US agency leader Dan Gliatta shares his hopes and expectations for 2021

2020 was a difficult year, and 2021 will by no means be easy, but that doesn't mean success is impossible. David Rowlands, editor, spoke to Dan Gliatta, founder and chief growth officer at US agency Cargo, to talk about the state of the market, and hopes and expectations for the months ahead.

If you'd like to hear more from Dan, he'll be presenting his webinar on essential insights into SMBs for enterprise marketers on 14 April, which you can find here.

How has your latest financial year gone, and what's been the main driver of your success in this period?

2020 was a solid year for us and our second most successful year since our 2006 start.

Interestingly, even though we’re in a niche B2B Marketing space (B2SB marketing – we help big brands market and sell to small business) that perceptions would think was hardest hit, our clients' successes were driven by big consumer shifts. Between increased demands for tech, mobilisation of business experiences and increased no-touch/low-touch transactions, we were able to help our clients quickly pivot to the new demands and needs of small businesses. And given the fact over 50% of SMBs were not negatively impacted by the pandemic, we were able to provide insights to our clients on how to support those SMBs who were in revive and thrive mode while also providing support for those in survive mode. Our success is because we’re a specialist agency – not sure we’d been as successful as a generalist.

What's the state of the market right now?

Optimistic. Still some uncertainty given you don’t go back to business as usual after what we’ve all been through the last 12 months. But there is a new sense of positive energy – both with business and life. Almost a sense we’re in the beginning of a new way to get things done. Day 1 of going forward.

What challenges are you and/or agencies generally facing?

New business growth is always tough and with uncertainty comes increased reluctance to change partners – potential clients are a little more risk adverse. Status quo is a safer play in terms of agency partnerships. But big brands also need help in better understanding what’s next in SMB, which bodes well for us given our specialisation. Like always, comes down to delivering what prospects value versus what we sell.

What are your hopes and expectations for the next 12 months?

2021 is looking to be an even bigger growth year than 2020 for us. We’ve already won a large piece of new business in Q1 and have some solid conversations going for other new opportunities. And with optimism, current clients are starting to look at bigger projects which bodes well for organic growth. But it is a balance between empathy for those still struggling and focused on today and empowerment for those focused on tomorrow and on growing.

What do you expect will be the big themes?

First big theme is the seismic shifts in consumer and workstyle behaviors, like mentioned above, which will continue to force big brands to pivot right alongside small businesses. Second big theme is purpose-based marketing. SMBs have been, will be, watching how big brands behave during the pandemic and recovery. Can’t just be about the bottom-line for enterprises – they can do well while doing good. So purpose is no longer the domain of corp comms and CSR teams, as having a 'why' behind their efforts is now a mandatory for big brand’s marketing and sales teams. Especially in the B2SB marketing space because the overall recovery will be directly dependent on SMB’s recovery.

How might we see the agency landscape evolving in this period?

More specialisation in our opinion. Not just because we’re specialists but a need to better understand the niches and micro-audiences given how the pandemic has impacted the masses. In our B2SB space, recovery will be staggered based on demographics and firmographics so those agencies that can help brands understand where to segment their investments will be more valuable – that goes beyond just marketing. Also, I think smaller shops are in a better position to handle what’s next than big shops. Smaller shops are built a little better as we’ll need to be more agile than ever given the fluidity and speed of business. Just like the need to focus on micro-audiences, there will be a need to focus on micro-campaigns/plays and projects. Speed, and flexibility, in thinking and doing will be critical and smaller shops are built for that needed nimbleness and scrappiness.