2020 is a year that's on everyone's schedule - corporates, agencies, brands, technologies, people. A lot has been predicted, proclaimed and declared regarding this year and expectations are, of course, sky-high. The one prediction that catches my fancy is that the world will end in 2020! That should solve a lot of things, right?
Everyone could really stop worrying about the future, start spending all that they are saving, no more worrying about brands, spend more time in doing things that matter to them rather than to their bosses, maybe even start liking Trump! In fact, the whole point of writing this article would also be moot if that prediction were to come true. Ah well, we don't really know if predictions and prophecies are always fulfilled, so we might as well start looking into the real world as we know it - forever there, forever changing, forever impossible.
The year in question is, undoubtedly, a significant milestone where digital is concerned. A lot of development will bear fruit and the world would have definitely evolved by the time we enter the 20th year of the 21st century or the first year of the 2020 decade (however you'd like to see it). This evolution though will be of two types - one which will simply be what in digital parlance is 'amplification' affecting those who have just begun to wet their feet in digital; the other - more clairvoyant, which would be for those who are already mavericks in their digital game.
While most digital agencies will be comfortable and equipped to handle the first, it is the second which is going to raise the bar and create the distinction between 'good' and 'great'. Therefore, agencies have to start gearing towards both types of evolution, not just from the perspective of technologies, platforms, brands, and consumers but also from the perspective of their business models.
From the perspective of technology, AI will definitely be a lot more accessible and a lot more applicable. Those who do not latch on to the versatility of this intelligence may be left behind in the race to the top. Success will be defined by those who can intelligently identify which areas will benefit from artificial and which ones from biological talent and thus build an infrastructure that is not just in sync with the times but also operationally efficient and effective.
Agencies will also have to be prepared to embrace the evolution of social platforms as well as virtual connectivity. Millennials were all about 'virtual social connection', but Gen Z could well be all about 'avatars' and becoming a truly 'digitally connected' generation where the boundaries between the virtual and physical world could well be diminishing. How one catches and keeps the audience's attention is hence, no more going to be a question to ponder on lightly through the lens of storytelling, eye-balls and clicks, but more from the lens of fluid identities - who takes them into account, how and to what extent.
Brands, of course, will evolve from wanting to do just 'digital' campaigns to wanting to do 'through the line' campaigns. The shift is, of course, already being seen, but by the first year of the 2020 decade, a lot of challenges that we face today would have been overcome. Digital will be a main component of the marketing mix (not just an experimental medium) and will see more respect in terms of budget allocation. Given that data systems will be in place for a lot who have started out on that journey, 2020 will probably earmark one of the most exhilarating, yet onerous times, for the marketing and brand building world.
Exhilarating because this world will now have access to prodigious amount of information on their consumers which, if used intelligently, can help make dynamic connections between the brands and their roles in the consumer's life. Onerous because getting those connections right is not everyone's cup of tea.
Agencies will have to showcase 'creativity' not just in copy and communication but also in the way they approach digital marketing for the brand. Instilling a symbiosis between brand planning, data science, technology, and creative is hence, going to be tantamount to continued success for digital agencies. It will no longer be about just leveraging 'moments' and launching campaigns (Festive, Sale etc.) but more about building connections that are long-term and that enable the telling of the brand story in an episodic continued format.
Digital agencies may also have to be open to transformation in their own internal ecosystems. Brands may want to consider building digital facilities in-house and as such, the role of the agency will evolve to becoming consultative. Agencies will have to become less about digital advertising and more about providing digital marketing solutions that help solve a business problem. This may well lead to a change in the modus operandi of how resources are allocated or how talent is nurtured in-house.
Today, one often sees silos within an agency, not just from an operational standpoint but also from the point of offering a package to its clients. A lot of services (social media marketing, online reputation management etc.) are provided in silos and quite a few (social listening, analytics etc.) are often seen as add-ons which may well be feasible in today's environment, but will not suffice in the coming two years. This, of course, raises the relevant question of balancing the economies of scale as well as economies of scope. However, preparing for the balance from now will help in achieving ratios that keep everyone happy.
The road to 2020 may seem dark for some and a bit too bright to a few, but there's no denying that it heralds change for all. Too many outfits are still operating under the social media bubble and not thinking of evolving. The winds of change are very much here. Digital agencies need to be plugged in and start tuning their agency GPS towards these winds if they haven't done that already.
(The author is AVP - Account Planning and Strategy, WATConsult, a digital agency from the Denstau Aegis stable).
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