Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, the show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency strategy. On today’s show, our guests dive into the future of strategy. They discuss the global study by WARC that breaks down the four key trends that are emerging for strategists in 2020. Join Adam Pierno, author, podcaster, and director of strategy for Arizona State University; Cathy Taylor, the managing editor for WARC in New York City; and of course John Roberts, the chief of strategy at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York, as they break down these trends and what it all means for small agency planners. Pull up a chair and listen in.
Josh Coon: All right, so Cathy, why don’t I start with you? Because one of the things that we’re going to use for a little bit of structure in this discussion is a report that’s put out by WARC, which is the organization that you work for, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about that. But you recently put out a report in August called The Future of Strategy, and it’s a fantastic report. There’s a lot of depth to it. We’re obviously not going to be able to go into all the details that are inside it, but we want to use it as a little bit of structure to talk about how strategy and planning are changing. But could you tell us a little bit about the report in terms of how was it compiled, when did it start? Can you give us a little history on the report?
Cathy Taylor: Yeah. It started as a report about three years ago when we were having a lot of informal conversations with strategists about where the discipline was heading. And also we hosted a debate in Cannes I think since 2014 called The Future of Strategy. So we decided it would help if we really turned this into an official report. So at this point what we do is a big survey with I believe 800 strategists globally about how they feel about their roles, what they feel their place is in the industry, and where the discipline of strategy is heading. So, you know, strategists have always been a key audience for us, and so it’s kind of important for us to make sure that we’re in deep touch with them and that we really have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on with strategy.
Josh Coon: Excellent. And Adam and John, have you guys used this report before? Starting with John, where did you discover it and how have you been able to apply it to your work?
John Roberts: Yes, Josh Coon. And to be honest, I use WARC quite a lot. It’s a great font of knowledge to just kick off the strategic process and also to learn from others. But I think it was instant for me when I think about a report such as The Future of Strategy, is it allows me to think about … Learn from others, as Cathy said. 800 is an enormous base. And even though I’m thinking about it from the small agency perspective, I think there’s a really interesting overlap between what strategists worldwide are thinking and feeling about the future and what it means for us within a small agency. So I tend to use it as a learning point both for inquisitive, I’m learning something new, but also affirmative, some of the conversations and topics that we’re talking about here within my company are relevant to the future.
Adam Pierno: Yeah. I use it in the same way. I mean, the trend reports and WARC overall I’ve used as more for big picture planning for my team and to understand what kind of training is necessary, what’s out there, what kind of research and what kind of work has been done in the space to help everybody do their jobs better, or even understand sometimes what the job is and how it’s changing. Because sometimes when you’re in it, it can be very, very hard to know that we’ve waded over to this other area and didn’t realize that the entire industry has done that, or somehow we’ve gotten really far field and now we’re doing something that’s way outside of our supposed role, and have to figure out how we get back over to the line we’re supposed to be on.
Josh Coon: One of the things I want to do is dig in a little bit on the report itself. So there’s four major themes that are covered. The first is kind of the rise of customer experience. The second is the desire for strategists to leave agency life and go client side. The third is the lack of clarity undermining the value of strategy. And then the fourth is despite all the data that’s out there, and there is more data now than there’s ever been in the history of humanity, there’s still a human touch needed. So we’re going to kind of break each one of those points down and talk about it a little bit as a group. So on the rise of customer experience, Cathy, can you tell us a little bit about … Give us some more detail on what the report’s saying around this major theme.
Cathy Taylor: Well, it’s interesting, because I was looking at an earlier report and customer experience didn’t really come up and now it’s becoming more central. There are a couple of themes here. One is that the rise of direct to consumer brands is leading to a need to create greater customer experiences, because obviously most of that experience is not only digital but obviously it’s direct. So you’re getting beyond the actual brand that you might hold into your hand to how you kind of manage the relationship that the customer has with that brand, and that all goes back to customer experience.
Cathy Taylor: Another point that comes out in some of the research is that customer experience can be sort of vanilla and generic across a lot of brands because we know there are those baseline things that customers want to have be easy, like making a one click transaction. So it becomes partly the role of the strategist to really discover how that customer experience can also be unique to an individual brand, so that we’re not just creating a bunch of very similar experiences where the brand kind of loses the place where it becomes something distinguishing.
