Digital Essays 2017: Client 2.0: success in a tech-fused world – by Waseem Afzal, executive director, integrated solutions, OMD UAE

The industry is going through an intense period of change. Clients’ business models are threatened by a bevy of new and unexpected competitors, advertising agencies are being challenged by consultancies and media owners are confronted by the dominance of Facebook and Google. What’s at the heart of all of this? Digital technology. Why? Because it’s a shortcut to effectiveness, it bypasses traditional intermediaries and it tends to make reaching consumers cheaper than with legacy media.

We do love a bit of drama and the headlines tend to exaggerate reality. No, the old model isn’t dead and people are still watching programmes on TV with commercials in the middle. It’s equally true that media consump- tion is rebalancing towards digital platforms, that there is disaffection with paid advertising from both clients and audiences, and that old metrics are losing their value.

Is digital killing the golden goose? Is advertising dying? Such claims are clearly overstated but the Fourth Industrial Revolution is certainly changing the context in which brands communicate. Any transition between one reality and the next is bound to be painful, to a degree, but the need for brands to influence perceptions and behaviours will remain.

We find the commercials of 50 years ago crude and laughable. Who knows, maybe our retargeting efforts and content marketing will be deemed offensive in the decades to come. One thing’s for sure: trends are appearing and maturing increasingly fast. In one decade, digital advertising has grown from a sideshow, with less than 1 per cent of total media investments, to

the main attraction, matching the scale of TV advertising. And it’s not going to stop there.

This is profoundly transforming our industry, clients, agencies and media alike. We all have to evolve our skills, services and now even business models. With the onset of digital marketing, we’re all going through a necessary transition with a steep learning curve. It’s undeniable that our roles are changing, as are our success metrics.

As we continue to regard marketing and digital as one, we are witnessing the emergence of a whole new breed of marketers, who mix their brand-building experience with commercial capability, digital fluency with technological depth, and empathy with data and insights. The next generation of clients is already developing new operating models that give them greater control. We have begun to spot these behaviours across industries that have already integrated media as part of their creative planning process.

The evidence of this trend is growing, looking at the increasing number of command centres, content studios and in-house data management hubs. These functions and systems have usually been, and still are in most cases, managed by and housed in agencies, with best-in-class, cross-disciplinary teams.

Whereas there is evidence of the in-house advertising agency model dwindling, with many regional conglomerates eschewing this approach in favour of separate outfits, the rationale behind the integration of these data-led functions back into the client-side is agility. Modern marketers certainly face a different set of challenges altogether. Many industries are seeing competition from unexpected corners. Take ecommerce for example: brick-and-mortar retailers have been embracing e-tail while their pure-play internet competitors have turned up the heat by opening physical stores. When telecoms operators move into the banking sector and banks create an ecommerce offering, it’s no wonder marketers need as much information and intelligence as possible to keep their heads above water.

Tasked with delivering profitable growth, most marketers are expected to achieve more with less. Not only does this new breed of clients need to embrace a rapidly changing landscape, but they must do so with decreasing or static budgets. Yet they have to deliver higher levels of engagement and loyalty. This is testing their resourcefulness and their talent at hacking operating systems, finding solutions more efficiently and effectively than their predecessors and picking and organising agencies and partners around them.

The clients of the future will face challenges around agility rather than scale. Hence, they will need to design teams comprising of leaner, more responsive strategic partners, with a collective of multi-skilled experts to solve brand and business challenges.

Given this evolution, the way forward is clear. While they will continue to demand greater accountability from agencies to increase efficiency and show real effectiveness, marketers will drive the consolidation of agency relationships to both control expenditure and maximise the return on their marketing investments.

Ultimately, successful marketers are the ones who will step out of their comfort zone and embrace a wider role within their organisa- tion, often around growth and customer experience. They will continue to question the status quo and challenge the latest technological advancements or new platforms, thanks to their enhanced knowledge and fluency with developments in the martech world. More importantly, they will expect their partners to help them solve bigger business problems through the early identification and adoption of new opportunities. Client briefs will certainly look different.