#Predictions2015: The year ahead for marketing

Hamad Malik-44 

OSN CMO Hamad Malik says senior marketers need to continuously allocate at least five per cent of the budget to experimentation with new and probably unproven ideas.

The thing about being a chief marketing officer in a changing media climate is that there are constantly new marketing avenues to pursue. These days, chief executives and board members expect a CMO to not only be a custodian of the brand, but also contribute towards commercial success of organisations, be in charge of transforming customer experiences, inculcate customer loyalty and create brand positioning that enables companies to charge premium prices. 2015 again looks like it will be a year of change, so I wanted to share my view of how the landscape is likely to change again, and how to be prepared.

Rise of data-driven marketers

Over the past few decades, marketers have invested significant millions in research to understand customers’ attitudes towards their brands and products, how they interact with these products and what their needs and wants are. We love to work with research agencies and hope they will shed light on the next big thing in terms of what the customers are looking for.

While I agree that this remains a substantial source of insights, marketers are expected more and more now to closely look at the reams of data any company generates, collate it and utilise it to gather customer intelligence. Organisations have been investing millions in acquiring tools that now generate valuable data and insights and marketers could be natural consumers of this valuable data. Understanding your customers well could be a distinct advantage for any brand but beyond that in the world where marketers are always trying to find ‘look-alikes’ of their customers, data that exists in any organisation can be utilised as an acquisition tool. Companies like Netflix openly admit that one of their key differentiators is their ability to identify trends through looking at how their customers are engaging with their product in real time. Be it a decision of investing behind unique content like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black or any other asset or positioning a movie to a subscriber that Netflix is sure they would like, they utilise robust analytics to their advantage. So, my fellow marketers, if you do not have a data analyst in your team, get one NOW.

Experimentation leads to innovation

Marketers have a tendency to play to their audiences. Countless stories circulate the town about senior marketers being told by their CEOs or other colleagues about what they think is a ‘great marketing idea’. As a CMO one has numerous advisors who keep providing ‘expert’ advice. But mostly this noise is about tried and tested ideas, proven mediums and well-known tactics that another brand has deployed successfully.

What a senior marketer needs to do is to continuously allocate at least five per cent of the marketing budget to experimentation with new and probably unproven ideas. Sir Alex Ferguson, a legendary Manchester United coach, who always championed precision and use of technology in football, strongly believed in balancing data, analytics with the need for experimentation. On one side he invested heavily in using GPS-fitted player vests that enabled him to analyse player performance, on the other hand he advocated trying something new in these same sessions. He recognised that in the training sessions players needed to try ‘irreverent things’ which might or might not work in matches but he was of firm belief that unless you experiment you can’t innovate. The key success factor here is the ability of individuals and companies to learn from their mistakes and deploy their learning to their products and go-to-market plans quicker than their competitors.

Need to create sticky content

In today’s age where anyone with a decent camera phone has the ability to create interesting content, it amazes me how difficult brands find it to engage with customers on an emotional level. Yes, it is still important to use tried and tested channels like TVCs, corporate videos, and what-not. But how about thinking outside the box? Look at the example of Red Bull who were early adopters of this strategy and how successfully they have elevated the stature of their brand which is head and shoulders above traditional cola producers.

They’ve done it using strategies that are probably much cheaper than traditional channels, yet are a hundred times more imaginative and daring.

Being a company whose primary product is content, we understand the need to give more to customers beyond what they see on our screens, be it behind-the-scenes or making-of features. While we invest substantial time and effort in creating or sourcing content from our partners that is fit only, for instance, for social media channels, I find it ama-zing how some extremely simple things fly on the social media channels.

Embracing digital marketing

For our industry, 2015 will be remembered as the year that digital marketing comes into its own as a primary medium. Multinationals within the region are now spending up to 25 per cent of their marketing budget in this field, and it will probably grow. It’s the norm even for smaller firms to spend 10 per cent of their marketing budget on digital.

This type of investment is helping development of the whole digital ecosystem in the Middle East. Agencies are realising that they need to have skillsets that can efficiently handle this magnitude of investment, while clients keep pushing agencies for efficiency, innovation and result-orientation in deploying digital marketing.

Having called for a pitch for our digital marketing account recently, I must say that I was impressed by how agencies have progressed in the last two to three years in this field. We have many agencies in Middle East now specialising in digital marketing alone. Moreover, these agencies are importing high calibre staff from abroad who could help bridge the skills gap between the West and the Middle East. But the secret of success in this area is a brutal focus on setting the right objectives for digital marketing and a clear strategy of how to build your brand or business in this space.

(Hamad Malik is chief marketing officer at OSN. This article appears in the #Predictions issue of Campaign Middle East dated 11 January 2015.) 

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