Strategy continues to change as the discipline looks to new areas such as customer experience while battling competition from non-agency shops, WARC's Future of Strategy Report 2019 finds.

Now in its third year, the report is based on a survey of 800 senior strategists from around the world, which feeds into an in-depth, wide-ranging study of the challenges and opportunities of the discipline.

Explaining the results of the report, Amy Rodgers, Managing Editor, Research & Rankings, WARC, noted how it reveals a discipline that is changing.

“We see an increased focus on customer experience, growing competition from non-agency shops, and the continuing battle to sell and price its value.

“And whilst the influence of strategists has increased, the role needs clarity in both function and value if it is to thrive.”

Four key trends stood out:

New opportunities in CX

The growing importance of customer experience in the marketing agenda has impacted both the strategist’s role and craft. “If experience is the new high ground for brands, experience strategists are the new brand guardians,” says Tom Morton, US Chief Strategy Officer, R/GA.

Almost half of respondents are doing more experience strategy work for clients this year, while a quarter of the sample says work for direct-to-consumer brands has increased notably.

Yet attitudes are mixed. While some respondents welcomed the changes as a liberation of strategy, others noted the increased competition in this particular area.

Most strategists want to leave agency life

As CX rises up the marketing agenda, expertise in this area is also driving demand for non-agency strategic services in the shape of consultancies, which have used their tech and data heritage to position themselves as experience experts.

For strategists themselves, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Agencies’ strategic capabilities are becoming untethered from their traditional position in the organisation, creating more career options to choose from.

While 40% of strategists surveyed say their team has grown over the past year, 63% do not think their next role will be with an agency.

Lack of clarity undermines strategy’s value

Strategists’ untethering from traditional agencies may be exacerbated by a perception that the discipline is undervalued. Though most believe their influence is growing internally, selling the value of strategic services to clients is a challenge in an environment of budget cuts and a lack of understanding around the role.

For most strategists, the value they provide comes from working on upstream business problems and drawing insights from data. However, in reality, many spend their time juggling both upstream and downstream work.

Working downstream adds a barrier to demonstrating the discipline’s true worth. Commenting on the value of strategy in Asia, Andreas Krasser, CEO, DDB Group Hong Kong notes that “short-term oriented planning approaches and an overtly executional focus in many of the region’s marketing communities make it difficult for strategists to prove their worth.”

Despite all the data, strategists need the human touch

In the age of ‘big data’, the disciplines of strategy and analytics are increasingly merging as strategists are being asked to make use of the wealth of first-party data that brands now own. Though strategists were almost unanimous (92%) in the feeling that they would do a better job if they had more access to client data.

However, data alone will lead to predictable, unexciting advertising. Strategists need to retain the link to ‘real life’ and use their understanding of consumers and culture to drive creativity.

“There is a widespread assumption that data equals insight and strategic direction. But in the context of creativity, data is useless without imagination,” notes Emily Rule, Strategy Director, BBH London.

WARC subscribers can read the full report here.

Non-subscribers can access a sample here.

Sourced from WARC