Adam Pierno: That’s right. Yeah. We’ve seen out in the world, too, that the closer we get to those one click experiences in the the past decade of removing friction from everything, that it leads to people forgetting. They don’t remember what brand they did it, they don’t remember a password, they don’t remember anything about that distinguishes one from the other, and so the original Torchbearers for removing friction and that side of the experience maybe didn’t consider or just in their quest for conversions, they led the entire brand side pulled towards this efficiency which actually hurts the brand. There needs to be some appropriate level of friction to make people pause and remember, “Oh, I’m actually buying on Amazon which has a one click experience, versus some other brand that has a similar experience and delivers the same products.”
John Roberts: That’s interesting, Adam. So you talk about the role of friction in the experience to remind people. That’s almost like a positive aspect to friction, right?
Adam Pierno: Yeah. There has to be some trigger or some cue that the brand can own. It’s the reason you put mnemonics in TV spots, is because they can all look pretty similar. If the age old … And I’m sure, John, you’ve heard this a million times when you’re presenting storyboards, the client says, “Well, what if someone’s leaves the room and they’re just listening from the other room? What are they going to hear?” And you go, “Well, Jesus, it’s a TV ad. We have to trust that they’re going to see it.” But that’s why there’s mnemonics that we put on. That’s why Netflix has its signature sound. There’s some kind of, maybe that’s not friction, but it is some other cue that reminds you who you’re interacting with. It’s one brand versus a different brand.
Cathy Taylor: Well, it’s interesting, because as I was talking about about the need to make the consumer experience sort of special to you while at the same time taking into account all these factors that make the user experience easier, I was sort of hard pressed beyond the usual suspects like Amazon to say to myself, “Well, who is really doing this well?” And I wondered if you had any thoughts on brands that are outside of the usual suspects that really do manage to communicate their brand while at the same time kind of delivering on that baseline experience?
Adam Pierno: That’s a good question. I guess I would think about airlines and the way that they’ve all moved to mobile passes, and some of them handle it a little bit more gracefully than others. So when you’re getting on a Southwest flight, they don’t really care what type of thing you wave under the light as long as they get the sound they need and they’ll let you board the plane. But it seems like the carriers like American and Delta have figured out a way to get you to pause as you’re boarding the plane and elevate that moment. I’d have to think. Yeah, you stumped me there, because we always do default to the Apples and Netflixes and Amazons of the world, that are the big ones, that are the touchstones.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah. I wasn’t trying to stop anybody.
Adam Pierno: No, no, no-
Cathy Taylor: But it’s interesting.
John Roberts: You know, it is a great question, Cathy. I think one of the things that comes back to me is you were talking earlier about DTC, and certainly the base of in this report about the customer experience. So when I think about the direct consumer brands, okay. We all know about Dollar Shave Club and so on. But I think a lot of brands now are starting to think about what’s my interaction in the experience, not just with the product itself but when the product is delivered? So the unboxing for example, which isn’t just an Apple ism but it’s true to everybody.
John Roberts: There’s certainly conversations we’ve had with a couple of our clients here about how do we build out a broader experience over and above the consumption of product, and for me, when I was looking at this report and thinking about other things we’re looking at learning from that [inaudible 00:09:43] of customer experience, I think what was really interesting for strategists, for us all, is that simplistically we used to think about this as, “I have a personal vendetta against the the old funnel, because it implies that we’re done when we drop out the bottom of the funnel with the purchase.” So we tend to think about, for example, the McKinsey journey where you think about the continuous ongoing customer journey from initial consideration, act of evaluation, purchase and post purchase. But what’s really interesting for this when I think about this experience is it isn’t just about using the journey for communication, but also thinking about what’s the role of the brand and how do I connect the brand through an experience?
John Roberts: Some experiences, as we all know, okay, we always used to focus on the supermarket shelf. Okay? Or the retailer shelf. And now it’s actually … You know, Adam, your points are great, one of the airlines and thinking about the connection I have through my mobile cellphone. How do I connect, not just with my ticket, but what experience are you having with my airline that actually helps your journey through? It’s cool.
Josh Coon: Yeah. Cathy, one of the brands that immediately popped into my mind when you mentioned that was a brand like Stitch Fix where they have such a curated shopping experience for their user, all the way through to the way that you get the box and you open the box, and the handwritten letters or notes that might come inside, is another really great example of a newer brand that I think is really putting a lot of effort and energy into that customer experience to keep the customer retention there.
