What will the agency of the future look like?
Branding may be a century old, but at no time has it changed as much as it has in the last decade. Above all, this has led to agencies having to think more and more about the "why" of a brand. It is no longer just about putting the product or the service in the foreground - especially not in times when quality is becoming ever more equal.
Branding - what is that?
What is of interest today is the purpose and the vision of a company. The vision is not about "In the first two years, we will achieve a turnover of xy million Euros", it is about making a contribution to a better future. It is also interesting to see how a company realizes its vision and mission. The questions “How does your product work?” and “What are the benefits?" are much more important than just "What do you offer?".
For consumers today, a brand is no longer just a product name, but something with which to identify. This is why consumers are increasingly turning to brands to affirm their identity. Hence the development of things like brand activism, which is practically positioning on steroids. This mutated, ever-evolving notion of a brand is turning marketing on its head. You now have to link brands to identity and hope that identity remains relevant enough to be profitable.
Global is out - "Glocal" is in
In 2019, establishing a global presence was a given. Markets today are dispersed and interconnected; customers can come from anywhere in the world. However, this phenomenon is being undermined by the increasing demand for experiences from consumers who, despite being global, want a local connection.
Sociologists have even coined their own word for this – "glocalization." There are quite a few examples of this from business. Uber, for example, chose patterns and graphic elements from each country in which the company operated for their rebranding. In this way, the brand was always experienced differently locally. Providers such as Starbucks also adapt their offerings, as well as the décor of their cafés, to local needs: Coffee, for example, is less a commodity and more a social event in India. Therefore, more split seating is used locally to accommodate larger groups. Tea-based drinks and local snacks were also added to the menu to cater to the different tastes of local customers.
As global markets become more interconnected, brands' game plans will need to change in the coming decade. When entering new markets, brands need to show that a) they are here and b) they understand local needs. This is also a major challenge for any agency, as the knowledge of specific needs in local markets also requires a very diverse and well-informed talent selection process.
The "new normal" was yesterday
"Home office", "remote work", "digitization" and "diversity": These buzzwords have been used intensively for at least two years to communicate in all areas of business and industry. Since the pandemic, companies and agencies have had to learn what digitization really means and that the "home office" is also an effective way of working. That's now the "new normal."
"Remote work" as a hiring criterion has emerged from this "new normal," and more and more agencies are finding that it's possible for experts to work off-site. In fact, due to the scarcity of skilled workers, finding and hiring talent independent of location actually works best.
Diversity is still a big topic when it comes to teams and employees. While it is true that there is more diversity to be seen in advertising and team photos in recent years, at least some of this representation feels tokenised. This also applies to women who are brought in from all areas of the corporate structure in order to then present them as "figureheads" or “women in leadership positions'', although this is not the case. Diversity is much more and covers a broad spectrum of personalities, knowledge, experience and expertise. It is not just about professional experience, but also a cultural one. The more truly diverse a team is, the broader the spectrum of creativity. And it's not just agencies that benefit from this, but above all their customers.
The future is tomorrow
The agency of the future will no longer need any of this. There will be true diversity and true freedom when it comes to choosing a working location. We will be free in the way we structure our talents and teams and won’t be held back by language or time barriers because the talent pool is the world and working hours are flexible. Customers will be used to this and will have changed their beliefs and structures in the same way. Digitization will have found its way to even the last small business and processes as well as workflows will be efficient and ready at the push of a button.
Digitization of agency processes
The agency world will also increasingly digitize its processes. For example, press releases will be generated automatically with artificial intelligence (AI) and humans will merels edit them. In this way, AI will find its way into all areas of the agency world and relieve the burden on humans. The algorithms for this AI still have to be generated and possibly updated by humans, but the potential of humans will be used more and more in other areas. Particularly in the search for suitable talents that fit into the agency's own culture, humans will not be replaced any time soon. No robot or AI will be able to replace experience, empathy and intuition in the near future.
Continuing education and training
Due to digitalization and technical progress, it is essential to provide every employee with the necessary knowledge so that they do not fall by the wayside. In order to be able to actively participate in the future, it is necessary to pass on information and knowledge flows to the appropriate people quickly and in a targeted manner. Knowledge and training are part of the daily to-dos and do not require additional free time. All employees will have access to knowledge databases at all times and will be able to recall them from anywhere and use them for their own further training. The days when in-house talent had to "beg" for additional training are over. Agencies must ensure that continuing education becomes an integral part of the corporate culture. This includes leveraging knowledge from within the agency and transferring it to all interested parties in the form of internal academies.
Every agency will assume responsibility for its employees. This naturally includes mental health. If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it is that mental balance and the active exchange of information about the needs and wishes of our talents is an important indicator of the success of our companies. We create moments when employees can come together, in breakfast or lunch dates, agency quizzes, team events. Regularity is important here. It is part of the culture's self-image that we facilitate an open exchange between our team members, also and especially for those who feel lonely in the home office but cannot come to the offices regularly because of their family situation. Digital formats that enable exchanges with a psychologist, for example, or yoga and meditation offers at regular intervals, help to improve the mood and climate and at the same time also strengthen individual employees for stressful times.
The discussions about our climate will accompany us more intensively and increasingly over the next decades. Therefore, it is up to all of us to act as role models. We must make our agencies climate-neutral, ensure that we set a good example and, for example, only offer vegetarian meals in the canteens or at events. Domestic flights have been mostly eliminated, and car trips are made via "shared providers" of electric cars. Public transportation is 100 percent promoted by us as agency heads, and we also use rail and public transportation where possible. We can make the world a better place even in small steps. We just all need to get going.
So what does the future look like? What is certain is that technology will continue to play an important role in people's lives, that the meaning and value of brands will continue to change, and that agencies will need to focus on expertise to be successful. Everything that can be digitized, will be digitized.
You can't always predict the future, but you can prepare for it and actively shape it.