Digital Essay 2019: A customer journey is not complex; your tech stack is, by Adform’s Pawan Setpal

By Pawan Setpal, Account director, MEA, Adform

After a brief interruption, which has led to lagging ad spend, we’re seeing a host of exciting announcements and stabilisation within the MENA region. This momentum is set to continue through 2020 as new channels catch on and the power of programmatic is more fully leveraged. Yet, even as this occurs, due to the increasing fragmentation of the customer journey, and the multi-screen nature of consumer experiences today, marketers must carefully consider the channels where they allocate spend to ensure the best return on investment.

Although the advertising sector is rapidly recovering in the region, it’s clear that there is still significant room for growth, especially when compared with other markets. This was something brought to light by The Dubai Future Council on Media, which said that regional average advertising spend per person is just $6.17, compared with $680 in the US and $270 in Europe.

In online advertising, programmatic has largely been responsible for unlocking greater opportunity for marketers, a better customer journey, and therefore increasing ad spend. However, while the technology is starting to be more widely used in other regions for audio, digital out-of-home (DOOH) and connected TV (CTV), the infrastructure is just now hitting critical mass for MENA.

Digital audio
Most would agree that programmatic audio is still in its infancy in the region, but this doesn’t mean there hasn’t been innovation. Earlier this year music streaming app Anghami worked with Unilever and its Lipton brand to launch the first dynamic ad in MENA, using name targeting and other personalised features. Users responded positively and it is likely other brands will follow suit in the future, especially following the Middle East launches of global streaming players including Spotify in 2018 and Deezer in 2019. We’re likely to see increased programmatic audio innovation over the coming year as competition heats up and matures.

Digital out-of-home
According to data from Warc, traditional OOH inventory in the Middle East is facing tough market dynamics. However, spend on DOOH is expected to grow 10.1 per cent each year between now and 2021. Leading OOH players are also increasing their investment in the region. It’s easy to see the appeal for advertisers as digitised inventory can be used for video – a highly impactful format – while mobile click-through rates (CTRs) are also said to increase by up to 15 per cent when supported by OOH.

There are, however, a few hurdles for marketers to overcome, in part due to privacy concerns when using mobile phone data for targeting and measurement. Greater transparency will be needed to ensure the MENA region can capitalise on DOOH without the teething pains that have been experienced in other regions.

While other countries are seeing substantial growth in CTV and over-the-top (OTT), progress in MENA has to-date been slower, largely due to the way in which the broadcast market is structured.

Most broadcasters in the Middle-East are either state-backed or funded by private companies that rely on oil to drive their business – the price of which faced a steep decline during 2015 and 2016, directly affecting broadcast and media technology spending. Despite this, a transition is happening. Choueiri Group launched Brand4mance – touted as the first TV attribution performance product for the MENA region – while major broadcasters are diversifying their offerings to OTT, on-demand, and live-streaming options.

Scale is still one of the biggest challenges facing the rise of CTV and OTT in MENA, with technology and data access constraints holding it back from becoming mainstream, but 2021 might be a different story.

So what does the future hold? The solution lies in the IAP
Typically, when there’s rapid and widespread adoption of emerging channels, a host of additional point solutions and added complexity follow. However, given the maturity of advertising technologies, the rise of the integrated advertising platform (IAP) is mitigating much of this and providing a strong alternative. True IAPs, which take the traditional full-stack proposition one step further, include at a minimum a DSP, DMP and ad server built with organic integrations and capabilities. Advanced IAP offerings should also deliver built-in powerful creative and digital creative optimisation (DCO) capabilities and extensive measurement. This solves many of the technological fragmentation issues, ensuring marketers can target programmatically and deliver a seamless customer journey across a variety of channels and devices.

With brands looking for solutions to help them activate and connect with users across as many touchpoints as possible, while navigating increasing privacy restrictions and concerns, IAPs that have a strong DMP as a cornerstone are likely to perform better than standalone solutions to reduce bottlenecks and ensure data loss is minimised. Highly accurate data that ties entire consumer journeys – across devices – together will be the key to improving programmatic experiences and their potential for advertisers in MENA.