Picture: Christian Wiedige/Unsplash
Picture: Christian Wiedige/Unsplash

Being agile and expecting the unexpected has taken on new meaning in 2021, which is why the first Future of Media online discussion for 2021 focused on the topic “Predicting the Unpredictable”.

After a year like 2020, it’s difficult to predict anything confidently. Yet it’s crucial for the industry to stay ahead of the game and to gain new insights to prepare, however possible, for the future.

Thanks to our digital conference series partners, Vodacom, EziAds, Primedia Outdoor, The MediaShop, TILT, FM Redzone and The Media Online, the Future of Media series is on track to provide insights to the industry.

Helping guide the conversation at the discussion was Siya Sangweni. He got straight into it by asking Sub-Saharan Africa specialist lead at Google Lorraine Landon how 2020 has changed consumer demands and how she thinks brands should prepare for 2021.

Landon approached it from a Google analytics perspective, saying that since people have been stuck at home, she’s seen a lot of change in inspiration, a lot more consideration when purchasing goods and, interestingly enough, extensive concentration on the delivery mode, with key words like “promo code” and “buying local” popping up frequently. “In 2021 brands should focus on the demand to be dynamic, and consumers are especially looking at brands to respond before they do.”

Adding to this, Nando’s general manager of brand and strategy Justine Cullinan said: “In order to try to predict what to do this year, you can’t be married to your plans; you need to be agile. Once you make peace with that, you will start having fun with your plan adaptions and see more opportunities arise. Just remember that progress is far better than perfection.”

Directing the conversation at the media owner representative, Arena Holdings head of advertising sales and trade marketing Eben Gewers, Siya asked about agility in the workplace. Gewers said: “Last year we were forced to take our five-year plan and condense it into one. The key is to be adaptable and to accept the fact that mistakes are inevitable. As long as you don’t have a rigid mindset and have community-based thinking at the forefront of your plans, you will make things work. I firmly believe that companies will be far better off after this whole thing blows over because of a shift in mindset.”

So what are the standouts of the next normal that marketers should concentrate on to earn long-term brand equity and to ensure that agility and adaptability are more than fashionable buzzwords?

Cullinan said she likes to think of brand equity as a reservoir: “In order for the stream to keep flowing, the reservoir needs to be full, or it needs to keep being topped up. It’s important to invest in this continually, to remind consumers why they are buying from you.” She explained that in her opinion, the equity investment is about the “why” – why customers want to buy from us and what they can obtain from us. She urged brands to build their ethical muscles rather than their technical processes and went on to say that hearing and listening are different. “Hearing is collecting data, listening is understanding what to do with that data. So brands really need to focus on what people want and interpret their needs to build products or services around what will fulfill brand purpose.”

VMLY&R senior strategic planner Natalie Katz deals with multiple agencies, brands and marketing requests daily, and gave a few suggestions about what tools and tactics can make change faster, simpler and more positive. She started by addressing useful tactics, saying: “Tapping into social listening is really important for keeping your finger on the pulse. Knowing what your audience is going through and giving them what they want will make your outcomes relevant and authentic. From a tools perspective, it would really depend on the way you are working.” For her, inter-agency working is very important, but so is remembering to stay in your lane. Analytics and monitoring are also important, as well as the integration of your findings with actions. “Lastly, without proper internal team communication, your entire plan or campaign will most likely fall flat. So scrum, scrum, scrum!”

The year 2021 seems to be more about questions than about answers. The opportunity lies in collaborating, learning and forging a view of fast-paced changes in an increasingly fragmented media and economic landscape, both locally and globally. As Katz explained inter-agency workings as a good tool for change, Gewers also said: “Everything has changed for all organisations, from brands, to agencies and media owners. Look within your own organisation to see who has the skills to deliver what needs to be done. Thereafter, look externally to see who you can lean on. This may involve letting go of ego and working together for the greater good of the overall campaign.”

When Sangweni asked the panellists for their final closing statements a few of the following insight were reiterated:

1) “Whether you’re in the front line or the back end of an organisation, Covid-19 has most certainly forced ALL industries to reset and refocus.” (Sangweni)

2) “We need to be aware that 2020 was a crisis and that we are now going through the natural depression [associated with] a crisis. Understanding your consumers is important, but having the courage to reset is also.” (Cullinan)

3) “Communication and meaningfulness is rooted in the need for authenticity. Just remember to ask yourself: ‘What is really meaningful for a brand to leverage, as opposed to what is popular?’” (Landon)

4) “Focus on the insights consumers are giving you; tapping into meaningful conversations is a good investment; and the best social currency comes from creating meaningful and sharable content.” (Katz)

5) “There is a huge desire to go back to the way things used to be, but we have to accept that business has changed and we should look at the opportunities that speak to where we are at the moment.” (Gewers)

To watch the full discussion, click here

The next online event, “Alternative digital revenue models for the SA media industry”, will be taking place on March 17 2021 at 10h00. For more information, or to register, click here

The big take-out:

In order to try and predict what to do this year, brands cannot be married to their plans; they need to be agile.

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