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Uncertainty and unpredictability, constants in the agency world

In my role at Relative Insight, I am lucky enough to speak to people working for agencies on a weekly basis, whether they’re big or small and ranging from every different sector there is.

Ever since I integrated myself into the agency world six years ago, one thing that has always excited and impressed me is their constant ability to adapt to how the current climate is moving, but when coronavirus suddenly struck everything – albeit temporarily, ground to a halt.

Mass-disruption caused by covid was now the new reality, and brands and businesses needed to adapt their strategies and reprioritise their efforts – but the question remained, what did this mean for those agencies supporting them?

“Uncertainty” and “unpredictability” were two words I kept hearing, and I think that’s a pretty good way to sum up the agency mood.

There was one particular conversation I had at the start of the first lockdown that has always stuck in my head, and it was all about how by acknowledging a negative situation, you can work out how to turn it into a positive. Yes, agencies lost work and clients, but the majority of brands also lost customers and business, so really a lot of people were in the same boat.

This got me thinking about the different things that my clients, and potential clients were doing to both help themselves, but also the brands they service.

And this is what I know:

People’s behaviour changes all the time:

More than ever before, people are consuming vast amounts of online content as they couldn’t physically go out. The massive uplift in online shopping for groceries and clothes was one thing, but the internet now had to fill the empty space left by closed cinemas, empty sports venues and no bars or restaurants.

This was a huge opportunity for brands in all of these spaces to reach consumers in a way that they’ve never had the chance to before.

People need help in a crisis:

Agencies are in a unique position where they need to deal with many different types of consumers, audiences and demographics. The diverse range of knowledge that agency professionals need to have in different situations gave them an amazing opportunity to showcase themselves as thought leaders to help their clients in a brand-new way.

Repositioning is a new opportunity for everyone:

With big behavioural change, there is always the constant challenge of having to keep up with it. Of course, successful agencies must make sure that their clients stay in touch with their audience and are always able to resonate with them, but this is only half the story. It is crucial that any agency must make it priority to stay up-to-date with their client’s needs, and to make sure that their toolkit can provide new methodologies, new ways of thinking and cutting-edge technology.

The last point is one I want to focus on a bit more. Whether I’m speaking to a 1,000+ person agency or a one-man (or woman) band, they always say one thing – and that’s wanting to build on the service they currently deliver for their clients.

Coronavirus, awful in so many ways has been an amazing opportunity for the industry to take a step back, assess how they work and what they deliver, and ultimately make change where needed. This could be minor tweak, or a fundamental business change.

As the world changes, we know that most business decisions need to be backed up by data. The availability of quant data is amazing, especially when it comes to investment vs ROI, but when it comes to qualitative data, I think a lot of people forget how much insight can be drawn out of organic flowing conversation.

Conversational data can range from in-depth interviews, whether that’s from transcripts or open-end survey results, all the way through to forums and reviews. Just think how much is done online now; I was just reading how the number of people buying their every-day groceries, and clothes, and luxury items has sky-rocketed and far exceeded expectation.

All of this online buying has led to a dramatic increase in online dialogue, which is great – but is also very time consuming to actually make any use of. As we come out of lockdown, and physical spaces start to reopen, we must be aware that the shift many people have made to online will remain.

People who are used to getting their supermarket shop delivered might have no inclination to go back in-store, consumers happy with receiving DIY restaurant kits might not feel the need to go out to eat, and live-streamed events might negate the need for anyone to ever use a portaloo again. One thing we know for sure is that there will be a massive resurgence of online community.

Putting this into practice:

Let’s take a topic area, such as beauty – where there has been a massive boom in online sales over the last 12 months. If we were to look at conversations about beauty from multiple sources such as forums, review sites and Twitter we’ll see dialogue is unstructured and organic, and there’s going to be so much great insight there that you won’t get from social listening alone.

The nature of how English is used as a language is such that half of everything that is said is composed of the same 170 words, and these are all those building block words such as ‘if’, ’and’, ’but’ and ‘the’. Because of this, any bodies of text are destined to have much in common and lots of analysis only shows you volume and mentions – and this is why using comparison as a methodology is so cool. Comparison enables you to strip out all the ‘ifs‘ and ‘buts‘ to help focus on the key differences and similarities which means you will uncover often surprising insights, from a particular conversation or data source.

Imagine being able to run a campaign which from start-to-finish delivers both scientific based insights, but also organic consumer conversation backed action. Well, this is what I’ve witnessed some agencies do. Augment all of this amazing resource available to us and utilise it in a quick, professional and strategic manor.

I feel lucky to work with so many great agencies, and I look forward to seeing what happens as the world changes once again.