As part of the Future of Strategy 2022 report, Agathe Guerrier – Global Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA\Worldwide – spoke to WARC’s Anna Hamill about the comeback of strategy generalists, brand experience and how marketing in the metaverse can be successful.

When it comes to skills and expertise required by you and your team on a daily basis, what have been the biggest changes over the last few years?

The skill set is forever expanding. In terms of changes, there’s probably two main things.

I think the first one is that I’m really seeing a comeback of generalists. What our clients are really asking us now is for simplification and integration. I’m personally finding that it’s more important to have people who have quite a broad skill set and are able to connect the dots and understand the role that each piece plays, without necessarily being able to go into a huge level of depth into the actual specialisms. I.e., people who can sit at the center to really understand and orchestrate the strategy holistically.

In terms of new skills, what we’re seeing is that there’s a little bit of a rounding out of strategy. I think there was a really big focus on performance and precision marketing in the second half of the 2010s, from 2015 to 2020. I think we’re coming back from that a little bit. It remains important but increasingly I want people who can understand channels – for example, websites on mobile or commerce – and how the permanent real estate of the brand interacts with the ideas that we’ve developed.

Do you think that brands are moving toward more of that 24/7 presence on a touchpoint, as opposed to an advertising layered approach?

Yes. I think we’re all realizing that brands are built primarily through the experience of the product or service and the relationship. Advertising obviously still has a role to play in driving attention to these products and experiences. I think it has a big role to play in defending price premium and reducing the price elasticity of demand. But I think a lot of the most crucial marketing jobs to be done are performed by brand experience.

How are those changes affecting you and what your team does?

I feel like, if anything, it’s a recommitment to brand ideas. The idea that we should be thinking about platforms rather than campaigns is not new. Increasingly the imperative is figuring out how the brand lives on a daily basis at this moment in time.

What do you see as the biggest trends coming down the pipeline that you’re going to need to understand and adapt to?

The industry has had a really big focus on purpose, and I think consumers are starting to see through it a little bit and demand a more genuine commitment to corporate social responsibility – something that’s a little bit more than just advertising.

Brand experience is a big trend. I think what we’re starting to see as well is the need to marry the creative logic and the CX logic. Until now we’ve functioned as very different worlds, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

The creative agency people tend to understand the need for brand differentiation and distinctiveness and things like that. But then they can sometimes forget about the audience and usability and behavior. Then you have a CX world that’s really focused on user data, user testing, usability, functionality, etc. But that can also be quite undifferentiated, because at the end of the day, everyone’s looking at the same data points to make the same decision.

The challenge is how do we marry these two logics. How do we create creative solutions that are both rooted in what customers need, and also rooted in a better understanding of user journeys, but also informed by the brand? And what makes it unique?

What about the metaverse and Web3.0? Are you starting to see more demand from clients for ideas around that?

We’re at a stage where the metaverse is an idea rather than a reality for many. But yes, if you unpack what the metaverse actually means, we are seeing more and more projects, and clients are coming to us for a point of view on how they should show up. And we are coming to our clients with points of view on opportunities within Web3.

We’ve got a project kicking off with McDonald’s to launch a few pilots in the metaverse space and we’re also doing a metaverse project with Nissan.

I think you have to start from the business needs and the brand needs rather than just the technology and the platform. You just need to break it down, because metaverse as a word can be a mix of scary and confusing and vague… you need to drill down into what the brand stands for and what we are trying to achieve for the brand.

How do you expect external issues such as sustainability, DEI and the cost-of-living crisis to impact your work in the next year?

I think it will have a huge impact. The cost of living, inflation and potential recession is going to have a big impact on people’s purchase decisions.

The difference between the amount of people who tell you sustainability is the thing they care about the most, and then the number of people who based their purchase decision on sustainability has a difference of something like 79% to 5%. I think sustainability and DEI are going to continue to be important topics, but I don’t know how we close that action gap. I think a lot is going to need to happen in society at large. And obviously, things like inflation and cost of living are pushing in the other direction, right? Because suddenly, people are having to make trade-offs and sacrifices.

More broadly, do you think those kinds of social and cultural changes are going be things that you’re asked by clients to make a difference?

Yeah, I think it’s going to continue to be the case. The challenge for us is to figure out a way to close that contradiction… when you look at Gen Z, they’re very contradictory as a generation, which maybe is just highlighting the fact that generations don’t really mean anything. For example, Gen Z is really anti fast fashion, but then gets clothes from SHEIN. So there’s a paradox, and this kind of paradox happens along a lot of verticals and behaviors.

We’re most successful when we manage to give solutions to consumers and solve that dilemma for them, because we can all relate to the tension between contradictory needs and wants. Brands that manage to create solutions which tick all the boxes are the ones that are going to win, but usually that kind of comes back to the product, service or experience itself, rather than necessarily the communication.

What steps are you taking to develop your team’s capabilities for these things that you see coming down the line?

A big priority for me going into next year is going to be in terms of ecosystem orchestration. such as what data solutions can we develop in this space to be better at really understanding once you’ve [developed a] central brand platform and brand idea, where does it need to go? Like, where are the experience points where we can really make a difference?

Because disruption is so important to us at TBWA, we’re always thinking about where the disruptive opportunities are. But if you think about your relationship with a brand and the various experience moments you might have with that brand, you don’t want to disrupt every single one of them because that would be probably very annoying for the consumer. So it’s about being judicious around where we follow the rules versus where do can disrupt and create something that’s maybe more memorable. I’m trying to figure out if there is a way we can arm our people with data to make those decisions.

How has your relationship with creative teams and clients changed over time?

My account management friends are not going to like me saying this but I feel that, increasingly, clients want to be able to have strategic and creative conversations that are not mediated by account management. Account management remains important, obviously, but the people that the clients most want to hear from and spend time with are the lead strategist and the lead creative together. That’s definitely something I’m observing.

There’s now an expectation that strategy is almost a core partner to the senior client rather than account management, which I think is good. I’m really driving for that as well, because I want strategists to be completely up to date on our clients and businesses, and be able to anticipate needs and problems before they arise.

I don’t think the pandemic has helped in cementing the creative-strategy relationship. Sometimes the most efficient way to do something is to not talk to anyone about it so you don’t get feedback… I think that’s a bit of a challenge. It’s interesting to see that creatives are really craving being back in the office and strategists are not, that’s telling us something about maybe a lack of connective tissue there. I think it’s brought [strategists] closer to clients. Somehow, we’ve been more at the coalface with clients and maybe less involved in the creative process. That’s a challenge.

In terms of technological, immediate transformation, what changes do you see as having the biggest impact on the role of strategists?

I think what’s happening with platforms is interesting, if you think about TikTok and Instagram, really investing into their commerce capabilities. That’s an interesting phenomenon, too, for all of us, because for the last at least 40 years, everyone’s been really focused on the funnel.

[More recently], people have been questioning the funnel but also – at the same time – everyone is still using the funnel. Most comms plans are still thinking in terms of interests, consideration, conversion, etc. I think what’s happening with media and technology is really collapsing all of the customer journey, in terms of creating experiences where there’s really no sense of the phasing of the funnel. It’s all happening within one platform, within one click, within one moment. It’s going to challenge us to really think about how we design those experiences, how we think about journeys, how we think about where media needs to live, and that kind of stuff.