Cathy Taylor: Right. And also with brands like that, and Amazon, if they didn’t pioneer this, they certainly made it something brands had to pay attention to, was just make it easy to return whatever you need to return, because that actually is a real central pain point for a lot of people. So you see that with some of the newer brands like Stitch Fix, that that’s just part of the proposition.
Josh Coon: Yep. And one question for everybody before we move on for customer experience is, John mentioned it a little bit and I think you alluded to it as well, Cathy, is that the experience is now broader than the actual experience with the product, correct? We’re talking about the entire ecosystem of, and I’ll use a brand like Vans as an example, where they create so much content that surrounds their products that they’re building a user experience that’s outside of what would traditionally have been thought of as kind of a customer experience. I don’t know if that makes sense the way I said it, but has it grown past the product itself and the store shelf and become more?
Adam Pierno: Yeah. We’re doing some research on that right now as part of a collaborative that we’re in to see where people draw the lines in their lives of what’s in and what’s out as an experience. What do they consider? We’re comparing branded experiences against everyday experiences, so what mode people are in. Are they in work mode, family mode, shopping consumer mode, and then how do they consider those things? Because if Nike is traditionally doing huge immersive television ads or amazing long form videos, why wouldn’t I consider that an experience if it gets an emotional reaction out of me that leads to memory when I’m looking for my next pair of sneakers? So we’re trying to figure out how to draw those lines and identify where someone like Vans, what used to be viewed as pure consumption or media or just kind of an expenditure, an exchange for eyeballs and attention. What does that mean in terms of the brand experience overall and how does that change your feeling of the product?
John Roberts: And Adam, that’s got to be really interesting when you think about your current life as in state of, it isn’t just about the bricks and mortar of the academic establishment, but it’s about creating an experience for students before they arrive and then once they’re there.
Adam Pierno: 100%, yeah. And so the teams that are working on student recruiting and are working on the student, there’s a different team that works on the student experience here while they’re here on campus or while they’re online students. That’s actually a third team. We are all very coordinated to partner up and say, “Oh, this worked. Something like adding some success coaches for our online students has led to this uptick in student retention and keeping them enrolled, keeping them engaged, keeping their performance up. So how can we apply that to other areas? What does that mean for alumni, which is really my charge? How can we improve the experience based on what’s working with another constituent group?” It’s huge to watch the big machine roll and see how we all share ideas.
John Roberts: And it’s interesting for me, Adam, just building on that because fundamentally it’s really interesting for strategists because it gives us something new, okay? To build curiosity into and to learn from about how do we apply it in experience. But we’re also seeing this from a small agency perspective when we work with our clients, is it isn’t just about a dollar media budget of an execution of a communication campaign. So I think by default, what’s really interesting for me, is many of our clients now are … We don’t necessarily call it out as a customer experience, but it’s definitely the work that we do with our clients. How do we build out that customer experience over and above a paid media communication component?
John Roberts: We have a biotech client for example, and what we’re doing now is we’re building out understanding. How do we deliver the ongoing experience, not once they’ve gone … Or, once their customers in the pharmaceutical field have bought their product, their testing product? How do we actually now start to build in a longer term relationship of when do they need information? When do they need inspiration? What form is that content? Where do they go? What’s the experience that they have with people on an individual level, the experts within the company, as well as actually with the information itself? So it’s a really interesting challenge, thinking about that, which kind of to me starts to get into that second point in the trend of the strategists wanting to leave agency life.
Josh Coon: So point two is that strategists want to go to agency life. And Adam, I know you’re going to have some great insight to this, but Cathy, tell our listeners a little bit about what the report says about theme number two.
Cathy Taylor: Theme number two is really interesting, and it was really about how many strategists think they’re going to leave the agency business for their next gig, and it was 63%. Really high percentage. And it wasn’t just going to clients, it was going also to consulting companies like Deloitte, Accenture, who we all know are getting more involved in the agency business. When I looked at this statistic, it was sort of this really old school sentiment that came to mind, which is that I think throughout the history of the agency business, there has always been a perception that may be going to the client’s side, or in this this case, also the consultancy side was sort of moving up the food chain and getting closer to the business.
