Empires rise and fall everyday—and there are few people who understand that better than James Campbell, General Manager of leading multinational media agency Mindshare. With nearly two decades' worth of experience in the notoriously dynamic media industry, James has had a front-row seat to all the latest trends in advertising and marketing, from the explosion of social media to the race for consumer data.
In the age of digital disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic has only upended the industry status quo even further. We speak to James on how the pandemic has shaped the expectations of both consumers and businesses, and how advertisers and marketers everywhere can adapt to these changes.
The Lean Company (TLC): In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour?
James Campbell (JC): I'd first like to say that marketers generally stay on the ball with what consumers—or rather, people—are doing. And, whether we like it or not, marketers tend to instinctively apply our own behaviour as consumers to our strategies to some degree.
With the pandemic, more and more people have been selling their own stuff from home, so there's been massive levels of up-skilling in terms of e-commerce—and with that comes the need for marketers to be a lot more au fait with e-commerce too.
Influence journeys, or buyer's purchase journeys, have also been disrupted, starting from the household. With people spending more time at home with their kids, we're seeing an "intergenerational effect" arise, whereby parents from Gen Y or even baby boomer age groups are starting to 'get' platforms like YouTube and TikTok.
There is also more collective decision-making over day-to-day purchase activities like what to eat, where to go out, and even which sofa to buy. With everyone in the household now able to reach out to businesses directly on social media platforms, the expectations for businesses to be faster and more present have never been higher.
At the same time, people have also become more attuned to the fact that certain businesses might be harder-hit by the pandemic than others, and are consequently more willing to give more latitude for COVID-related challenges faced by these businesses, even if temporarily.
TLC: How has the way brands approach advertising changed as a result of COVID-19?
JC: Ultimately, marketers are people—and people want to keep their jobs. More people are looking for business models that drive sales, simple as that. As a result, we are seeing marketers turn to media agencies to back up the short-term effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.
On the positive side, we see a lot more test-and-learn, as marketers are now also more receptive to emerging advertising platforms. This is especially the case for marketers who use these platforms in their day-to-day lives.
Another thing is that being a brand with purpose, or a brand that speaks to and engages customers in interesting new ways, can be seen as luxurious in a recessionary environment. So we've been seeing less brand building, but ironically this is what advertising is best at—we remember and consider the brands we love from amazing advertising or provocations.
Let’s be honest, none of us remembers our favourite banner or search ad. Even with influencer activities, brands can be somewhat interchangeable. Budgets are also flexible based on business performance, so it can be challenging for today's marketers to really focus on the art of campaign design.
TLC: So how can media agencies adapt to all these changes?
JC: While ‘results this month’ are currently the talk of the town, companies are also seeing challenges with their audience pools and business growth opportunities. With so many competing objectives, they are looking to media agencies to drive outcomes, but also maintain an understanding of the bigger picture.
Many leading agencies have been restructuring to specialise in deep areas of expertise, where scale is critical and no one person can know everything. At Mindshare, we have reorganised ourselves into strategy and delivery groups made up of single-minded platform experts and analysts to ensure that we can drive the whole funnel while ensuring best-in-class performance. Sharper focus on practice expertise is the only way that agencies will survive and continue to offer genuine value in the new world.
On that note, total transparency on expertise is also critical—the agencies that survive the pandemic with relationships based on trust will be the agencies that will be able to lead their clients into the future of marketing with them.