Finding a clear role for strategic planning in a confusing and changing world

The month of October presented something fresh and insightful in the marketing and communication landscape in Johannesburg. We saw the launch of the Strategy Sessions hosted by Bogosi Motshegwa at Vega school to discuss the role of strategists in advertising agencies. The aim was to bring together a range of different strategists and ad agency representatives to discuss the question; “How do we ensure that strategy inside ad agencies is given the credence it deserves to drive the business narrative beyond creative communications?”.

Some of the questions put to the panelists and audience members included what the role of a strategist actually is, what is it that clients expect from strategists and how can strategists successfully solve business problems and produce solutions that matter?

The discipline of Strategic planning within most agencies has become sidelined. A 2017 IAS (Independent Agency Selection Services) survey conducted among marketers revealed that many clients still place great value on strategic planning skills (clearly there are few agencies who are excelling at strategic planning and this needs to change). It’s not a case of planning vs creativity, great planning often leads to inspired creativity. It’s time to get planning back to the heart of things and have it play the meaningful role it ought to play in the marketing and communications mix.

I’ve decided to share four key observations relating to the marketing and communications industry, which were discussed in part at the inaugural Strategy Sessions.

 

1. Change is Everywhere The change we’re witnessing requires us to change our approach and to broaden our thinking and collaborate with new partners to find new solutions. We need to be open to learning about new ways of working and new technologies. Technology and data science is at the center of all this change. We are beginning to relook and reimagine business models and focus our marketing efforts differently. Across the board we’re beginning to see improved consumer experiences through the application of the knowledge gleaned from customer data and implementation of smart and effective technology solutions.

2. Digital Complexity and Confusion Digital marketing hasn’t made things simpler. Agencies need to improve their understanding and application of digital tools and technology by continuously training teams on how to be more proficient in these tools. This can be addressed by upskilling and bringing in external experts in digital acceleration programs which will play some part in transforming agencies and making them more relevant to the changing times.

3. Digital Transformation It’s important that we begin to properly define what digital transformation means for our industry as competition for the future begins to intensify along with the talent that’s needed to help build the future. Creative agencies need to show a willingness to re-learn the basics and re-skill themselves. There’s a strong case being made for re-integration of core skills which had been moved out of creative agencies, namely media planning. Being integrated will lead to better work output which will make for happier clients and hopefully more successful campaigns. It’s important to emphasise that it’s not a choice of either or. We need to go after the clever integration of technology, which provides utility to a customer or greater insight into what customers want, and not just the indulgent inclusion of technology gimmicks.

4. Upstream vs Downstream Marketing Considerations Agencies are often distracted by the sexy stuff, as opposed to being focused on producing smart and effective work. I’m excited about the more recent focus on consumer experience journeys, which help marketers interrogate the more precise actions, messages and experiences we need to deliver. This doesn’t diminish the importance of creativity in marketing and communications. It still has a very important role to play. It helps to set the expectations. It arrests our attention and engages our senses. It seduces us into exploring what lies behind the brand message. Brands should endeavour to deliver what really matters at each touchpoint in a way that reinforces the brand promise while aiding consumers to make decisions to purchase, engage and stay loyal. The aim is not to add more layers, but rather to reinforce a core brand idea. Focusing on critical moments of truth enables better planning and helps brands achieve meaningful results which make for happier customers.

 

Looking Forward to the Next Installment

I’m certain that those who attended the inaugural session held in early October at Vega are undoubtedly looking forward to the next installment. The evening was characterised by spirited discussions on ensuring that strategic planning remains at the centre of brand building initiatives. Strategy is a broad term and communication strategists need to be mindful of making an impact beyond the sometimes-narrow confines of communication planning. The South African Strategy Association (SASA), which is Bogosi’s brainchild, can play a role in ensuring that meaningful dialogue takes place regularly. It can become the place where more marketers come together to talk about practical ways to adapt to the challenges and opportunities we’re seeing in the South African business and marketing landscape. Perhaps a suggestion is to broaden the participants and have more clients contribute to the discussions in future. This will certainly add different perspectives and make for even more flavourful conversations. By Moagi Bodibe: Group Head of Strategy, Publicis Communications