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Deciphering Digital Transformation in the Marcomm Industry

By Abdulwahed Juma, EVP Brand & Corporate Communications, du

By Abdulwahed Juma, EVP Brand & Corporate Communications, du

Change is a dominant factor in every aspect of contemporary business life. As the marketing communication industry moves into an increasingly digitalized future, we face no shortage of challenges which will come with the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI). With digital transformation taking place across all facets of society, our industry is having to adapt to new modes and models of communication. With this in mind, the key to overcome change is to be proactive and to keep an ear to the ground and an eye to the future in order to convert challenges into opportunities.

Consumer Behaviour & Customer Centricity:

New technology has challenged us to think differently about how we engage with consumers. Consumer behavior and motives have changed vigorously, with many now opting to interact with brands through multiple, varied touchpoints. As AI becomes more mainstream, this means consumer engagement will continue to evolve.

Marketing to various generations requires agile decision-making and increased awareness of demographic and socio-economic tendencies. We used to have very clear segmentations, such as gender, income group, age, and we used to use these stats five-to-ten years back. In today’s digital age, this is completely redundant. This is especially true with the emergence of hyper-connected consumers like the Millennials and Generation Z. Each category now has more than 20 sub-categories which means that successful marketeers have to dig deeper to gain better insights.

People think that with emerging digital channels, media budgets can reach the same audience. According to a recent report by Google, YouTube viewing time is rising 60 per cent year-on-year in the MENA region. But, digital transformation has presented a real challenge in companies’ abilities to reach audiences. This can prove difficult when trying to deduce consumer motivations in relation to which touchpoints motivate their consumption habits. According to research conducted by Forrester, experts predict that over the next five years, 85% of business relationships with consumers will be managed without human interaction as AI becomes mainstream. Furthermore, while consumers have experienced rapid growth, they are also continuing to evolve. The rapid rate at which communications and digital fields are evolving is phenomenal compared to previous decades. Insights from McKinsey & Company state that, on average, youth digital consumers spend 315 minutes online each day.

One solution to move with this trend to digital spaces is to enrich customer engagement strategies to integrate brands with the customer journey. In the marcomm industry, changing modes of communication mean we will have to continually reassess and redefine how we communicate the value and benefits of our products and offerings to customers in both B2B and B2C markets – especially as AI developments begin to enrich and drastically alter the consumer experience.

The Divide Between Real & Virtual Environments:

The blurring of lines between real and virtual environments has meant that current marketing promotion channels have now become part of modern, complex marketing ecosystems. All of these transformations have come as a direct response to disruptive innovations and new technologies.


With changes to today’s marcomm landscape, the customer experience has exploded, leading to a variety of new opportunities through advanced data insights, an increase in connected devices, and a surge in online traffic. The World Economic Forum states that mobile use is almost 100 per cent among MENA Millennials. Despite this increased online activity, an Accenture report found that 82 per cent of Millennials across the globe still prefer shopping in physical stores compared to ecommerce websites, thus blurring the ‘virtual vs real’ divide even further.

Additionally, AI is slowly taking over human capabilities by facilitating the answering of customers’ questions online. As well as this, basic, simple tasks, such as ordering a pizza, can also be completed by an AI programme; no human interaction needed whatsoever. Analysis from SAP found that 95 per cent of users surveyed in a SAP Hybris survey believed their use of chatbots would increase in coming years. But with service organisations, we face issues where companies need customisation for each and every customer. The challenge is that if we push too heavily for AI, eventually machine learning will achieve full rollout, and in today’s day and age this will lead to huge customer dissatisfaction. Younger generations might seek AI-enhanced interactions initially, because as digital natives they have grown up with virtual intuition. But, once they experience the frustrations that can result from the teething phases of new AI technology, they will demand human touchpoints instead.

In light of this, how we apply AI in digital environments to aid real world demands comes back to the philosophy of companies. We have to serve customers right – even if our methods are traditional and old-school, because treating customers as tests for AI is not fair. This is likely why only nine per cent of Fortune 500 companies surveyed by Forrester Research currently work with bots. Looking ahead, bridging the divide and navigating the subtleties of online environments can be achieved by developing parallel brand experiences and integrated networks to ensure marketing opportunities don’t go amiss and that strategic potential is optimised to the fullest, but with the consumer in mind.

New Technology, New Occupations:

New technologies of the fourth industrial revolution will reshape workforces across all industries and create efficiencies through automated outputs as AI makes its presence felt. One popular estimate suggests that, with AI disruption, close to 65 per cent of children entering early education today will end up working in entirely different types of roles that don’t currently exist.

When I often speak to colleagues and friends, it’s evident we don’t need specialised roles like doctors; instead we need consultants. Robotics will replace many physical roles, and cognitive-based and creative roles as well. Industries like the Agricultural sector, for example, are already feeling the strain of automation via AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). Agribusiness is a major employer worldwide, especially in developing nations. Despite this, a white paper from the Stanford Graduate School of Business states that the proportion of farmers is on the decline globally, with a decrease from 35 to 4.2 percent in developed countries, and a drop from 81 to 48.2 percent in developing countries. This is horrifying, as the growing gap effects mostly blue-collar workers. The same concerns can be raised about the driver who will lose his job as flying, autonomous vehicles begin to appear in our futuristic cities.

In the Middle East, recent research from McKinsey Global Institute states that, across the countries of Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, 45 per cent of existing employment activities in the labour market could become automated based on current AI technology trends and developments. In view of this, it is evident that’s its only a matter of time before many occupations in our sector are impacted by a rise in new ‘Martech’ technology.

In the marcomm industry, it is likely that forms of automation will be incorporated into the operational dynamics of many organisations. But I believe we can adapt and that many existing occupations will change instead of disappearing altogether. There is a consensus amidst employees globally that AI and machine learning developments will create more automation in the long term. An 2017 Ericsson ConsumerLab 10 Hot Trends report found that two out of five advanced internet users were concerned that advanced AI robots would create job losses in the near future. But, like any technology that enters the industry, we need to ensure we don’t put technology innovation ahead of value-creation.

Moving forward, it will be necessary for marcomm players to embed internal systems for continual learning and the development of employees to ensure their future employability as AI adoption continues to soar. By fostering new growth of their employees, companies will see this translate into the amplification of their fiscal benefits and their enhanced ability to successfully operate an increasingly digitised marketing tech stack alongside cognitive AI augmentation of the future.

Integrated Marketing Communications Growth:

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) are another aspect of our industry that will have to be constantly adapted to provide newfound approaches for the delivery of brand messaging to consumers. The value of IMCs has grown in significance with the introduction of widespread digital transformation. This means our selection of marketing channels and appropriate technology needs to be even more aligned when considering the future of IMC. If people are taking their news and entertainment from social media, we should be there also. In a KPMG report titled The Truth About Online Consumers, Joel Benzimra, Global Advisory Lead for Consumer Markets, KPMG International, stated that “to create loyalty with Millennials, brands need to first cover the basics—that means top notch customer service and quick, individualized responses, through the channels they use such as social media and messaging”. IMCs are an activity focused on the establishment of profitable customer relationships to enrich the value of a particular brand or organisation. With this in mind, by including emerging marketing facets and digital channels into the strategic process, we can ensure a consistent, seamless brand message and customer experience is delivered across all customer touchpoints.

To the Future

Myriads of challenges are shaking up our industry as the fourth industrial revolution becomes a reality. But with these challenges, a multitude of new and innovative solutions can be explored to create new opportunities. The challenges and threats presented by intelligent technology, such as AI, are grand. But so too are the opportunities that will come as we harness new technology to work for us instead of against us.