2020: Setting a vision for the year ahead

"In 2020, we can't afford to have blurry vision or squint through change."

Vision is one of those words that have become ubiquitous in business culture and beyond. For CMOs and agencies alike, there’s never been more pressure to set a vision that includes growth, accountability, and disruptive thinking. From questions around automation to the need to staff for a data-driven world, we have to adjust our focus next year. It’s no longer enough to create branding for branding’s sake because there are too many factors at play that make this an unprecedented time of change. 

Here are some ways to check your eyesight (and hindsight) in 2020:

Get the balance right

As someone with roots in direct response, I know the importance of balancing a brand’s essence and also driving action, aka consumer response. According to a recent report from Forrester, "Growth has been a leading marketing priority for CMOs three years in a row. For most, the results haven’t been there, and every agency is feeling the existential pressure of that reality." All of the iconic Super Bowl spots or viral memes don’t mean a thing unless they lead to action and, of course, growth. 

Hunt and gather

We are still in a hunting and gathering phase when it comes to understanding how consumers interact with different platforms and across various screens. As content continues to take center stage, we need to get smarter around the platforms and devices we gear brand messaging and experiences towards. In 2020, CMOs will be held accountable for understanding results in real-time, and with so many media opportunities available, it’s never been more challenging.

Be nimble, be quick

If you’re in the ad biz, chances are you’re well-acquainted with the term "scrappy." Being scrappy is how agencies are managing to make more for less, and stretch dollars across multi-channels to create content that is cost-effective and fast to market. And the agencies that excel at this are the smaller, typically independent agencies. Indies understand how to think like entrepreneurs, make like-makers, and move faster. 

So how do holding companies fit into this new pirate ship vs. the luxury yacht model? When you are a behemoth, it’s very difficult to quickly pivot to what the market dictates and what consumers demand. During this time of rapid seismic change, look for all of us to think of ways to involve fewer people with a focus on working smarter.

Embrace disruption

What do Tesla, Amazon, 23andMe, and Netflix all have in common? They’re disruptors. At a time when the speed of change is outpacing how quickly we can anticipate it, going with the tide of disruption is crucial to hyper-effective marketing. Look to 2020 to continue to challenge those who want to conduct business as usual. 

Celebrate "Indie"-pendence Day

Agency folks know that the old AOR model is going the way of the dinosaur. And many brands are staffing in-house. But mega brands like General Mills are choosing independent agencies instead of big shops for specialized project work, and even to manage their individual brands. In 2020, we’re going to continue to see the rise of the mid-sized agency, think 200-250 people. An agency of that size is small enough to scrap, but large enough to stick and move between essence, insights, and action. 

So, finally, some key takeaways for the coming year:

Keep your balance. Adjust your lenses for both short-term and long-term growth.

Know your customer. Understand the new "prosumer" like never before -- know where they live/work/play, so you can be authentic on how you reach and engage them.

Scrap it up. Take risks and move quickly to stay one step ahead.

Shake it up. Go boldly where others haven’t, and take note of your favorite disruptor brands for cues.

Find middle ground. Look for mid-sized, nimble, integrated agencies to be just the right size when it comes to speed and infrastructure.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the August 2019 CMO Survey asked U.S. marketing leaders: "How much time do you spend managing the present versus preparing for the future of marketing in your company?" Overall, 341 leaders responded by reporting they spend 68.5% of their time "managing the present," and only 31.5% of their time "preparing for the future." 

In 2020, we can’t afford to have blurry vision or squint through change. The modern agencies, the ones that will flourish in the year to come, will make sure that their vision stays sharp and decidedly future-focused. 

Carl Fremont is the CEO of Quigley-Simpson, a full-service advertising agency specializing in data-driven creative content and media strategy. 

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