Digital Essays 2023: Changing the game

Focus on the long term view and stop thinking about short term goals, argues UM MENAT’s James Dutton

The pace of our industry continues to speed up. However, amidst the rapid evolution and transformation, we often find ourselves entangled in distractions. 

Examining the contemporary landscape, the Middle East and Africa emerges as the next thriving region for growth. We witnessed a similar phenomenon from the 1980s to the 2010’s across APAC, particularly with the explosive growth of China.

China and Singapore have established long-term strategies, and we are now witnessing the growth that comes from long-term planning with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the UAE’s 2031 Vision.

This region is reaching the eyes of the world and continuing to grow when the rest of the world is discussing recession. As the economy expands, so do consumer pockets.

The next phase represents a very real and pivotal moment for our region, where we are poised to redefine the playing field. We’ve done the analysis, and if we focus on three areas, the region will emerge as the defining standard of the next generation of marketers.

The world will look to us for extraordinary achievements and as the foremost authorities in marketing, surpassing developed nations.

Borderless audiences

Let’s not be distracted by nuances, differences, and siloed thinking. The world today consists of borderless audiences all looking at the same screens, the same content and the same brands. And this shows real potential, especially in this region.

Across MENA we operate in multi-cultural, bustling travel hubs, and we can see first-hand how audiences have changed. In addition, we are fortunate not to have to worry about 1:1 targeting that markets like the US have been built upon.

In the same way, APAC markets grew in conjunction with digital and the accessibility of mobile phones; we, like them back then, have a clear base with no complex legacies to distract us from what’s going to be real and impactful in the cookieless reality.

Therefore, we are already years ahead when it comes to cookieless planning with the growth of new audience solutions. Brands need to reach larger, borderless audiences, and the so-called precision of digital will become a thing of the past.

Real measurement

For too long digital marketers have been largely ignorant when it comes to measuring effectiveness. The tools haven’t helped, in any modern digital measurement application are hundreds of metrics that serve no effectiveness function beyond helping to diagnose what is happening inside a campaign. 

We need to simplify it by getting rid of the clicks and focusing on marketing’s contribution to growth. Those diagnostics will remain useful for optimising campaigns but they are terrible for business. 

While the industry is discussing generative AI and generating funky images, we are deploying ML models in the cloud to make modelling more scalable and easier to process.

This is not a distraction but real-world solutions that will impact our teams, our product and our clients. The marketing industry needs to change the game to move beyond distractions. 

David Ogilvy’s quote, “We sell or else,” serves as a reminder of the principles that underpin our industry. Achieving business goals and organisational growth are the only things modern marketers should be thinking of in the long term. Keep it simple and real.

Open-source partnerships

We are already seeing how fast tech and tools can move in and die out in a matter of months, not years. By the time companies are building new platforms, we are adopting another.

The solution? To focus on agility, allow the flexibility to press pause and test new solutions with speed.

This is not easy for brands, and this is where a very essential role of the agency comes into play; agencies with their depth of talent are best placed to inform brands on this landscape and can easily identify what solution is real and what is not.

The growth of partners is only going to increase. “By 2035, around one-third of the global GDP will actually be orchestrated by cross-industry ecosystems.” – Venkat Atluri and Miklós Dietz. An open-source approach will be essential in the growth of our industry over the next decade.


For too long, we have been focusing on the short term and on the lower funnel rather than on long-term brand building. If we take lessons from the regional economies with their long-term planning and focus on these three pillars, we create a new world precedent.

Jobs will be easier, teams will be happier and we will achieve that dream of work-life balance. We will change the game by creating next-gen marketers that will inspire future generations. 

By James Dutton, Regional Director of Digital at UM MENAT