What should agencies expect in 2024, and what can they do to prepare? A lot changed all around us. Extreme business pressures have shortened CMO tenure, applied even greater pressure on marketing performance and ROI, shifted focus from long-term success to short-term results, and squeezed and redistributed budgets. The turbulent marketplace has tossed all the proven and reliable rules in the air, stolen brainwidth and bandwidth from marketing practices to address social upheaval, diversity mandates, employee churn, purpose-finding, virus surges, and the list goes on and on.
Someday, and soon I hope, we'll all look back on these past two years and wonder how we ever survived. But survive we did, and now it's time to figure out how we make the next year better. What should we consider when planning our new business strategy for 2024? Where will the opportunity be, and what will we have to do to seize it? Marketers will market. Agencies will agency, or rather support those marketers. And consumers will buy. Even with supply chain issues, driver shortages, chip scarcities, and the great resignation, 2024 is predicted to be a better year. While the road ahead is still challenging, the past two years have taught us how to adapt, pivot, and rethink to adapt to the market needs. No different than how we approach every new year.
For agencies on the leading edge of these changes, you've got this. Make sure you communicate clearly what you do and why you are different throughout all your channels and touchpoints. Be authentic and genuine.
For those who aren't sure what to do, consider these things.
Scrub your prospect List
I'm sure you know that your prospect lists have suffered from layoffs, furloughs, and turnover. I've analyzed several active prospect lists to find around 10% - 15% bounce rates in the last few months. Usually, that number is only 1% - 2%. You've got to spend time verifying, researching, and updating your lists now and in the future, as more turnover is still to come. Now, more than ever, you need the right tools to help. I've used numerous databases and sources, many of which result in more time and effort than they save because the accuracy is low. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering Mary Smith hasn't worked at the reported company for eight months. Yes, that happens too many times with some resources. The two best resources today are Winmo and LinkedIn. You can read more about them here.
Adjust to short-term thinking
Marketers have never felt the pressure like they do now. Their job is on the line. The C-suite is exerting unprecedented demands across the organization because their jobs are on the line, too. Boards are growing impatient. Investors' money is at high risk, and it all comes down to the agency to save the day and their asses. That's why PPC, SEO, and digital are in such demand—short-term results. E-commerce is exploding because of covid fears and because it is the fastest route to immediate sales with measurable real-time accountability.
Agencies that have adopted this mentality will be in a much better position than those that haven't. And agencies that can do so without abandoning brand building and lifetime customer value will win. In every case, agencies must have a mindset of reducing costs while increasing results.
Integration of digital and physical
It's no surprise how many and how fast brands developed e-commerce capabilities over the last year. When retail closed, many brands that were late to the digital revolution were left stranded. Fast forward to today, and you have to wonder if there are any brands left without an e-commerce channel. As the world slowly returns to "normal," brands struggle to fully integrate their customers' experiences across digital and physical engagement. When you consider that one of the top challenges marketers say they face is improving the customer experience, this gap is at the top of their list.
Agencies with solid customer experience expertise and the cases to prove it should make that a central part of their offering and target brands across the spectrum who were/are laggards in e-commerce. As you know, improving customer experience touches on so many aspects of an organization and its marketing. The opportunity here has a significant upside.
Reuniting broken segments
Another casualty of the last two years is the polarization of the country—Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives, minorities vs. majorities, pro-this vs. anti-that. Brands felt obliged to take stands in the maelstrom, embrace a position, and side with their biggest fans, leaving the others alienated. During that time, it was critical to hold on to the best customers while overall sales tanked. Today, those brands have a huge dilemma. To get back to growing, they must get share back from those they lost, from the whole pot otherwise, their growth will stagnate.
Agencies have an opportunity to be the uniter, bringing strategies to reclaim lost consumers while maintaining the bond with current fans. It's a delicate undertaking and likely requires breaking down audiences, then building them back better, to borrow a phrase.
The purpose of Purpose
When Simon Sinek published his seminal book, Start with Why, and brand purpose became part of the marketing lexicon. Before the pandemic, brand purpose was a driving force for brands to focus perception away from profit-making and other bad behaviors toward something more human and compassionate. Some were genuine, while others were a work-in-progress, many were criticized for being hypocritical. The challenge for brands persists today and into the future, as they balance business success with purpose.
Agencies who can legitimately define and articulate a brand's purpose and help steer it along a true path while defending their client's reputation when a crisis hits will be in high demand. A successful brand's purpose is revenue and reputation gold if you can handle it.
Diversity for real
Diversity in the advertising industry has been pushed into the spotlight as agencies scramble to reset their hiring practices and marketing leaders reevaluate their vendors' role in the issue. Agencies of every size are increasingly being held to diversity standards. According to Pile and Company, clients want to know how an agency is committed to DEI internally and through creative execution and media spend. Some want to know if an agency is diversity-owned/certified or has a Supplier Diversity Program. Others want to see the makeup of the agency team. And while specific search criteria will vary by brand, DEI is now a key area of consideration for every client.
Agencies must double down on building a diverse team across all parts of the agency and make sure diversity is reflected in credentials, meetings, and pitches. Clients want agencies that can understand and reach diverse audiences, seeing it as essential to grow and to satisfy the standards they are held to.
The unprecedented events over the last two years have impacted marketers and agencies alike. While brands had to pivot toward digital acceleration, agencies followed. Those on the leading edge gained more business than they could handle, while those less savvy had to scramble to catch up with client needs. Today most agencies have added new capabilities, expertise, and staff to meet these new and increasing requirements. Yet, while reviewing hundreds of agency websites, many haven't updated their capabilities to reflect what the market needs now.
Agencies must also successfully explain and demonstrate their new capabilities and how they are integrated into everything they do otherwise marketers who are looking for a new resource will pass them by. Highlight the added value these capabilities bring and how your agency puts them to good, revenue-generating use in your cases.
Business Development Technology
Technology is rapidly advancing agency business development. But it is only a tool. Traditional BD skills are still critical. Technology does increase performance by automating and speeding up processes for identifying, engaging with, and converting clients. Using technology in the pursuit of new clients has rapidly become an essential skill for BD pros and agencies who embrace these are investing in training and support to make it happen.
Many agencies use technology tools to some extent. Some do it very well, while others struggle to gain advantages. About one quarter don't. Today, digital outreach is the primary means of prospecting and brings all the benefits of data to the prospecting process. Agencies need to be super users of technology, not to replace all new business functions but as tools to enhance and improve their ability to get new clients and steer their agency toward the future.
Don't be a waste of time
Remember, neither agency nor marketer wants to waste time. Your prospects have less time and even less tolerance for wasting time. You have to make the discovery process better, faster, and easier. You must reconsider what is critically important to your prospects right now and what is a waste of their time. A tighter, more benefit-focused approach supported by in and outbound tactics will help make 2024 a better year.
What will marketers be looking for in 2024
Check out the BD Insights section of my website. You’ll find insights into what marketers need and use it to inform your positioning, value proposition, and how you tell your story. Clients are hiring agencies that can solve their new challenges, who have the capabilities and creativity to find or create new ways to engage and attract, to collaborate with their internal team, to navigate the cultural and societal shifts, to understand their business, and lead them into the new frontier. If that agency is yours, 2024 will be a breakthrough year.
If you'd like help positioning your agency for success in the new year, let's talk. There's no better time than now to rethink and reset your business development program. I am always open to discussing your business development challenges. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!