I often get asked how much has changed in the last 10 years I have worked in digital media and advertising. It’s a question we have seen many a panel discuss at digital industry events over the last few years.
Usually after much discussion, the question that usually comes next is where is the industry going?
The digital advertising world is advancing at an incredible pace, and this connected world we live in has transformed the way we communicate, shop, and even pay for things and if we don’t keep up, brands will be cast aside for ones that know where we are headed.
The Past: Mobile & Social
How we got here.
Mobile technology has had a huge impact on who is connected. Many in the Middle East went straight to mobile web without ever really experiencing desktop internet.
This greater connectivity over the last decade has reshaped the demographic in the region with a much broader age range that is much more diverse in terms of socioeconomic class. This led to an explosion of digital content in the region, and right behind that came the explosion in digital advertising; be it social, search or programmatic.
Social media of course also played a massively disruptive role.
Brands now had to go in search of their consumers online and had to actively seek engagement through making the consumer a core part of the brand conversation – something brands never experienced before.
This journey to consumer meant that you had to create fit-for-platform content covering all the popular social media platforms and all the channels they make available to you like stories, pre-roll ads and etc.
Brands and agencies had to learn to work at the speed of the feed to keep up with digital trends and best-practices and keep their content relevant in a fast-paced fickle environment. You no longer needed a hot shot director for your latest TVC and a media budget the size of a small country’s GDP.
You needed an agile agency with strong creative, great production and a smart digital media strategy to ensure your launch was considered a success.
The Present: Covering the Basics
If you’ve worked in the industry for even a short time, you will know most of the basics but it may surprise you to see many brands and agencies still falling behind.
This should be every brand managers’ mantra, and every agency should be thinking of its campaign in the context of a mobile world. This should dictate the type of brand content you create, what it looks like, what cut-downs you will need and where it will go to reach your audience. Make sure your content is ‘snackable’ and you get to the brand message fast.
Branded content is key.
Brands shouldn’t be afraid to step out of their comfort zone and go to publishers to create branded content.
I don’t mean product placement and sponsored content, I mean cleverly crafted content designed with a publishers’ reader in mind, and with the brand taking a starring role in the storyline.
There are a whole host of publishers who are plugged into certain consumer segments who are very ad savvy, and prefer to follow context over content. Go to these publishers and talk about real contextual branded content where your brand plays a big role in the stories these digital platforms create for their readers.
Smart media matters.
It’s critical to take advantage of the full array of tools in the digital advertising arsenal like remarketing lists, and benefit from competitive insights using lookalike audiences.
You should be working towards trackable conversion-based KPI’s which are becoming easier and easier to achieve rather than reach or engagement-based objectives.
For many brands, the cost of consumer acquisition per digital ad campaign can now be made clear.
With event-based triggers smartly woven into your conversion campaigns and linked to a powerful e-commerce platform where the product is actually available for purchase or to a CRM which tracks the consumer from the open digital world into your own closed ecosystem, you can actually achieve a marketers dream of tracking every penny in digital advertising spending.
Unfortunately, while this may be simple in theory, it does require your brand team, ad agency, e-commerce management team, tech provider and IT service provider to have a very close working relationship to achieve this; something which only a few companies can pull off successfully to reap the rewards.
The Future: The Complete Digital Brand Experience
The future of digital advertising (agencies really) is moving rapidly towards creating a complete digital brand experience online for the consumer. We need to become even better at getting the brand experience in the right place, at the right time, and achieve real results for the brand.
We can expect targeting to become more sophisticated, digging deeper into the trail of digital fingerprints we leave behind on the sites we visit, apps we use, and mobile devices we carry with us 24 hours a day.
Social networks, app developers, and phone manufacturers have already collected more data than they know how to analyze (and indeed, even keep safe) and it is this data that will give advertisers more and more insights into the minutiae of target audience behavior.
Personal demographic data, geographic location, interests and purchasing habits are just the beginning. Your personal network of friends and what you talk about, your spending patterns, and advancements in face recognition software will all have a greater impact on advertiser targeting. This will ensure your brand experience begins at just the right time when your target consumer is primed with purchase intent, and ready to be part of your brand journey.
Virtual reality is already mainstream.
Although virtual reality may still be in its awkward teenage phase, many companies have embraced AR and VR to create memorable virtual experiences for consumers.
Some brands have harnessed its power well, but like all other things digital we can expect to be a few short leaps away from a truly immersive virtual experience of the brand where consumers can live out entire stories and interact like never before.
We can expect at the very least virtual try-ons to become a much more powerful tool for e-commerce, virtual tours of hotels or properties to become the norm, and perhaps even out of home advertising become much more engaging through creative use of augmented reality. The opportunities that lie ahead are virtually limitless.
AI is real.
Machine learning algorithms are already at the heart of digital advertising, and as AI technology progresses, I think this offers the most exciting aspect of digital media and advertising. AI will open the door for conversational e-commerce (think shopping with Siri or Alexa), and use the vast amount of data available on the consumer to ensure you get the right product recommendations.
AI will be the net that ties everything together to ensure your digital experience is coherent, and indeed seamless with everything coming together in a way that is perfect for – not a broad SEC group, but for that specific individual.
On the business side for agencies things will change as well. A significant portion of your online advertising performance optimization will soon be done through AI. Data collection will enable recommendations for digital campaigns based on the performances of different copies, channels and platforms the same way media buyers rely on their personal experience to assess what campaigns best serve a particular brand.
This future is really not too far away, some will argue it is already here as global companies are maneuvering to make all this an imminent reality.
Complete integration of your brand into the digital ecosystem where you combine creativity, technology and brand strategy into a single experience is inevitable.
The foundations remain relatively the same: we need to seek out consumers online, deliver a positive brand message, and result in increased sales, but all this cannot be achieved in future with an end to end digital brand experience.
Agencies will build on the creative model but need to become more technical to be able to deliver a wider scope of services to keep up with the opportunities new technology can offer. This brave new digital world beyond corporate websites, marketing applications and social media as we know it will be a game changer, and only those that blaze the trail will come out on top.
Waseem El Tanahi is the CEO of Media Republic, a leading digital agency based in Cairo, Egypt. In additional to digital advertising Media Republic also owns a host of digital platforms including the multi-award winning Cairo 360, Cairo Gossip, and Kalam Al Qahira.