Marketers in-housing more digital work due to COVID-19

More clients looked inward for online marketing this year than any other in the past decade, finds a new Ipsos report.

The pendulum continues to swing: a quarter of the Canadian marketing community feels the COVID-19 pandemic has “fundamentally changed” the way they approach their digital marketing. As a result, more brand marketers have reduced the amount of work they outsource to media and creative agencies, reversing a trend that started to move in the opposite direction last year.

As a result of circumstances brought on by the pandemic, more clients are in-housing capabilities in 2020 than any other year in the past decade.

That’s according to the annual Digital Marketing Pulse Survey, released last week and conducted by Ipsos Canada in partnership with the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and strategy magazine. Now in its fourteenth year, the survey saw CMA members and strategy subscribers participate between July 21 and Aug. 13. The report also includes findings of a secondary online survey conducted among Canadian consumers between July 31 and Aug. 10.

Marketers’ reliance on their agencies has fluctuated over the past several years. Last year, for instance, marketers returned to being more dependent on their partners after a few consecutive years of bringing digital activities in-house.

This year, however, only 28% relied more heavily on their agencies (down from 50% last year), while 25% reined in the scope of their agency relationships. The shift occurred as advertising budgets grew tighter under the weight of COVID-19, leading many to bring certain tactics in-house or to deploy hybrid models in which marketers handle a portion of the work internally. Media and creative agencies were similarly impacted; clients’ reliance on them grew by 23% and 24%, respectively, and decreased by the same percentage in both cases.

Topping the list of tactics marketers brought in-house were email marketing (66%), websites (63%) and social media marketing (52%); handling these and other tactics internally are viewed as helping reduce costs and shorten turnaround times, the research finds. Meanwhile, clients’ primary reason for outsourcing capabilities was to gain access to expertise across a range of tactics, from SEO and social media marketing to content marketing and AR.

“Qualitatively, there is the argument that agencies are being used more for higher level, strategic thinking than tactics and execution,” the report notes.

Presenting the findings during an online CMA webinar last week, Steve Levy, chief client officer at Ipsos Canada, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a “massive impact on marketing, and even more so the agency world.” In particular, he said, the crisis has accelerated the shift in marketing budgets, with the industry putting a much greater emphasis on the short-term.

Overall, 31% of brand marketers decided to go dark for a period during COVID-19, and the same percentage shifted their focus from traditional to digital advertising. During the pandemic, nearly half of respondents increased their use of websites (49%), social media marketing (49%) and email marketing (43%); meanwhile, 31% and 23% of respondents reduced their use of digital signage and influencer marketing, making the tactics the most negatively impacted.

On the consumer side, the survey also considered attitudes towards several aspects of digital marketing. Despite privacy and security concerns, most Canadians have not changed their social media habits in recent months. While there were “directional declines,” such as fewer consumers joining or liking a campaign and fewer people sharing product information on social channels, Levy said this trend was “more likely an expression that the younger cohorts are increasingly savvy in their use of social.”