Mitja Tuškej, director of Direct Media agency for the Slovenian market, in an interview for Netokracija talked about strategic planning, the importance of keeping pace with global trends and brands, and consumers’ way of thinking.
What does the future hold? For most of us, this is a desire to survive the end of the year and Christmas campaigns, win the next pitch and renew the contract for the next year. How much do we really think about strategic planning and does our future only matter on paper? I talked about these topics and the state of marketing in the Balkans with Mitja Tuškej, director of Direct Media agency for the Slovenian market.
If I asked my friends and acquaintances who work in marketing where they see themselves in five years time, most of them would wave aside the question and say that they didn’t have the time or patience to think about it as they were occupied with the current campaign or the client who had changed the brief for the third time and returned the proposal for creative design.
A similar problem can be noticed in the entire industry, in the client-agency-media relationship, and we would not be wrong to say that strategic planning or the concern about what the future holds is one of the last items on the major to-do list of many companies and brands.
My friend, Mitja Tuškej, director of Direct Media agency for the Slovenian market, with whom I spoke about strategic planning—the topic he knows a lot about and his field of specialty, as well as the general state of the local and regional advertising, agreed with this statement. But why is it so challenging to predict trends? Mitja begins a conversation by saying that strategic planning is a canker—not just here, but in the world as well.
History cannot predict the future, but it helps us to understand it
Reflecting on auto industry data for the period from 2009 to 2017, Tuškej says that there are fewer and fewer differences between individual brands—to the extent that it is getting harder for us as consumers to perceive differences between them. Nevertheless, some automotive brands are stronger in communication, which is best indicated by the fact that their market share is twice as high as in the previous eight years.
By analyzing the strategy of an individual brand, we find out what the state of our brand is, who its consumers are, how they behave and how they think, how they perceive and understand our brand as well as the competitors’ ones. However, Mitja points out that although these data can be obtained from research, they say little about the future—about trends that will soon be dominant and direction in which the consumer segment i.e. our customers are going:
“Since we live in a world that literally develops day by day, we make strategies based on history. Indeed, many data can be applied in the future as well, but these are again calculated data that are in line with certain rules based on history—and our role is to predict what will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, to find a way to predict a new day.”
Aiming to discuss trends that will mark the future period, Direct Media agency recently hosted renowned speakers from TrendWatching, a leading trend firm, at Direct Media Academy, on which occasion Dave Mattin and Delia Dumitrescu explained where the planet and brands were heading, as well as how consumers think. Mitja remarks that this part is crucial when creating a strategy for a brand and cannot be omitted either in the development of new products or services, or when creating communications.
But how much are domestic companies and brands actually ready to innovate and keep up with the trends? Tuškej says it is true that the Balkan region lags behind developed countries. This is evidenced by almost all official and available data, where probably the most apparent expenditure is media consumption. In the Balkans, especially Serbia, the dominant media is television, while investments in digital communications are far lower than in the world.
“It’s no secret that trends usually set on their global journey in America, and at some point they cross the big pond; in order to reach us, they have to scale the Alps,” he said, pointing out that it generally takes a lot more time for our people to accept the leading trends.
“There is more than one reason for that: from the level of development, socio-economic position of consumers, use of digital communications, to the extremely strong impact of the recession on the state of the economy in some parts of the region. And it is interesting that the recession—if we observe it as a trend—arrived in our part of Europe with a delay, and also left with delays.
However, according to Tuškej, this does not mean that there are no exceptionally innovative and advanced communication strategies and solutions in this region that could not build new trends even at the global level. TrendWatching included as many as ten case studies from Slovenia, 6 from Croatia and 4 from Serbia in its annual report, which speaks volumes about the potential.
How to tackle this, my friend? Let’s go with the flow, my friend
As a professional who built his career in Slovenia, and who is closely cooperating with Serbia, I asked Mitja to draw the parallel between the two markets. What makes us different, and what makes us almost the same?
“Ah, well, you Serbs… you run and we walk. You have tremendous self-confidence; we are, in our essence, quite conservative, withdrawn. You go with the flow, we know how! Jokes aside, the fact is that there are differences between the markets. Trends come first to Slovenia and then go south.”
