Financial decline, repeated lockdowns and restrictions have moved, and in many cases, forced, businesses to track every penny they’re spending, and assess whether that penny has benefited the business as a whole.

For many, marketing seemed to be an area of business that could be immediately reduced, or slashed altogether, when the pandemic hit, particularly those businesses working with external agencies. According to the IPA Bellwether report, the net balance of companies cutting their marketing budget fell to -50.7% in the second quarter in 2020, down from -6.1%. That’s despite the resulting lower cost to gaining market share with sensible investment in advertising – amidst this greater consumption of digitally promoted products and services. So, what are brands really looking for?

Migrating to in-house

With ‘middleman’ businesses shut, direct-to-consumer brands, such as Birchbox, SimplyCook and, are becoming increasingly popular amongst consumers. There is now an increase in demand for digital services, as more traditional businesses realise their future is tied to getting their digital storefronts up, running and delivering. In today’s ultra-competitive, fast-paced digital landscape, efficiency and accuracy are imperative, not the nice-to-have they were until recently. Brands and businesses are realising how mission-critical it is to be able to cut costs but still keep up with the competition and even grow.

One way of meeting these pressures is to bring everything back in-house. It’s one small step for a marketer, but one giant leap for marketers. Yet this ‘new normal’ has shone a light on the benefits. In-housing is something that has been talked about widely over the last decade and has partly been propelled by tech, AI, and programmatic. Programmatic is only getting more efficient (and therefore complex) amid the coronavirus outbreak which is putting greater stress and demand on digital properties and media assets. As digital media becomes increasingly reliant on programmatic, brands that are now focussed on every penny of their budget are looking to areas where their own spend might be wasted on undeserved external margins. Even long-established brands that have always been agency reliant are looking in-house – Marks and Spencer recently announced that it has launched its own in-house creative team.

Being able to own, analyse, and harness your own data and resulting brand messaging, see quicker campaign optimisation and keep greater creative control are some of the many reasons why brands are taking things in-house. And it can be done without needing significant investment in internal talent, thanks to the latest developments in tech.

But why in-housing?

92% of CMO’s and senior marketers are planning to maintain or increase in-house capabilities for programmatic and digital advertising. One of the other main reasons for gravitating towards in-housing is transparency. Agencies are often torn between reporting actual data and polishing the numbers to make them look better. One of the biggest advantages of in-housing and using self-service tools is that you get to own your data. Teams will get the full picture of what’s going on – and can react accordingly.

Tracking marketing spend and ROI doesn’t come without challenges, but once you lose control of who is doing that and where your money is going – think someone else test driving the car you might buy – how can you be convinced of performance? Gaining insight into the actual cost of media and becoming fully aware as to why an ad was served on a particular page is something brands want and need.

Moving ad/media campaigns in-house also comes with huge challenges for even big brands. Fortunately, the onus is no longer on brands to recruit a full digital marketing team – it could be as simple as replacing an out-sourced agency with an in-house platform. A digital marketing adage of the last five years has been to ‘outsource all but the core competencies’, and for many departments of a business, this is still the case. But in a world where marketing is now multi-disciplinary and requires copy skills, tech skills, graphic design skills and (often forgotten) actual marketing skills, there now exist programmatic ad platforms that can become as essential to you as Salesforce is to your sales teams, but with full control.

SaaS is winning

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is an area that is likely to explode as we exit lockdown and return to normal. A SaaS-based model makes sense for the advertiser, the programmatic partner (DSP) and the publisher. By charging a simple subscription fee for the programmatic buying platform, cost- efficient buying and scale spending efficiencies develop.

With fixed subscription pricing, savings become a businesses’ own savings when running campaigns at scale. There is also consistency, transparency and control over how much the advertiser is spending on media spend and a trackable overview of ROI. Ultimately, SaaS media and ad platforms are helping brands to adopt a new type of business model focusing on creating a more cost-effective and transparent programmatic media supply chain. With this type of technology, new and emerging DTC brands may never need support from a traditional media agency. Spending less and getting more – it’s not a pipedream in a world of digital disruption as many consumer-facing businesses have found.

Brand future

Spurred on by Covid and the race to succeed in this second wave of digital disruption, businesses are radically changing. With technology like SaaS and teams now encompassing a wider variety of digital and data skills, many start-ups will keep their media in-house, only partnering with an external agency when they need help with one particular skill or project. In five, ten, fifteen years the media agency as it currently exists may be a relic of the past, as technology and teams develop and adapt in our fast-paced world.