Urging Your Clients To Transform? Look To Your Own Business First

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 24, 2023

Last month on LinkedIn I saw a meme showing two marketing leaders debating whether this was the year of transformation or whether that was last year. It made me chuckle. It reminded me of the seven or eight years we media folk spent asking ourselves whether this was the year of mobile.  

Transformation is endemic in our industry, and with good reason. Disruption is a reality and whether you call it transformation or future-proofing, if you're not fundamentally changing the way you engage with customers you're in trouble – as a brand or an agency.

I’ve spent the past few months in my new role running our global Consultancy Community figuring out how we can best support clients through their transformation. We know that changing the way our clients connect with consumers can unlock exceptional growth, but capitalizing on it needs a really systematic approach. I realized that we’re well placed to do this because as a media agency – especially as a media agency – we’re on the same journey ourselves.



Transformation is a must for agencies as it is for clients, expedited by what we used to call ‘diversified services’ moving rapidly from the periphery to the core of our business. 

Two examples – one tangible and one a bit more existential. Retail Media has grown in five years at the rate it took Search 14 years and Social 11 years to grow. GroupM forecasts that it will hit $121 billion of ad revenue in 2023, $160 billion in 2027.

For most U.S. CPG businesses, it'll be more than half, for some, two thirds of their digital media investment in a few years’ time (for some it’s there now) and is expected to comprise 25% of total digital ad spend in the next three years. The rate of growth may be slowing, but at that scale it will completely alter the way we think about the Consumer Experience Journey, the platforms we trade on, the type of content we create, and the partnerships we should be nurturing with retailers. 

Part of our transformation at Wavemaker is rapidly scaling our Ecommerce specialists to service this growth, but also training our planners, strategists, consultants and client leaders to plan in and across Ecommerce as they would longer-standing channels or routes to market. 

Then there’s ChatGPT. If technology can write A-level English essays in mere minutes and score an A*, what does such advanced AI mean for consumer behavior, for how we make choices and how those choices are influenced by marketing? It's one thing to ask AI to write some ad copy or a podcast, another to grasp how it will fundamentally change Search, the organic and paid media channel critical to digital media, Retail Media and pretty much every consumer journey we optimize for growth.  

For those businesses who've been slow to adapt to these and other disruptions, I am willing to bet there is a ‘transformation brief’ winging its way to their agencies or a reassuringly expensive consultancy firm. 

 But it’s not a one-brief job. The simple truth is that change is hard and it takes time. Many businesses are reliant on known or proven, and often short-term, outcomes, especially from marketing. The turnover at C-suite level inside marketing organizations is short, so many CMOs are not incentivized for long-term change. Even if the will is there, the notion of transformation can seem intimidating, unwieldy, and expensive.  

To lessen the pain, our own hard-won experience has taught us to ask and answer three critical questions before we set forth on a transformation journey with our clients:

1)      In dollar terms, what’s the growth available today by improving what’s already in the plan versus the transformative growth if we adopt a future-proof approach?

2)      What’s the benchmark for excellence in your category?

3)      What’s the roadmap to transformative growth that we can unlock?

Across Data Strategy, Ecommerce, Addressability, Applied Innovation, Tech Consulting, Content & Brand Experience and Analytics, we break down the ambition into a series of steps in a Transformative Growth Roadmap.  

And because our teams are executing the tests, not just advising on their ambition, we are uniquely placed to ensure their success.

The future growth of our clients depends on transformation, and ours does too. So, yes this is the year of Transformation. And it will be next year and the year after.

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