Strategic continuity is key in an “Agency Next” world. Is your distribution partner up to the task?
After a year of unparalleled disruption and innovation, the dust has more or less settled. And with it, traditional ways of doing business and reaching audiences have gone out the window. Of course, this sea change was underway long before COVID-19. As my colleague Chris Davies discussed, audiences are savvy; they expect more value than traditional advertising—and, by extension, traditional ad agencies—can provide.
In this “Agency Next” landscape, you need a paid distribution partner who is more than just executional; you need one who is embedded in your content strategy from the start. And ideally, one with a thorough understanding of how to lead with value-based content, not with ads.
A paid campaign that might have worked in 2019 isn’t going to produce the results you want in 2021. If you’re not prioritizing strategic continuity and putting your audience first, you’re simply not going to produce the results you need. Here’s how to ensure the old ways of advertising aren’t stopping you from reaching new customers.
Don’t let a media-led approach lead you astray
Too often, decisions are made based on the media that’s been purchased; media planners pay for specific touchpoints, typically many months in advance, and must fit in their campaign accordingly.
This can lead brands the wrong way. Many times, it’s simply too myopic: media planners purchase certain slots and consider specific paid channels because it’s what they’ve bought previously, or because of pre-existing relationships with platforms and channels. They have assumptions about where they can get the most visibility—but visibility is only part of the equation. It’s one thing to get in front of eyeballs, it’s another to spur meaningful interactions with your would-be consumers by providing them with something of value.
Not to mention that this approach to paid campaigns ignores the most important part of the equation: your audience. If media planning takes priority over your audiences’ needs and preferred touchpoints, you’ll be stuck trying to awkwardly retrofit your message to a channel in a way that may not convert.
Agency Next is not about media; it’s about knowing your customer, knowing where they are, and above all knowing how to deliver the value they’re after.
Prioritize strategic continuity—and the efficiency that comes with it
Brands may be tempted to work with a number of specialists—and inclined to turn to different agencies for producing content and distributing it. But I’d caution against this approach. More often than not, compartmentalizing your creative and paid strategies leaves room for important nuances to be misinterpreted between the two, especially if your paid partner is not an expert in content.
To echo Chris again, this “baton-passing” leaves too much room for fumbles and dilutes both meaning and accountability with each pass. This is a huge missed opportunity and begs the old, “if a tree falls in the forest…” quandary. If you have a great campaign, but haven’t integrated it with your distribution strategy—or if your content is trapped behind ad blockers—will it actually produce the results you’re after?
Without strategic continuity across content and distribution campaigns, your audience will have a disjointed experience, especially if your content and paid partners have different ideas about where your media should live. Instead, brands should be pushing for holistic strategies that put content, media planning, and execution under one program. Forget having a “media strategy” and a “creative strategy”—these should be forged in tandem so that you’re producing content specific to the channels and audiences you’ll be getting in front of, and closely monitoring the campaign performance throughout.
Brands may also be tempted to hire massive network agencies, believing that they’ll serve as this point of continuity. And while it’s true that integrated agencies can handle more of the marketing lifecycle, it’s important to realize where they fall short. Their approach can be so hyperfocused on paid media that they forget that consumers don’t distinguish between owned, earned, and paid channels—and that insights from all of these sources can help to inform a cohesive campaign that resonates with customers wherever they are. If they’re overlooking your organic performance alongside how your ads are performing, they’re missing chances to draw correlations that will strengthen your approach and arm you with better holistic insights for your future campaigns.
Critically, these larger agencies are often ill-equipped to optimize campaigns—they’re either an executional partner who doesn’t understand content or a creative partner who doesn’t understand paid tactics—meaning they miss out on chances to connect the dots between valuable audience data and the content before a campaign comes to a close.
That’s where smaller, more innovative shops can really shine: they’re set up to immediately assess and act on your campaign performance in real time. When content and distribution teams work collaboratively, they’re able to accelerate the feedback loop between campaign insights and creative output. And this speed can make all the difference for your campaigns, allowing you to make necessary adjustments on the fly and immediately start producing the content that your audience wants more of.
The best-performing strategies will set you up for this continuity and agility—making sure you’re actioning data as it comes in, not saving it for your next campaign.
Shift the way you approach campaign longevity
Speaking of your next campaign, it’s time to assess how we understand duration. A medium-length campaign can last anywhere from a few weeks to a full quarter—but almost all campaigns will have a finite duration with a set start and stop date. This is all well and good when it comes to running a set of ad units against a quarterly brief, but it means that when your campaign goes offline, your content usually goes with it.
Typical campaigns may require that you produce (and pay for) a number of net-new assets, as ads typically date very quickly. But this is an investment that not every business can afford to make—nor should they have to. Those with sophisticated content marketing programs likely already have strong pieces of evergreen content that can be integrated or repurposed for their campaigns; a good partner will help you identify these upfront.
When you’re creating data-driven, high-quality content that’s engineered to perform, there’s no reason why it can’t keep converting audiences long after the “end date” of your campaign—and over a long period of time, the aggregate traffic that this evergreen content accrues will be far more valuable to you than a transient creative campaign.
Working with a content and distribution partner who can identify opportunities to get maximum results out of minimum content will help ensure you’re not wasting money creating new assets with a limited shelf life. That budget could be better allocated toward strategically getting in front of new customers with content that will serve your brand in the long run.
Especially in a landscape where brand and performance marketing are converging, investing in content that will continue producing organic results long after the taps are shut off is an intelligent way to extend your campaign reach as long as possible.
Find a partner who understands content
Working with a partner who can serve as a point of continuity between your content and distribution campaigns can be the difference between an effective campaign that provides value to your audience and one that falls flat.
Remember: your audience doesn’t distinguish between owned, earned, and paid channels, and neither should your campaign execution. Putting content and media under one roof ensures all of your channels can work seamlessly together to drive the best possible results. Customers are savvy, and expect valuable content that angles into their needs no matter where they’re interacting with your brand. Content is designed to deliver that value—and your paid distribution strategy needs to account for that.
At Quietly, I help all companies—from startups to Fortune 500 brands—rethink their approach to paid. If you’re interested in learning more about what this could look like in the context of your brand’s environment, get in touch.
Image: Nikola Johnny Mirkovic/Unsplash