Predictions 2023: The year ahead for digital agencies – by Audience Collective’s Jess Hickman

2023 is the year when concepts such as AI and the metaverse turn into practical opportunities that affect the real world, writes Audience Collective Middle East’s Jess Hickman

By Jess Hickman, managing director, Audience Collective Middle East

2023 is upon us. Finally, and hopefully, this new year will provide us with more stability than we have seen over the past three years. 

There is no doubt that the year ahead for digital agencies will be full of opportunities and excitement but there will also be bumps in the road and issues we need to tackle. Whilst I by no means have a crystal ball, here is my prediction on how the year ahead looks for digital agencies in the Middle East.

Agility and empathy

Let us start with the positives and strengths that digital agencies are coming out of in 2022 with that will help them to succeed in 2023. There is no doubt that the impact of a tumultuous couple of years has been felt by all. But for agencies there is a strong feeling that they are more agile and empathetic to the needs of clients than ever before. Having been invited into clients’ houses (albeit via Zoom) having more transparency around clients’ businesses and their challenges, we as digital agencies are now much more in tune with clients’ ‘behind the curtain’ needs, and that level of empathy ensures we can provide a personalised service that is more in line with the needs of clients. 

Buzzwords turn real

We begin 2023 with new opportunities in digital media that we can leverage. As we launch into a new year, we are entering with the buzzwords that have been around for five years now turning into practical, real-world-impacting opportunities. Whether AI, metaverse or data, we as digital agencies now understand how we can level up marketing practically with new innovations. 

We are also moving into 2023 with a global outlook. The Middle East has always been a truly global region, but as we move into 2023, it is easier to work with international colleagues and international clients and deliver international campaigns. 2023 will have a truly global approach with limited borders. 

We are also prepared for 2023 to come with its challenges that will weaken the impact that digital agencies can have for their clients. Significant changes in data legislation and usage such as the cookie-less world and GDPR will impact the measurable return on investment that agencies can provide to clients when it is needed most with a global recession looming. The agencies that succeed will be the ones that invest in tracking and measurement to prove to clients’ CFOs the impact that they are having on their bottom line. 

On a wider level, in an age of opportunity and new digital innovations, it is important that agencies consider the understanding of the public on their channel selection. In a recent survey we did in the UAE, we found that only 25 per cent of the public could identify the right definition of the metaverse, yet 78 per cent wanted to use it in 2023. We as agencies need to embrace innovation with our clients, but we also need to ensure our audiences are ready for it. 

In 2023, we will see opportunities turn into reality. 2023 is the year that AI becomes ingrained in the digital agency landscape. With AI content creation tools like ChatGPT and Elai, digital agencies will be able to act faster for clients and develop unique content at the touch of a button. However, the human touch will still be required to ensure that we are tailoring that content to client briefs and objectives. In martech, digital agencies will have the opportunity to reduce the manual heavy lifting of testing, optimising and conversion rate optimisation. However, the human touch will still be needed to ensure these optimisations are driving towards the right objectives. 

Similarly, the metaverse will open up a new channel for digital marketing in 2023. Agencies will be able to get involved in this space in many ways; from creating metaverse-ready 3D interactive content to running events via the metaverse and even running metaverse-specific digital advertising. 

With opportunities also come threats that we need to be aware of. Some of which we as digital agencies are already preparing for and some we don’t even have on our radar just yet. The big one that is on our radar currently is of course the looming threat of a global recession, which we know could lead to cuts in marketing, cuts in budgets and at worst cuts in headcount. In this event, it is the digital agencies that can prove their return on investment and impact that will survive and grow. 

There is also a threat to the channels we know and love. Twitter and Meta have all had a difficult half year in 2022 and have seen significant cuts. As digital agencies, we need to ensure that we are prepared to flex our channel solutions and onboard new technologies such as TikTok and BeReal. 

To summarise, 2023 is upon us and it brings with it innovation, technological solutions that have been talked about for half a decade finally coming into reality, and global opportunities. It also comes with financial instability, channel instability and greater scrutiny on results. 

The digital agencies that will succeed in 2023 are those that take an agile, client-focused approach. The ones that succeed will be those that are empathetic to client needs in the face of financial instability and most importantly, those that deliver results.