We all have a lot on our minds these days, as businesses face intense headwinds and uncertainty clouds our horizon.
There’s talk of an economic downturn, consumer confidence has dipped, trade wars threaten profits, the CCPA has many in the industry spooked—and that doesn’t even take into account the ongoing challenge to find and keep talent. These are realities we all need to be prepared for, while we’re also primed for the unexpected – as we know, business moves at lightning speeds these days. In a new age of what we’re calling the quantum age of marketing, we need to focus on building stronger, better relationships.
The most concerning issue our industry and all its constituents face today is the decline in trust. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, consumers ranked brand trust as one of the top factors they consider when making a purchase: 81% of respondents said they "must be able to trust the brand to do what is right." We know it is smart business to build a long-term trusting relationship with consumers. In that trusting relationship there’s a partnership built to withstand most challenges. In the same way that brands and marketers establish trusting relationships with their customers, it’s imperative that the same approach is applied to establishing trust with agency partners.
The value of strong partnerships cannot be understated when agencies provide strategic insight and guidance to their clients. This is especially valuable in uncertain times—tighter alignment between brands and their agencies is at its most critical to drive growth and maintain relevancy. Agencies continue to make investments in areas that expand their capabilities and help marketers achieve their goals. It’s all about giving clients and brands an advantage in the most challenging and disrupted marketplace. This is no time for us to have an even shorter term perspective. Marketers are under tremendous pressure to grow, especially those publicly held firms beholden to stockholders. Though it’s tempting to seek immediate boosts to the sales needle or the stock price—which a good agency partner can help with—the value of laying out a multi-year growth plan will reap benefits. The goal of a brand is to drive sustainable, profitable growth, and the goal of the agency is to help brands achieve this. Those goals are attainable when you’re working together in a relationship that’s focused on a long-term journey of growth. .
Take the long-term relationships of Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day, Nike and Wieden + Kennedy or KIA and David&Goliath, as examples of partnerships that have stayed the course. Apple’s relationship with its agency is one of the most storied and celebrated in the history of our industry. Together they challenged conventions, set the bar high for creative excellence, all while maintaining a transformational partnership that contributed to growth--and all during an extremely sensitive power transition from the late visionary founder Steve Jobs to Tim Cook. Building and maintaining trust makes it easier to take risks together. Agencies like W+K are able to push their clients, like Nike or KFC, to take greater risks because there’s a foundation built on trust and the ability to have honest conversations with your partner.
We need to get back to business and to put aside the distractions that take up a lot of our attention and resources.
Cost-driven assignments, while economically sound in the short term, are not going to support a business that’s focused on the future. We have to get back to the essentials - building relationships rooted in growth and impactful ideas that deliver business value. The right agency partner can be good for business - they’re in it for the long term and care about your brand’s aspirations. Growing the bottom line is at the core of business but ensuring that your brand is centered around the lives of your customers is where an agency excels.
The need for an external perspective is important when your brand needs to build trust with an external audience. In exchange, the right agency will reward that trust with honest feedback, stellar creative, data-driven insights and the most efficient and effective media available to drive key business objectives.
Don’t look at your agencies as vendors, see them for what they truly are: your partners. We know that people do their best work when they are trusted and valued. And to succeed and grow amidst the constant change and possibilities, that partnership is more important today than ever.
Marla Kaplowitz is the CEO of the 4A's.