Cathy Taylor: I guess it really depends on how a client or a consultancy or an agency, how they manage their relationships as to whether that’s true, but it always seems that the agencies at times get sort of low on the totem pole and the brand certainly, and now to a certain extent the consultancy might be higher up the totem pole. I don’t know whether that’s true or not. I think it’s a perception now. You also have to realize that it could also be financial, which is not addressed in the report, but there’s also always the perception that you get paid more if you go to the client side. I guess that’s a perfect time to hand it off to Adam and ask why did he go to the dark side.
Adam Pierno: Yeah. So as part of this show, we’ll be posting my W2’s for the last 10 years.
Josh Coon: Yeah, exactly.
Adam Pierno: I think it’s only fair.
Cathy Taylor: Right, right. Thank you Adam.
John Roberts: You did it for the money, Adam.
Adam Pierno: Well, you know, it’s funny. I’ve worked on the creative side as well, and I always felt on the creative side it was looked at as a down move to the client side from the agency for some reason. That was the perception. But on the strategy side, you’re right. Especially looking back at some older trend reports where you could see strategists saying, “My influence in the agency is relatively higher than it is with clients,” and so I gleaned from that that people feel like they may be able to make more of an impact on a business by going to the client side, which is part of what drove me to the client side.
Adam Pierno: I’m more of doing pure play strategy now than I was when I was a CSO at an agency, because there … It’s just a hole that was here that that they didn’t have a position to do, and when they wrote the job description that I saw, I said, “This is the match. This is the thing.” But I’m creating personas. I am thinking about this. This constituency and what moves them, what motivates them, and how we can get them to engage. And I’m blessed that all we’re measuring is brand affinity. I’m not held to any kind of donation or fundraising goals.
Cathy Taylor: That sort of loops back to one thing that we’ve seen across reports, which is frustration with working on short term projects as opposed to long term vision on the agency side.
John Roberts: Yeah, great point, Cathy. And it’s interesting to me that that was kind of my thought in the segway between strategists now being able to be more involved, Adam, as you were talking about, with the customer experience. In some ways it’s very liberating, right? Because it means that we’re not being tied to the execution of a specific campaign or short term activation. That was what was interesting for me, the notion of liberation for the strategies leaving agency life, okay? Client side, as we heard from Adam and as Cathy said, also consulting, means that they’re not tied to a tactic or an activation period.
John Roberts: I thought what was really interesting, Cathy, and I was recently at StratFest and discussions with small agency in Nepali is small agency strategists see greater opportunity for doing more than just a campaign. So there’s really interesting connection to me when I looked at this, the future trends of yes, you can actually definitely get more of the broader, more holistic customer experience by going client side, but how does he think you can get it from a small agency? Building relationship with clients, where you’re there to solve their problems, not to just execute a campaign. That’s my pitch for small agency strategists.
Adam Pierno: Oh, no. And John, that’s 100% true. The smaller the agency, the more hats you’re wearing, the more roles that you’re serving, the more people on the client side of the organization you’re introduced to because you don’t have that vertical structure where there’s an experienced strategy team and a UX strategy team. For a lot of small agencies, if you’re the person in the planner seat, you’re doing all those things or at least helping with all those things. So if you’re at a small agency, you’re getting a lot of experience. Which is amazing on the output, but sometimes it’s daunting when that assignment hits your desk or your inbox and you realize like, “I don’t know what the hell that is. I don’t know how to do that. Now I’m going to have to go into a Google rabbit hole to figure out how to do it.”
John Roberts: You’re so right. But also what I’ve learned is the client doesn’t know how to do either, you know? So they’re not looking, they’re not-
Adam Pierno: True. That’s very true.
John Roberts: They’re not looking for a silver bullet. They’re looking for a partner to help figure it out.
Adam Pierno: Yeah. A lot of times they just need a partner to help ask the questions or go do a little bit of incidental research, bring them case studies that say, “Oh look, someone else had a similar problem. Here’s how they solved it.” Or, “We’ve done something like this for another client.” That may not be a pitch deck for the solution, but it may be the thing that triggers an idea, or that client may say, “Oh, okay, let’s go talk to the product team. Let’s go talk to this team.” In your biotech case, it’s like, “Let’s go talk to the science team behind this and figure out how we can un tap this information that the audience seems to be interested in.”
Josh Coon: Perfect. So let’s look at theme number three, which is the lack of clarity undermines strategy value. Cathy, walk us through this a little bit and unpack it for the audience.
