Jonida Gjondedaj Article, Vatra Agency / Founder & CEO Gerton Bejo

Since the start of March, countries like Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, where the Vatra Agency provides its professional services, are facing with a situation radically changing our daily lives, routines and communication behavior. This situation is testing many economic aspects in both the public and private sector. These days it is difficult to imagine what will come after the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is right now that we must think and plan for the future of communication in our small markets. This is not because things will change from what we are used to doing, but now the public and we the marketing agencies, and not just the clients, must be more creative and responsible.

Revitalization of traditional media and the strength of digital media
Right now, the media is having some of its best times. Global media had such success at the start of the 80s, while the Balkans media market experienced it after the 2000s, when the media offer saw the influx of advertisement produced by professional marketing agencies. Considering this media momentum, we can say with confidence that this is one of the best times to invest in communication through media. In 2019, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) noted in its annual report that traditional media in Albania enjoys the trust of the masses more than any other media. If we combine this trust with the upward trend of the media consumption curve, business communication becomes especially important, making traditional media one of the most important tools for companies aiming to broaden brand recognition, services or products and in many cases sales as well, as shown by the current period. This is a result of more attention towards broadcast messages and increased interaction on the part of the consumer. It would seem that the central message of the communication and original creativity used to communicate the message would be more important in the future. Thus, investing during this positive traditional media streak would serve to refresh the messages and values of a brand and in converging with the consumer’s focus of attention. This is the strength of a well-devised and flexible media strategy that adapts well to changes and major drivers.
A recent unfortunate international study titled “Covid-19 Barometer” conducted in March by Kantar, found that media consumption, expectations, and attitude towards them, may direct brands to remain stable during the pandemic and recover after the pandemic. The study shows that only 8% of the consumers believe that companies should cancel their marketing budgets. The study analysis shows that one of the main risks of radical self-inflicted communication blackout could lead to great long-term and highly costly damages at the time of recovery. It is of note to also add that new actors in the same market may choose to intensify their communication positioning themselves higher on the Top-Of-Mind Brands list. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 clearly shows that 33% of consumers responding have started to use new brands as a result of communication from them during the pandemic. Any element use has created opportunity to attract consumer attention.
A Kantar study, also makes a suggestion on where brands should focus during this period. The TOP 3 communication strategies that are representatives for the consumer are how companies and brands can provide solutions and once again become “necessary” for the public during the new normal (77%), informing the public on the steps the company has planned and will take during this situation (75%), and creating new and more encouraging communication that reflects safety (70%).
However, we cannot forget about digital communication. During the first days of this situation, not just our clients at the Vatra Agency, but also the majority of the companies in the market where we operate, were faced with the fact that digital media was the only advertisement channel and in 80% of the cases, the market where their products could be sold.
During this time, in my position as Vatra Agency project manager, I noted that clients who had invested previously in the development of online sales and communication platforms, overcame this crisis period with little cost and more effectively. On the other hand, other companies that tried to improvise the establishment of their e-commerce platform faced challenges in catching up with the pace of the market and were not effective at the start of the crisis.
Digital strategies success was also a result of SEO techniques that we implemented last year in developing and maintaining our client’s websites. This proved to be the best testing period for our work and for the organic positioning of the websites. This lead to the results becoming a kind of present for our clients right at the time when they needed it most. All of the acronyms such as: SERP, CTA, SEO, SEM, ROAS, etc. that we use in our daily jargon took a meaning for our clients as well.

What awaits us in the not so distant future?
Our reality has changed. This will be come even clearer when our life restarts at a more normal pace in our daily consumption. Everything in the future is inevitably connected to purchase power. We have noted in social media, and also in more generic traditional media that sectors, including food, pharmaceutics, hygiene and delivery services have exponentially increased their communication investments, while other sector such as tourism, transport, education, etc. have decreased investment as a result of the restrictions put in place by normative acts in their respective countries. This happens because the lock-down has directly affected the sale of their products and services. Many other large and small businesses alike have reconceptualized their products and their delivery methods based on the consultation we provide.
However, as I noted above, there is a very important factor playing a role in all this that should absolutely not be forgotten. We are in what could be considered a transitory phase characterized by a great need of the consumer for information. A need for answers has arisen and this need has shifted unprecedented attention onto the media. So, the question becomes, if in the 17 years since founding the Vatra Agency, our greatest challenge has been to attract consumer attention through a myriad of devices and messages, why should we stop communicating right now that we have this attention? The growth vision should be constant and planned in each company, including also in cases of local and global crises. We cannot hide the fact that there is less liquidity in the market during this period. However, based on this information we can also say that during this period communication intensity has not decreased, quite the contrary. Many companies have understood that now is the right time. During this period, we have also noted the communication of a number of new brands, and when considering the work load at Vatra, during this period we have created many more brands than in the first quarter.
From a creativity and content point of view, we can say that the language used to speak to consumers is changing. Both traditional and digital advertisement messages are characterized by social and unity feelings and a spirit of innovation. Personally, I have always believed that we are years behind Europe with regard to online sales and e-commerce systems. Maybe, this crisis gave us a direct and ironic push to invest in this direction. We have noted that many banking institutions are acting swiftly to put in place the entire chain of modern infrastructure to integrate direct card payments. Maybe this will result in increased trust in online card use, which could make our lives easier in the future. In addition, solidarity messages about consuming “made in Albania” products and about the recovery of the Albanian industry, will become strong drivers when creating the campaigns of the “new era”.
A new common language must be created to allow companies and communication agencies to speak to each other for a common goal. At Vatra Agency, where our main objective is broadcasting advertisement communication for companies and brands with 55 million consumers across the Balkans, especially Western Balkans, we have started a round of consultation with the clients that have joined this new communication era, to achieve growth in the objectives they each have. I increasingly believe that in the near future consumers will reward those brands that will invest in a more social and sustainable method of communication. What until recently was added value in communication, will have considerable weight in the decision of the consumer to purchase a product or service.

*Vatra is a leading digital, design and brand communication agency passionately connecting brands to 55 million Balkan consumers.
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