Agencies See More RFPs for Brand Building Amid ‘Recalibration’ of Marketers’ Priorities

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In recent years, marketers were putting more emphasis on performance marketing, proving efficiencies of ad budgets and retooling creative to tout value amid economic uncertainty. More recently though, marketers have shifted focus back to brand building and they’re looking for help with things like brand affinity, brand strategy, brand identity and brand refreshes and redesigns as they plan to invest more in brand channels, according to agency executives and search consultants, who say they’ve seen more requests for proposals seeking partners for brand building over the last few months and even the last year.

That’s not to say that marketers are less interested in performance marketing — they, of course, still want those wins — but it’s more that they’re interested in a more holistic approach now. The marketplace has shifted. The economic uncertainty of recent years isn’t as tense for some, which allows those brands to open the aperture and consider brand needs along with performance marketing. At the same time, the increasingly fragmented digital landscape makes it more difficult for marketers to win online now with solely performance tactics, so they’re thinking about how they can help their brands stand out.

“There is definitely a recalibration going on, especially in what we’re seeing in North America for new business opportunities,” said JJ Schmuckler, global chief growth officer at VML, who added that in previous years there was more of an emphasis on driving performance. While he said performance marketing is not “negated in any way, shape or form” there is an “impetus of client asks starting along the lines of help us refresh, reinvent, create new programs.”
Marketers’ asks vary, but overall there’s a sense from agency execs and search consultants that marketers are seeing the value of brand as a tool more so now and looking to invest in branding to help them in today’s marketplace.
“It’s an intangible asset on the balance sheet,” Ken Robinson, partner at search consultancy Ark Advisors, said of brand efforts, adding that his firm has seen more RFPs focused on brand in the last 18 months than in the last 18 years of his career.
Not all the RFPs prioritizing brand — whatever that means for the marketer behind it — are searching for ad agencies to help them, though. Several of the brand-focused searches Ark Advisors has run have been seeking brand consultancy partners.
The difficulty of standing out in the marketplace is likely a major factor in the recalibration that marketers are making now when it comes to brand.
For pitch consultancy AAR Partners, when it comes to the majority of reviews conducted throughout 2023, “all we ever heard was we need to build brand affinity or brand advocacy or brand love,” noted Lisa Colantuono, president at AAR Partners. This year, “I believe it’s gonna be a combination of brand and demand where the top of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel are gonna collapse in the middle,” Colantuono added.
How that shakes out will depend on the marketer. The recognition of the importance of brand now is clear.
“CMOs are realizing the importance of more long-term thinking and are seeking partners for this,” said Greg Paull, partner at search consultancy R3. “While there has been a continual rise of specialist agencies in social, data and e-commerce, finding a partner who can help delineate the soul of a brand has never been more essential.”
This article originally appeared in Digiday

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