Cathy Taylor: So this is kind of an interesting one. It talks a lot about how the movement of strategists away from agencies may be exacerbated by the perception that strategy is being undervalued in agencies. Part of this actually gets into raw compensation, in that we found that a lot of the strategists feel like they are a sort of value add as opposed to being a discipline that gets billed the way creatives do and account people do. And again, it gets back into what we were just talking about too, that there’s a perception that focusing on upstream business problems and solving those is more what strategists kind of view is their sweet spot than working on these short term project based initiatives.
John Roberts: Cathy, I think it’s really interesting when I looked at this report and how you just summed it up. It’s very smart thinking about … it is a really common problem across agencies, and very true small agencies, of the demonstration of the value of strategy. It’s interesting to me because I’m blessed to be in a company where strategy is foundational to what we do, so we don’t have those kinds of angst discussions internally of being able to prove our value.
John Roberts: That said, I think what was really interesting for this for me when I looked at this lack of clarity undermining strategy’s value is, I actually read into it at another level which was, this is a fundamental issue for strategy full stop. It’s not just a trend for the future, demonstrating the value of a trend for future, but the lack of clarity in strategy is a definite hindrance to proving the value of it. What I mean by that is I fail at one of the biggest challenges we planners, strategists all have, is how do we be smart, but really, really simple? How do we facilitate a very, very clear strategy and informed opinion how to win, but in a very simple manner so we strip bare anything that doesn’t matter to really focus on what does>
Adam Pierno: Yeah. I think that’s critical importance when you’re trying to get to what a problem, how to build a plan to solve the problem. Lack of clarity to me where it impacts strategists and planners is really the poor defining of the problem itself. So I’ve had this sticky note that has been on tacked to my wall for, I don’t know, maybe 10 years that says, “What is the real problem we’re trying to solve?” Because the client, your coworker, your colleague, the creative director may come and say, “Well, we have this problem.” There’s usually a root problem if you ask the six why’s, and if you keep going deeper and deeper and deeper, you’re going to get to what is the real problem that needs to be addressed to fix all of these other symptoms?
Adam Pierno: Sometimes it’s put forth in the first sentence. “Hey, this is what we’re trying to do.” But sometimes if a brand comes to you and says, “Hey, we want to increase sales,” I think we all know that, “Well, okay, we can’t do that with a TV spot. I can’t create one thing that is going to magically do that. There’s probably some underlying business challenges that are driving that. What else? What else can we do on top of meeting your creative needs?”
Cathy Taylor: Well, do you think also with strategy, and this is probably an age old problem, is if you’re the creative person you create this somewhat tangible thing. Whether it’s a TV commercial, or you design this beautiful website, or you create an experience, whatever it is. If you’re a media person, you might be responsible for that strategy that is expressed in obviously where you place the advertising. So strategy becomes a little bit of morphous in that context, and is that an issue? And if so, how do you solve for that to make the role of the strategist perceived as more concrete, like some of these other disciplines are?
Adam Pierno: Yeah. I’ve heard this discussed as as artifacts. What are the artifacts of our work? What are the documents that we leave behind? And then for planners, it’s the self doubt of, “Is this document enough to make me feel like I’ve made a contribution?” When I go home and I tell my kids I make decks for a living, they don’t understand. But that’s essentially my work output, is a series of slideshows that have a collection of data and insights and ideas in them. But that’s it. So you know, that can get into a person’s psyche for sure, and you don’t have a demo reel or a website full of amazing creative things. So it’s important that the strategy people know how to link the insights they did to the outputs. Whether that’s business results or whether that’s creative or whether that’s just improved performance or understanding, I think that’s really important on how that gets communicated back to the planner from the teams looking at results.
John Roberts: Adam, I absolutely agree. And Cathy, it’s a really good point because I think there’s … That leads to some of this natural anxiety that planners have, which is twofold in my mind. One is because strategy is really easy until you have to do it. So everyone has an opinion on what strategy can be, but the strategist is responsible for pulling together everyone’s opinions and informing and actually driving a genuine point of difference to get to something which is really clear and distinctive in a deck.
Josh Coon: Right, right.
John Roberts: In a brief, you know?
Josh Coon: It’s still down in a very clear way, right?
