itself. It requires clients to lead by example. We’ve found our best work comes when clients themselves help orchestrate the specific strengths of their agencies to implement a bold idea together. It’s real time, face-to-face collaboration, that’s about getting down in the trenches and away from the “us and them” mentality.
Without this, client-agency teams can sometimes end up behaving more like primary school kids chasing a soccer ball, than truly effective marketing partners. Interestingly in recent global surveys, clients complain that they struggle to get effective integration from their agencies. It’s no surprise when partners are constantly pitted against each other and allowed to cross-pitch on projects.
4. Prototyping beats perfection
All bold solutions come with risk. We simply don’t always know exactly how we’ll implement and execute when the idea is first presented. Don’t shy away from this, but embrace it. Treat the idea as a prototype, sharing and co-creating it with consumers and clients along the way. That’s where trusted partnerships kick-in as agencies bring their specific skillsets to bear on turning the blueprint of an idea into a compelling experience for the consumer.
5. Use evidence-based best practice
In order to navigate the flurry of last minute concerns, executional curve balls and question marks from the broader business it’s important to set out a clear, evidence based vision at the very outset for how marketing will add value to the business. The good news is that thanks to the work of Peter Field, Les Binet, Byron Sharp et al, we know more than ever about how marketing and communications can effectively build brands and drive hard business results.
In this VUCA world, risk is all around us. It’s not going anywhere. But we can choose how we mitigate that risk. Demand revelations, encourage provocation, model collaboration, treat your work as a prototype and educate your business on marketing best practice. By adopting these behaviours, you can confidently embrace risk and turn it to your advantage.
Image source: flickr/silverstack