Indonesian marketers say boutique agencies more adaptive amidst COVID-19

Companies have scrambled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Many turned to eCommerce and pushed harder with their digital transformation plans. During Marketing Interactive’s recent Content 360 conference, Smartfren Telecom’s chief brand officer Robert Saputra (pictured right) said it is crucial for marketers to find creative solutions during this period, due to restrictions such as temporary closures of production houses and the prohibition of filming. That said, he explained that agencies are not ready to cope with the sudden change and adapt accordingly.

“The agencies were not ready. This is about pushing the organisation towards the common agenda. It’s about digital transformation, it’s no longer something that you can bargain,” he added. According to him, digital transformation and being quick to adapt is now more important than ever. Saputra explained that agencies need to be more integrated. Instead of focusing solely on digital, for example, they also need to understanding other aspects of the business such as branding.

Surprisingly, the boutique digital agencies in Indonesia run by entrepreneurs were agile and able to adapt well.

"They knew their role had to change and that digital has become important. They know that in terms of production during this time, brands cannot afford expensive productions and they worked around it quickly,” he said. The bigger agencies, on the other hand, are “still running on the old ways of working”, Saptura said, adding that many still focus on sequential creative planning which takes weeks. 

“I have an internal creative team working to create quick content videos so we can quickly capture the opportunity. I think we need to rethink the way we work with agencies,” he said. Nonetheless, Saputra said agencies in general are making an effort to evolve but it takes time for them to adapt as the pace of change amidst the pandemic is too quick.

At the end of the day, Saputra said agencies need to better understand the business context to produce content that drives business impact. “Creativity is not just for creative purposes or winning an award. [Creating content to drive business impact] is much needed especially in this time of crisis,” he explained.

Echoing Saputra’s need to be agile, Indofood Sukses Makmur’s director Axton Salim (pictured left) also echoed the same sentiment, adding that many agencies were also not ready for the changes brought about by the pandemic.

“We were very lucky in a way because we made all our Ramadan ads in advance. We were able to get everything done in two weeks, everything from planning, execution and launching it on digital,” he explained. While marketing theories remain the same, Salim said companies need to rethink how they can use different ways to express their message and directly connect with consumers. Companies need to remain relevant and agile and to this end, production methods need to change.

Citing a recent digital campaign done for Indomie which encourage consumers not to return home for Ramadan, Salim said its agency had to adapt and simplify its production methods by using just a video camera. Besides being simple, brands can also consider leveraging on animation while retaining the same brand messaging as well as look and feel.

For Salim, relationship building is crucial when it comes to client-agency partnerships. Agencies that have worked well on a long-term basis with Indofood do so because they understand the business objective, Salim explained.

It’s not only about creatives, it’s about building the brand and sales together. So agencies need to understand that.

That said, it still takes two to tango and Salim said brand marketers also need to clearly express its needs and wants. Only then will the agency be able to showcase it in their creatives and help the company achieve its business goals. “I think that relationship is very important, especially at this time where everything is very haphazard and uncertain,” Salim added.

Metrics to measure brand success

With consumers unlikely to venture out due to lockdown measures and social distancing rules, brands need to ensure they do not remain out of sight out of mind, making content marketing even more important. Indofood, for example, worked with Indonesian chef Billy on a short video about banana pancakes and he incorporated the company’s condensed milk into the recipe.

When asked how content plays a role in engaging its consumers and ensuring the brand remains relevant, Salim said at the end of the day, different platforms serve different target audiences. According to him, aside from TV and radio, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are the four main platforms used in Indonesia today.

Salim explained that brand messaging and content marketing on Instagram, for example, needs to be more visually appealing. Whereas for YouTube, companies can work with chefs and influencers to create conversations surrounding the brand.

“If you look at Facebook, that’s where you get a little more factual because people do read what is on Facebook. As for TikTok, each person is able to create their own content. How do you use that as a starting point to get consumers to create content for you? The usage is very different compared to Instagram and YouTube,” Salim said, adding that YouTube and Instagram are more curated whereas TikTok focuses mainly on user-generated content.

That said, regardless of the platforms used, Salim said it always needs to generate sales. “Don’t do anything for vanity reasons. If something is going viral, it needs to go back to the objective. What is the message you want? What do you want to get out of the campaign?” Salim said.

Start from the campaign instead of organising it according to which platforms you want to use first.

Three stages towards a new normal

The phrase “new normal” has become a buzzword recently, with marketers trying to predict how society would look like as well as what consumers would want post-pandemic. As the industry navigates through this uncertainty, Saputra said marketers should figure out how to “secure today” by focusing on issues that are occurring at present.

Identify your low hanging fruits and the quick wins for the business to survive and thrive in this crisis. Then you will see a new opportunity opening.

As a telco, Smartfren saw an opportunity in the stay home economy, with consumers going online, streaming shows, and gaming. They are also more active on social media, Saputra said. “You need to be able to capture this trend very quickly, because your previous [content marketing plan] will not work in such a context,” he explained.

To capture such trends, marketers often spend time brushing up on their content strategy and improving production value. Saputra urged marketers to think about the changes. For example, he said, "I believe this is not the era of broadcasting, instead it’s more conversational. You need to understand the consumer pulse almost on a real time basis."

Additionally, this is also a time for brands to think about their brand purpose, especially for local brands since most established brands would already have a brand purpose. “We need to shift the mindset from just selling to providing solutions for consumers and the community,” he explained.

The second stage is about being rebound ready and for Saputra, the new normal means a light-touch economy. Brands now need to understand how their content drives conversion and in order to do so, they need to first understand the user journey and experience. “You need to map your content and bring them to the journey from awareness, engagement, and conversation into a conversion. Without this conversion, your money is only spent on just creating awareness and perception. That’s the big shift in being rebound ready,” he explained.

Another area in the rebound ready stage is for marketers to combine conventional mediums and digital. For example, consumers who stay at home do not only watch TV but are also consume content via digital. Based on this, brands need to create content for different platforms and mix their assets. Moreover, content comes from various sources – brands themselves, social media, influencers, as well as user-generated content. As such, companies should broaden their horizons and work with influencers to create different types of content.

Meanwhile, the last stage is what Saputra deems as “future shaping”, and urges brands to find ways to identify big opportunities post-COVID as well as construct a new business model.

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