John Roberts: Absolutely. I think … And yeah, the funny thing is, for me, as wonderful as that is, it’s also kind of unfulfilling because you still don’t know if it’s right until you see the work. And then actually you still don’t know if the work’s right until you see the results. So it can be a long, long time coming before you can pat yourself on the back and say, “That was right.”
Josh Coon: And sometimes John, the work can be right. The work can be great. It can be right, it could be a good brief, the client can love it and it could still not deliver the result for whatever reason it gets out in the world. It just doesn’t move people in the right way. So it can be a really tricky space to be in, and feel like you know that you’ve done your job or not.
John Roberts: So for all you strategists that listen to this now, you can start nodding and going, “Great. I’m not the only one that feels crazy.”
Josh Coon: I hope. Yeah. I hope people recognize that, hear that and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been thinking that too.”
Cathy Taylor: Right. And then there’s also the issue of the serendipity that is kind of that alchemy between what the strategist does and what the creative person does. I would wonder that if at times finding the connection between those two things is a little funny, because there’s all of the data and all that kind of thing, and at some point a leap takes place a lot of the times that is really hard to kind of pin down in concrete terms, but you know it’s right
John Roberts: You’re right. And in fact, that’s a leap both in terms of how the creative process takes the strategy and turns it into some magical form of storytelling, but it’s also a great segway into that fourth trend for me.
Josh Coon: Right. So we want to make sure we cover the fourth theme. So despite all the data strategists have, there still needs to be a human touch. Cathy, can you explain this to the audience, please?
Cathy Taylor: Well, what we see with this is the problem of being almost too deep into data and meetings, and dare I say it, decks, and not really being able to go out and observe consumers in their natural habitat, so to speak. Or even just to be out there talking to people you see on the street, or maybe in the store if it’s a retail client or what have you. So there’s a need to spend some time in the real world, which seems really obvious and it is obvious, but nonetheless, and we all know that this is true of our lives, we tend to get farther and farther away from the subjects that we would like to reach out to or target because we’re spending so much time looking internally at data dashboards and what have you.
Josh Coon: One of the things John has long been a big advocate of is the way emotion leads to action in connecting with people. So I want to throw this to you, John. How did this resonate for you?
John Roberts: To be honest, I think it’s a fundamental part of any great strategy, is how do we add in, as it says in your report, that human touch? Because I’m not a neurologist, but neurology will tell you that system one thinking, Daniel Kahneman system one thinking. We make our decisions on an emotional criteria first and foremost, be it intuition or be it feeling, and then we post rationalize.
John Roberts: There’s a psychologist, Clotaire Rapaille, that talks about, “Reason is an intellectual alibi,” and I love throwing that on a slide because it really starts to shift the role of data and the role of that human element that Cathy was talking about and ensure that we get the right perspective. The most important thing, I think, in any of the work we do as strategists, that really provides an opportunity for us to be more successful for the brands we serve, the clients we serve, is how do we ensure that there’s a human element in the work that we do? There’s a reason why, as you were talking about Adam earlier on, and that why is always driven by a human qualitative insight or understanding, not by a data point.
Adam Pierno: Oh, yeah. And that’s why I still, even though data has become a a God for a lot of marketing, and really it’s hard to get anything sold through without data to support it, I still love qual. Whether it’s focus groups or whether it’s online panels or online communities that you can run, hearing people in their own words rationalize why they do what they do … I don’t ask them to predict what they would do, because people have no effing idea what they would do. But having them explain why they make the choices they make and watching them come full circle and sometimes seeing in their eyes that they realize they, “I don’t really know why I do this.”
Adam Pierno: But they still give you clues that tell how they’re explaining it to themselves, and that can really inform the work, or that can answer questions that you have or maybe questions that you haven’t even put forth yet about the problems you’re trying to solve. Then go get the quant, then you’ll know what you’re asking about, then you’ll know what you’re looking for and all that. All those numbers and all those decimal points. Because otherwise … Sometimes having this wealth of data that we have here at ASU is amazing, but if you don’t really know what you’re trying to solve for, you’re just swimming around in a pool of numbers sometimes.
Josh Coon: So it’s been fantastic to hear the insights from all of you about this future of strategy, future of planning. Let’s pretend there’s two or three more. What do you guys see? And I’m going to ask each of you in turn to kind of give me one trend that you think isn’t represented but maybe should be, if this was the top six instead of the top four. So Adam, I’m going to start with you.