Mitja sees this as a great advantage for Serbian marketers who, in his words, are extremely lucky because they can anticipate everything that will happen in the years to come—it is enough just to look at the Slovenian market. Tuškej says that there are some diametrically opposite differences specific for each market: in Slovenia, people watch TV, on average, two and a half hours a day, in Serbia, almost five and a half hours. In Slovenia, digital is slowly paving its path towards the older population, but as he adds, it is interesting that progressive and innovative mindset is sometimes more pronounced in Serbia than in Croatia, where conservative thinking is still extremely strong.
Knowing that budgets for digital advertising are higher in Slovenia, we wanted to know how brands look at this data, and whether they are turning more to digital channels than to traditional ones? Mitja says through laughter that every year he estimates that there will be a digital explosion in Slovenia, but it still has not happened—not to the extent he thinks is real. However, the whole market is moving towards digitization of advertising, content communication and integrated campaigns (in digital and traditional channels).
“I believe we are moving towards these principles, although there is still a great number of campaigns that put a television ad at the core of communication and then pull all communications to other channels. The real path definitely has a reverse direction, that is, the one that puts at the core the story of the brand on social networks and then builds the story on other channels.
To be clear, this does not mean that there are no TV ads in communications! The fact is that TV still functions and builds a brand, and it is important to understand that communications that can be created by a brand on social networks are stronger because they enable the brand to connect with its consumers and achieve an extremely strong relationship with them. This is important and this is what it does.”
Through empathy to loyal consumers
Ever since social networks became part of the Balkan mainstream and the first pages appeared, you hear the story of two-way communication with consumers as one of the most important roles of digital (in general). And no wonder, marketing industry realized overnight that brands could no longer just create opinions, but should also be a sort of a “shoulder to cry on”— place, a forum where users can express their opinions.
In his book „Bez frendova nema brendova“ (No friends without brands), Mitja speaks exactly about the concept of building a brand from the consumer’s perspective, and says that users are the ones who give meaning to products and services. He points out that he still remembers a quote by Susan Fournier from the 1990s. Susan said: “Brand has no objective existence at all: it is simply a collection of perceptions held in the mind of the consumer.”
“It’s a fact, and it should be a mantra of every brand manager”, says Tuškej, noting that today, when communication is done via digital channels, maintaining and building the story of a brand is far easier:
“We have contact with (loyal) consumers. We can be with them every day, every minute and at any moment we can see what they expect of us. We can see how they think, what interests them and at the end of the day, which trend is popular with them. Then we can incorporate it into our brand, satisfy it, and at the same time not let our competitors be faster, learn more and embed the trends into their own brand and thus gain the trust of our consumer—loyal fan.”
Speaking of digital challenges, we touched a topic which is painful for every digital—what comes after millennials? Who are these new trendsetters, digital natives for whom technology is an extension of their personality, a thing they were born with? When asked by Netokracija if the profession invests enough in studying this generation, and what challenges precede successful communication with Generation Z, Mitja remarks this generation is definitely here and its presence can no longer be disputed.
“We have a problem here—it is relatively difficult to study the generation through official or established research since the research ethics sets age limit at 15,” reveals Mitja, adding that there is little good quality data available. However, in his view, it is extremely important for brands that this generation is in the group of innovators, in the segment where trends are created and further spread towards the population—they are opinion makers and opinion leaders.
“This shows the monumental transition that took place in the last 10, 15 years when great changes occurred. To simplify it a bit, if 15 years ago opinion leaders were between 30 and 40 years old, today they are between 20 and 30 years old. My impression is that this age limit will go down, and in the future kids of 12, 13, 14 will be the key arbiters of what’s good and what’s trendy in a society.
Direct Media Academy is also open to the general public
Having mentioned some more specific problems facing the domestic advertising, we talked with Tuškej about education as one of the prerequisites for more significant growth. Mitja told us that more than 300 people had completed their internal education program, Direct Media Academy, where they had the opportunity to learn from older and more experienced colleagues— professionals in their work.
Looking at education through the prism of the future, Mitja points to the fact that the education of employees, future employees as well as an agency’s clients should be part of the strategy of almost every company.
“Direct Media Academy has been running for several years now and we believe it has become a great school, which is also confirmed by the feedback received from the participants,” Mitja says, noting that there has been a change in thinking among employees, which has a strong impact on the change in the functioning of all parts of Direct Media in the region. “Strenuous teamwork at the Academy develops a strong connection among our employees in different countries of the region,” Tuškej concluded, revealing for Netokracija that the ninth generation of DMA participants could expect a completely new programme—in line with the upcoming trends.