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It’s fair to say this year’s been a rollercoaster; for individuals, businesses and governments. As entire nations went into lockdown, brands have seen demand collapse, or surge. Others had to flex around both drops and surges across their range. For businesses in the first scenario, demand didn’t always disappear, but delayed and accumulated. When lockdowns eased, that pent-up demand was suddenly released. But if shutting down was painful, reopening to meet such surges is equally challenging – yet in the current struggle for survival, launching products and campaigns fast enough is a must.

And as cases rise in some regions for a second time, with local lockdowns once again on the table, the uncertainty around economic conditions looks to continue. Brands must find a way to operate around these unpredictable cycles of demand and marketing communications requirements, for many months to come.

Ups, downs and bottlenecks

Even before Covid-19, there’s been a trend to reduce the number of agencies on brands’ books, as a form of cost reduction. The downside is that agencies tended to become siloed, performing a smaller range of specialist tasks on a campaign, before handing the assets back to the client, to be passed on to another specialist for the next task. These handoffs frequently become bottlenecks. Often there isn’t a clear set of standards and objectives for each part of the process (this is creative after all) and so assets are passed onto the next part of the workflow incomplete or not to the required specifications, causing delays and reworks. Fast and agile, it isn’t.

The impact on a product launch can be huge and costly. For most brands and agencies involved in new product launches, the problem is compounded by the competitive nature of their markets, leading to faster launch cycles and more secrecy in the process. For creative production, this means shorter, higher spikes, and longer dead periods. When there’s a new launch, the volume and speed of content creation and adaptation is massive. After launch, volumes drop dramatically, until next time. Repeat. During the furious peak, the specialist agency model struggles to cope with volumes so, often, many more people are added to the process, and more hours are charged to the brand owner. Brand management and design quality can suffer, with little to no  data being captured, to reduce waste or increase speed on the next project.

Enough to make you dizzy

With the current pandemic, and its pent-up demand for new products and launches, this problem is exacerbated. The macroeconomic outlook means that brands must seize and maximise launch opportunities ahead of and above their competitors. Bigger, louder, slicker, faster - more efficiently. There’s also a tricky new requirement; much more localised messaging and content to comply with existing as well as new waves and regulations. Marketing requirements are dependent on the current health and economic conditions, local not just to different countries but to different regions or individual cities within them, all of which is creating a headache for global brands.

Better, faster

Brands that have bucked the trend for hiring specialist agencies and moved to a more “horizontal” agency approach, where one agency has genuine expertise across a wider range of services are well placed to succeed in this new VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. They offer a more holistic programme management approach - from concept design to consistent execution and through to secure remote file delivery - creating time and cost efficiencies, accelerating innovation, and taking much of the heavy lifting off brand teams.

As a senior director at one of the world’s largest brands said to us recently “[innovation] couldn’t have been deployed in the same accelerated way and would have cost a lot more”. For them, successful adoption of the horizontal model has included implementation of integrated tools with intelligent automation to replace the more routine tasks within the creative process, precise specification management and asset cataloguing. This approach creates brands agility, enabling continuous improvement and reducing the demands on teams from high speed launched in the face of regional fragmentation - supporting rapid cycles of marketing, with design quality and brand consistency both maintained.

As one of our global clients executing this strategy have said: “What we’re finding is the model is enabling much better collaboration across the different (internal) business groups, which is driving significant savings. We saved over $4m on one product line’s activity as a result.”

Ask yourself: can any brand afford not to work at maximum quality and speed, and minimum cost right now?

Sarah Craig, regional vice-president Europe, Spark