Adam Pierno: I’ve been pretty amazed as I’m talking to planners about how much they really do. I know purpose is a buzzword, and it’s been a buzzword that’s been beaten up a little bit recently. I’ve been pretty amazed by how much strategists, and really people across industry, want to build something bigger. So as I’ve interviewed people, as I’ve just talked to people in passing and across conversations on social media, that they do crave … It kind of aligns with that first trend where, or the second trend, where people want to go client side. I think part of the reason they want to go client side is because they feel that they may have a singular goal to be working towards, and purpose dovetails into that.
Adam Pierno: We all are seeing, from whatever perspective you’re looking, there’s things that could be fixed out in the world, and if there’s a way to use your skills and your talents to fix some of those things or address some of those things, it is moving people. I think companies that actually have it baked into their real DNA are going to pull people in, really talented people who want to solve problems and not just sell more widgets.
Josh Coon: Cathy, how about you?
Cathy Taylor: Well, it just so happens that I’m working on a report that has to do a lot with that. So it’s quite top of mind with me. I guess what I’m really going to do is more elaborate on Adam’s point than anything else, and that’s really to do with not just the fact that brands are looking for bigger meaning and the consumers want them to have bigger meanings. That’s a really important point. We are no longer in that place where you can do a one off a campaign or adopt a cause for three months and then drop it.
Cathy Taylor: So when I look towards that sort of upstream thing that planners want to be part of, what I see is sort of the embracing a really long term commitments towards a purpose. That’s something that is super big picture. A lot of it does have to do with environmental concerns, but that is really where this all seems to be going. There’s really no sign right now that it’s a fad. It’s really about brands embracing much bigger issues than they ever have before. Not because it’s great for the brands to some extent, but also because it really is what consumers are expecting now.
John Roberts: So for me, just adding quickly to that, because I think both Adam and Cathy have really great expression on that role of purpose. I think it’s true, by the way, for agencies as well. So for agencies to ask themselves, “What’s our purpose? What drives us at truth so we fundamentally believe in a higher purpose around noble ambition? How do we fulfill our client needs as well as our own on achieving more?” Because ultimately that’s what ambition is, and you never get anywhere without some ambition. But with a nobility to it of understanding that we will have a role to play, a bigger role to play, than purely self. It’s not about being self serving. It’s not about purely for the brand’s own commercial benefit as well, Cathy, as you and Adam, you were both talking about.
John Roberts: If I had an extra trend … it’s interesting when I was looking at this. I would think more about one of creative disruption, and I mean that from a strategic perspective, less about the creative execution, although of course that matters. But my world of strategy would be, I believe that it becomes even more important today in there’s many more channels. There’s way more content, there’s way more needs people have. There’s way more confusion, as we talked about client side as well. So how do we as strategists apply creativity in what we do and be disruptive? The most successful strategies are ones that create the opportunity for more success, not minimize risk. And that’s a Harvard Business Review study over the years has shown that. And I think that would be my trend and my challenge as well for us strategists, would be let’s build on creative disruption in everything we do.
Josh Coon: Cathy, could you tell everybody where they can find this report and a little bit about WARC?
Cathy Taylor: Well, the best way to find this report is to subscribe to WARC. We want to provide a lot of value to our subscribers. So we are behind a paywall for the most part, but you can check out the site a bit without doing that. But I’d urge people to do so. It’s a really valuable resource. I come from a background from the advertising trade magazines, Adweek, Ad Age, et cetera, and they’re wonderful. But what’s wonderful about WARC is that it provides something really different and that it’s a deep dive into virtually any marketing topic that you might want to know more about. So it’s a really wonderful service, and people should definitely check it out and see what’s available to them when they have a real need to solve a problem, which is pretty much what this industry’s about.
Josh Coon: Thanks everybody for joining us. This was such a great episode. The WARC report on the future of strategy is such a great tool, and we highly recommend checking it out. Just to recap the themes we covered. The rise of customer experiences creating new opportunities: most strategists want to leave agency life and go client side. The lack of clarity in strategy is undermining value. And then despite all of the data that we have, which is more data than we’ve ever had, human touch is still really, really important. And then on top of that, our panel threw in a couple of extras that were really valuable. So get the report, check out WARC, follow Adam on all of his channels, check out his podcast Strategy Inside Everything, and join us again next week for Planner Parlay.
Speaker 1: Planner Parlay, a Truth Collective production.