The Year Ahead 2017: Media agencies

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2017 will be the year of performance and accountability, say Dentsu Aegis Network’s Ramzi Haddad and Anouk Bondroit

The advertising and media industry has seen a tumultuous 2016 that ended up being a worst-case scenario for many agency clients. They succumbed to the ‘negative’ sentiment that’s been blowing like mini tornados across different geographies in this region, driving advertisers to hold back their budgets in an uncertain market. As the world moves to a more conservative view of the future, with each country vying for better growth on investment against its annual spends, so will client budgets. The days of spiraling client spends are over.

They’re partly over because of the new media realities that digital – and particularly mobile – has laid down, with the points of engagement and transaction with potential customers coming together.

The ability to measure how $1 of spend is directly correlated with your potential customer walking into your shop or showroom or, even better, buying your product online, has been an eye opener for clients. The chairman of Emaar, Mohamed Alabbar, plans to launch a billion-dollar e-commerce company and will be spending a fraction of the budget he would have spent earlier on such a major project by focusing on digital media only for the launch. Why? Because the path to measuring the return on investment is clearer than it has ever been before.

If 2016 was the year of digital graduation in MENA, then 2017 will be the year when the region’s advances in social, mobile, technology and commerce start bearing down on the region in terms of scale and business impact. Whether this is delivered as an opportunity or a challenge is entirely dependent on both brands’ and agencies’ abilities to adapt to the digital economy. The strength of digital continues to be the dominant element in the growth of global and regional advertising expenditure, while TV spend remains as the foundations of our industry. As advertising becomes more data-
driven and complex, it’s crucial to move rapidly to navigate and meet the needs of the ever-evolving media landscape that places performance and accountability at the heart of every strategy, plan and activation, across every platform.

A subsection of that umbrella objective of better measurement is a much greater understanding of the consumer than we have ever had before. The data points collected on consumers continue to grow exponentially, with 90 per cent of the world’s data generated in the last two years and the volume of data predicted to double every 15 months.

It is clear that data is the future currency of business – and businesses need to be ready for this with data-enabling addressability, where timely, targeted and relevant content can be served to the ‘segment of one’. With nearly 3.5 billion smartphones forecasted to ship in 2020 (according to BI Intelligence Estimates), it is our job to understand the zettabytes of data these will produce.

The agency able to successfully connect these data points gathered from social media, digital content owners and programmatic desks into a portrait of potential customers will be able to make the right choices on behalf of its clients and secure that growth in business by simply understanding people and their relationship with brands better. Those who are yet to begin investing in the right technology to understand, navigate and interpret the power of data will never be able to leverage it successfully. Those who have invested will soon reap the benefits of shifting from audience-based to people-based targeting, reaching an individual person at their most responsive with relevant communications in real time.

The final subsection that will help deliver growth on investment in 2017 and beyond is the quality of storytelling, and making sure that every piece of content a brand puts out is building a brand commerce environment. This means continuously curating communication and engagement with consumers in an immersive way, but also giving them the opportunity to purchase at every single stage of the journey. Brands that continue to bombard their potential customers with a barrage of meaningless visual and message stimuli will not end up delivering growth in 2017. Knowing that a potential customer only needs to click to buy should translate in marketers’ minds into the need for more meaningful and engaging stories, compared with the nonsense rhetoric ads that we still quite commonly see in the region.

For agencies, what all of this means is making your business more accountable. The more accountable we become as agencies, the more value we are able to give to our clients, proving our worth and putting performance at the heart of everything we do. For brands, our advice is to re-assess your value chain for marketing services and, in the immortal words of Elvis, give your potential customers “a little less conversation, a little more action”.

Ramzi Haddad is managing director of Carat UAE & Lower Gulf; Anouk Bondroit is managing director of Vizeum MENA

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