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There Can Be No Half Measures in Today’s Digital World

By: Waseem Afzal, Executive Director, Integrated Solutions, OMD UAE

As 2017 draws to a close, there’s no denying that we have had something of an eventful year as an industry. It has been marred, in a sense, with lingering claims of fake news on social platforms, issues with fraud, viewability and brand safety, and an ongoing debate surrounding the impact of AI and ML on business. Yet, despite this, we have also seen a positive emphasis on customer centricity in both our planning and execution. The emergence of commerce as a means to drive incremental bottom-line growth and the automation of customer service, via social chatbots have proven effective ways to compound this thinking into action.

In this edition, I want to reflect on three of our key learnings from the past year, sharing how we plan to drive change forward in 2018, and most importantly, make a real difference to our clients’ businesses.

The consumer is King, Queen and everything in between

Marketing investments in digital have doubled in the last three years, both globally and regionally. Digital has quickly become the undisputed medium of focus in how we engage the consumer. It is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for marketers to adopt a digital-first approach. After all, it is one consumer, one budget, one outcome, all achieved through better integration.

No matter what kind of business you are in, how fragmented the media choices are, or how challenging the economic environment may be, your consumer doesn’t care about any of those pressures. We consequently have to navigate the climate carefully, paying attention to their complex needs and desires, and seamlessly connect them with their chosen brand, product or service. Taking this into account, there are three components to bear in mind when trying to plot your course of action. The first focuses on the ‘discoverability’ of a brand across different channels/screens, the second is authenticity, with which a brand produces content and experiences, and the third centers on embracing an ‘always-ready’ mindset for real-time relevancy within the right context.

While consumer expectations continue to feed into our ongoing strategies, it’s consumer insights which now allow us to make more tailored decisions, produce personalized communications at scale and better understand how we can extend our reach in such a saturated environment.

As consumers turn off, there will also be an onus on both marketers and brands to ensure expectations and reality are re-aligned, so that the relationship between each side of the equation becomes more complementary and balanced.

Remember the three Cs: Convergence of media, Contextualized content, Connected commerce

Ecommerce is the new frontier, neglect at your own risk

Ecommerce has been around in the region for a long time, but it is finally starting to gain more traction, as industry sources, such as eMarketer and Forbes, tip MENA to grow faster than anywhere else in the world.

The industry has seen a new breed of pure play ecommerce players surface in recent times, however, and perhaps more significantly, it is the traditional businesses that are eyeing ecommerce as an enabler for incremental growth, while other conventional trade channels are showing signs of a slowdown.

In this context, we have seen the evolution of the role of digital from driving cost-efficient reach, to enriching engagement during times. This is particularly pertinent when you consider that attention spans have dropped to just two seconds. Yet, this isn’t where the loop is stopping. Engagement is now a means to an end, and that end is to impact the bottom-line, either through a transaction digitally, or in the offline world.

Companies need to consider how to get this formula right for any kind of commercial behavior as an output, which circles back to my earlier insight; we must put the consumers first – not the channels. This helps to subsequently establish a clear understanding of the behaviors and motivations of the consumers, to help facilitate a seamless omnichannel experience. Once this is in place, prioritize the non-media facets of the ecommerce strategy before investing any dollar. We don’t want to invest money in driving qualified footfall to our digital platforms (resulting in high churn rates) without realizing the experience is appalling. So, start right before drawing people into your digital shelf, just how you’d do so in the offline world.

Businesses also need to identify the right technology stack to build an end-to-end measurement framework. Not one activity should be pushed out without it leaving its trace on a central data management platform. Speaking of which, we often talk about putting data to use, but before you do that, let’s distinguish between meaningful data and irrelevant metrics that end up cluttering your dashboards. Thus, a bespoke data architecture that connects media to business KPIs is essential.

It’s also important to consider developing a personalized CRM approach, which stems from all digital channels, with the ultimate objective of rewarding or providing a preferential experience to a digital end user.

Setting up this kind of structure will allow you to activate your media with all the key components in place. Once you’re off the ground, continue to iterate and optimize until you find the sweet spot between creativity and effectiveness, or magic and logic.

Remember the three Cs: Customer centricity, Customized incentives, Cross-channel measurement

Brand safety is a zero-tolerance game

The two inter-connected industry challenges that arguably drew the most chatter this year, were the murky media supply chain and brand safety. These issues compelled brands and agencies alike to pull back from digital investments as a precautionary measure. The issue of broken measurement within these walled gardens took a back seat, as brand builders and agency executives took immediate action with the media owners to clean up the supply chain.

At an agency level, we unlocked a wealth of learnings from our approach in white and black listing ‘human-checked’ sites, to how we set up campaigns across all channels, with the ultimate objective of a) eliminating ad fraud/non-human traffic, b) enhancing viewability or ensuring 100 % brand safety and c) driving maximum value for every dollar invested.

As such, we rolled out several initiatives across the network to navigate these challenges across a variety of client needs. These included the launch of a whole new tech stack, the creation of an OMD brand safety scorecard to plot each client’s ‘risk vs cost’ audit, reviewing brand safety measures and established a proactive brand safety quality assurance process, as part of all ad trafficking to monitor.

There can be no shortcuts to success when it comes to brand safety online. While our industry has come under fire for how we do business in the digital world this year, it’s the measures we’ve collectively put in place that will shape our success in 2018. Transparency and consumer value will be the key drivers to focus on…ignore them at your peril.

Remember the three Vs: Viewability, verification and value