WARC Future of Strategy report highlights growth in CX and strategic services

WARC has released the results of its annual worldwide survey of senior strategists, distilling their opinions on the changing role of strategy within a shifting marketing landscape. The Future of Strategy report, now in its third year, is based on a survey of 800 senior strategists from around the world.

The 2019 edition finds that customer experience (CX) is dominating the marketing agenda. Almost half of the strategists surveyed are doing more work on CX for clients this year, and for a quarter, work for direct-to-to-consumer (DTC) brands has increased. Respondents see this as an exciting opportunity as the strategist role and craft skills evolve to shape brand experiences and brand truths.

“If experience is the new high ground for brands, experience strategists are the new brand guardians,” said Tom Morton, US chief strategy officer at R/GA.

The growth in CX is driving demand for the strategic services of consultancies, which have used their tech and data heritage to position themselves as experience experts. One outcome of increased competition is that strategists are becoming untethered from their traditional place within agencies, with more career options to choose from. Whilst 40 per cent of strategists surveyed say their team has grown over the past year, 63 per cent do not think their next role will be with an agency.

The movement of strategists away from agencies may be exacerbated by the perception that strategy is being undervalued in agencies. Though most strategists 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. Strategists see their value in working on upstream business problems and drawing insights from data. However, the reality is that they spend their time juggling both upstream and downstream work.

“Short-term-orientated planning approaches and an overtly executional focus in many of the regions marketing communities make it difficult for strategists to prove their worth,” said Andreas Krasser, CEO, DDB Group Hong Kong.
Strategists were almost unanimous (92 per cent) in the feeling that they would do a better job if they had more access to client data. 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. 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.

Summing up, Amy Rodgers, managing editor, research & rankings at WARC said: “WARCs Future of Strategy 2019 report 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.”

A free sample of the report is available to download here.