Interview with Sam Gregory, joint CEO, Tangerine Communications

Sam Gregory is joint CEO of Tangerine Communications. She talked to me about how the pandemic has changed the focus of marketing for many brands.

‘A swing in spend from other areas of marketing to social’

It’s been really positive to see the change in clients and their thinking around communication.

Since the pandemic, the brands we work with have put a far greater focus on digital and social channels.

Things changed overnight back in March 2019, so we had to help our clients understand very quickly what was possible. How to develop new communications strategies that made sure that they maintained their share of voice and kept their connection with customers during successive lockdowns and market disruption.

They were able to quickly see the results, whether that was a direct sale, lead generation or engagement, for example.

This has meant that rather than providing a short term fix, investing more in digital and social first communication has become a long term strategy. So, we have seen a more permanent swing in spend from other areas of marketing towards this kind of activity.

‘Clients had to re-learn everything they thought they knew’

Lockdown made clients go back to the beginning – start again and rebuild.

Initially, there was a period of real uncertainty – everything they knew was gone. They had to ask themselves: ‘how do we connect with audiences when all the usual routes are closed?’

And companies had to re-learn everything they thought they knew about their customers’ behaviours. Not just because the channel was different, but because their customers had changed.

They had to stop thinking in conventional marketing terms and start thinking about how to approach customers in a social space, with social media specific content.

‘Clients became less risk-averse – they wanted to try new things’

A big learning opportunity was social listening, which presented a great way to get the information brands needed. Actively looking, observing behaviours, listening to tone of voice and analysing search trends.

There was a short-term need to rethink the objectives and purpose of marketing. This customer insight gave us the direction we needed to develop measurable strategies that would deliver real business benefit.

As an agency, we like to challenge brands, be disruptive, do things differently. The pandemic gave us that opportunity because they suddenly just said ‘let’s just give it a go’. Clients became less risk-averse – they wanted to try new things. We were given the chance to really show the potential of social-first creative content.

‘The best proof of concept you could possibly ask for’

For some time nobody could see past the end of their nose. Clients had short-term ‘crisis mode’ plans. They, and we, needed to constantly re-evaluate and roll with the punches.

It was all about being flexible and agile. Thinking smart and jumping on opportunities, while still thinking strategically. A year on, there’s much more reflectiveness now on what the pandemic has done.

The work that we did in response to the pandemic has now proved itself. It’s been wonderful for us – the best proof of concept we could possibly ask for.

‘They want to know what its purpose is’

Brand personality has changed because of the pandemic. And become so much more important.

Customers connect with a brand as a ‘being’. They want to know what its purpose is. What does it stand for? Do they connect with it? Does it understand them?

As long as the brand is speaking to audiences in an authentic way and what it’s trying to say is meaningful, then it works – it provides that connection.

Expressing it through social doesn’t take anything away from other customer touchpoints, but it does need to be a consistent and shared experience.

And social creates an opportunity to have a deeper connection with customers – on their level.

‘Purpose has been given more airtime because of Covid’

A brand’s purpose is much more important than it ever was. As people are seeking more meaning in life in general.

Purpose has been given more airtime because of Covid. Pre-pandemic there was already a movement in that direction amongst younger people.

Post-pandemic, brand personalities need to be more differentiating, but also more real and meaningful. Brands need to know how to bring that to life authentically using social channels, which is a big challenge because customers are much more savvy than they used to be. It’s a very judgmental world that we’re living in.

‘We are all different people now’

The whole climate change debate has moved on considerably – and the momentum will continue. It’s seen a huge change throughout the pandemic and it’s certainly top of the agenda for many people now.

The issue of sustainability has been something that clients have wanted to talk about for many years. But it’s ramped up considerably over the past 18 months.

It’s partly about understanding how peoples’ lives and behaviours are changing. Their values and beliefs have changed. People have evaluated what matters to them – they’ve reprioritised and reset. They want to spend more time with their family, stay more local, make more sustainable choices.

Brands need to understand how their audiences have changed as a result of the experience we’ve had. Whatever brands thought about their customers pre-Covid – just forget it. Start again. We are all different people now.

‘In a B2B context it’s more complicated’

The biggest change we’ve seen is from B2B clients. The shift in their spend and appetite towards digital and social. The pandemic was a big catalyst – it gave them an opportunity to try things out. To communicate what they do in a completely new and much more engaging way.

Historically, in B2B you were pretty limited with how you could reach audiences both in terms of channels and content. Bringing a brand personality or a complex product offering to life was an incredibly difficult task. But all that changed with digital and social.

All the opportunities open to B2C in the digital and social space are accessible to B2B. It’s about being interesting, authentic and having a purpose. B2B buyers see the type of content they get from consumer brands. They connect with it and enjoy it. So they expect the same from the B2B brands that they do business with.

But in a B2B context it’s more complicated, there are more things to consider. The buying processes can be quite complex – there may be a number of different people involved in a specification or purchase.

So how do we talk to the different people in that process differently? How do we focus on what matters to them? It’s complicated, but completely achievable. Using social and digital is just as relevant for B2B than it is for consumers. It’s just different.

‘We do our best work when we’re together’

As an agency, we do great work when we’re together – there’s no doubt about it. Idea generation should definitely be done collaboratively, in person. As should coaching and helping our young people develop.

I fundamentally believe that people miss out by not being in the office together. Those water cooler moments and chats in the kitchen. When you’re working 100% remotely you just don’t get that. You risk missing opportunities to work with different people, or hearing about different projects.

However, at Tangerine we’ve always had ‘agile working’. Which means that you do what you need to do, when and where you want to do it. And it’s up to you – as long as you’re not letting anybody down and always delivering great work.

We’re employee owned, so everyone has a stake in the business. And our people are smart enough to work out when they need to be in the office – working together collaboratively – and when they can work at home. We’re quite happy to let them make that judgment.

This was sometimes a difficult approach to understand – particularly for people new to the agency. The pandemic has shown everybody that the concept works. That they can live and work in an agile way, while still achieving great things. That’s been good for us as a business.

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