Power Essays 2020: Are we future ready? By UM’s Jad Chababi

By Jad Chababi General Manager – UM UAE.

I admit, it hasn’t been easy. It still isn’t. We started the year with hopes that the economic situation in the region would pick up; especially that Christmas was coming early this year with Expo 2020, G20 and other international events we were so eager to host. Instead, the world had different plans – ones that made us relook at every aspect of our business, reconsider some of the practices we once believed were sustainable and confirm that being an agile organisation is key to managing surprises. This disruption further emphasised the importance of tackling the never-ending question of what the ideal “agency of the future” looks like. In other words, directing all questions to one: Are we future-ready?

To answer this, we need to establish a fact: We are as future-ready as the solutions we offer our clients. So, the question should be: Are we gearing brands to be ready for the future?

Acknowledge change and act now

The world is moving at an unprecedented speed. At the turn of the 21st century, Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns stated that over the next 100 years we will witness 20,000 years’ worth of progress. That’s an average rate of 200 years of innovation and change every year. At this pace, businesses that were slow to catch on to changes in the market would face extinction. Fast forward 20 years, and the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the message, with a twist. For some brands, near-term survival has been the only agenda item. But from now on, adapting to change will not be enough to guarantee a brand’s success. Despite the fog of uncertainty ahead, the brands that will emerge stronger are the ones that are not simply looking to ‘return to normal’, but rather trying to anticipate ‘the new normal’. Agile adaptation has brought us this far, but it is a continuous forward-looking vision that will ensure a brand’s success in the long run. And no matter where a brand is on that journey to the future, there is no time like the present to take the first step.

Plan both short- and long-term growth

With the constant pressure of delivering on sales and business KPIs, brands find themselves focusing their efforts on short-term gains. With performance media constantly showing attribution accuracy, it was only normal for advertising investments to pour into it. While this does drive lower-funnel metrics, it took the focus away from what matters in the long run: brand equity. As a matter of fact, a study by WARC shows that 70 per cent of brands have over-invested in short-term performance at the expense of longer-term brand-effectiveness. For this reason, balancing investments across different parts of the marketing funnel will help achieve both business and brand objectives. And it is possible. We have done it. We developed a methodology to measure the full-funnel impact of media. Through advanced modelling, we can attribute not just the direct impact of media on sales, but also the indirect contribution as a result of shifting the needle on key brand health metrics – hence really making every dollar count.

This further solidifies our role as agencies in providing the right guidance to brands on where and how to invest their funds. Such a mindset shift, however, is necessary from both advertiser and agency; it’s the type of skillset businesses should have in their organisations and should affect the priority they place on investing in tools and research. In short, a transformation where we focus on how to build more digitally mature brands that can – I stress again – balance between short-term efficiency and long-term effectiveness.

Understand people, not targets

Amidst all that transformation, it is imperative we never lose sight of what matters most: our consumers. Continuously seeking better ways of understanding them will separate those who become commoditised from those who gain prominence as consultative partners. For instance, as the pandemic spread around the world and advertisers halted their budgets, our analysts were able to build a model that predicted the direction of search trends as a proxy for consumer demand for an upcoming window of six weeks. This offered our clients a clearer vision of what the future looks like, allowing us to plan with better confidence when we should get back on air to capture recovering consumer demand.

This abundance of real-time data is what allows us to become better at predicting the future of what consumers want and need. With the next disruption expected with the death of the cookie, we must build relationships by capturing better first-party data about our consumers. Knowing them up-close and personal will allow brands to prioritise which are our highest-value audiences; those who will help grow the business now, and in the future.

Plan for the next, now

Consumers’ appetite to connect through media is showing no signs of waning. But they are becoming much more selective and sensitive to how brands are engaging with them. There has never been a better time for all stakeholders in the industry – advertisers, agencies and platforms – to join efforts to deliver a better experience for these consumers, as they will be the drivers of brand growth now and in the future. It will never be easy, but brands that are agile and consumer-centric will be able to grow sustainably, regardless of disruptions. This is what it takes to be future-ready.