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Strategising in turbulent times

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BIG THINKING

Strategising in turbulent times

Ziad Skaff
Dubai Managing Partner
Hall & Partners

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2019 has been a challenging year for businesses in the MENA region.

If you compare where we are today with three years ago, the macroeconomic situation is very different. The instability of oil prices coupled with geopolitical tensions have impacted the economy. The IMF has recently revised its optimistic projections for the real GDP growth in 2019 in MENA from 2% at the end of last year to 1.3%. This is slightly lower than the 1.4% growth rate in 2018 and has put pressure on business, especially marketing.


When times are tough, creativity really flourishes


With budgets shrinking and consumers tightening their belts, brands have had to get creative to stand out, often by tackling tricky subjects or amplifying social needs. Their goal was to demonstrate their social consciousness and support of societal progress, which would, in turn, increase their relevance with their respective audiences. When times are tough, creativity really flourishes. This year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy has brought forward some groundbreaking work from the region. Papers were well written and researched. One could sense a clear understanding of long-term strategy versus short-term tactics, an improvement on previous years. Overall, three main themes stood out, which I believe regional marketers must embrace to thrive in this highly challenging landscape.


Data vision and patience

No business can move without the right tools and information. Brands need to investigate all available data sources, including internal and peripheral ones, and remain open to holistic and progressive measurement and analytics approaches. Investments in this field remain negligible as a share of marketing budgets. This ought to be revisited if marketers are to keep abreast of the rapid changes affecting this region. They must be driven by the need to stay in tune with consumers’ lives rather than focused on ratios to overall marketing budgets. Take Uber. It made great use of its extensive data and audience knowledge to deliver profile-specific campaigns based on different customers’ needs and behaviours while using its service. This diligent exercise over several months led to a highly rewarding outcome. Uber significantly increased its marcom ROI by being highly targeted and knowledgeable about its customers. It also stood closer to its audience who appreciated the care shown for their individual needs.


They must be driven by the need to stay in tune with consumers’ lives rather than focused on ratios to overall marketing budgets


Marcom throughout the journey

If marketing activities were historically focused on pushing consumers down the funnel, on creating and converting awareness into interest and intent, we’re now seeing that focus extending through to the purchase and post-purchase stages. Again, data and tech have a lot to do with this. As purchase decisions are increasingly formed on the back of online research and executed electronically, there are multiple ways to transform the transaction stage, and the last few steps before it, into a brand experience. Content and advertising can provide a last push in a particular direction. Even in-store, there is a plethora of touch points that brands can activate to create an immediate, influential and lasting impression. Babyshop is the perfect example. It used kids’ real lives to create stories around the brand, involving them and their parents in an immersive experience that was communicated in an integrated and well phased campaign. This not only created relevance with its audience but also built a strong emotional bond with the brand.


From omnichannel to human channel

With all this focus on data and technology, we shouldn’t forget that appealing to human emotions has always resulted in great advertising. Good storytelling is hard to find and when brands appeal to what connects us as humans, they are always more successful. One of the most famous commercials in history was the launch ad for Apple Macintosh in 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott, it drew parallels with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 by painting Apple as the underdog against a controlling IBM, appealing to consumers to “fight the man”. Winning numerous creative awards, it helped sales reached some $3.5m. The 1984 commercial proved that bold storytelling works. There wasn’t a single product shot in the ad. Apple was selling an idea rather than a product and that’s what attracted people. Today’s consumer is more discerning and expects this level of connection at every interaction with the brand. As advertisers are focused on creating seamless omnichannel experiences, they should keep the human touch at the heart of all plans. Any brand activity needs to be built around people, their emotions, their needs and what resonates with them. The lines between media channels and marketing routes are highly interlinked. Cases that smartly and seamlessly integrated marcom efforts into people’s lives and experiences were often the most successful. They were even more compelling when brands adapted their approach and reshaped their activities as human engagement evolved.

Advertising practice tends to move like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other. If, in the past, most advertising was designed on instinct with a sprinkle of research, today, we’ve swung the other way. No self-deserving marketer would make a decision without the safety blanket of data. In some cases, data have become the only lens through which we look at consumers. We tend to forget they are people, made of flesh and blood, not code. They are driven by emotion and are often irrational, with needs and desires. It’s time marketers moved the pendulum closer to a happy medium position, balancing the gut feeling with the scientific, the rational and the irrational, the human and the machine.

You can download a sample of this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy Report here http://bit.ly/2NWx8cO

 

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2019 has been a challenging year for businesses in the MENA region.

If you compare where we are today with three years ago, the macroeconomic situation is very different. The instability of oil prices coupled with geopolitical tensions have impacted the economy. The IMF has recently revised its optimistic projections for the real GDP growth in 2019 in MENA from 2% at the end of last year to 1.3%. This is slightly lower than the 1.4% growth rate in 2018 and has put pressure on business, especially marketing.


When times are tough, creativity really flourishes


With budgets shrinking and consumers tightening their belts, brands have had to get creative to stand out, often by tackling tricky subjects or amplifying social needs. Their goal was to demonstrate their social consciousness and support of societal progress, which would, in turn, increase their relevance with their respective audiences. When times are tough, creativity really flourishes. This year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy has brought forward some groundbreaking work from the region. Papers were well written and researched. One could sense a clear understanding of long-term strategy versus short-term tactics, an improvement on previous years. Overall, three main themes stood out, which I believe regional marketers must embrace to thrive in this highly challenging landscape.


Data vision and patience

No business can move without the right tools and information. Brands need to investigate all available data sources, including internal and peripheral ones, and remain open to holistic and progressive measurement and analytics approaches. Investments in this field remain negligible as a share of marketing budgets. This ought to be revisited if marketers are to keep abreast of the rapid changes affecting this region. They must be driven by the need to stay in tune with consumers’ lives rather than focused on ratios to overall marketing budgets. Take Uber. It made great use of its extensive data and audience knowledge to deliver profile-specific campaigns based on different customers’ needs and behaviours while using its service. This diligent exercise over several months led to a highly rewarding outcome. Uber significantly increased its marcom ROI by being highly targeted and knowledgeable about its customers. It also stood closer to its audience who appreciated the care shown for their individual needs.


They must be driven by the need to stay in tune with consumers’ lives rather than focused on ratios to overall marketing budgets


Marcom throughout the journey

If marketing activities were historically focused on pushing consumers down the funnel, on creating and converting awareness into interest and intent, we’re now seeing that focus extending through to the purchase and post-purchase stages. Again, data and tech have a lot to do with this. As purchase decisions are increasingly formed on the back of online research and executed electronically, there are multiple ways to transform the transaction stage, and the last few steps before it, into a brand experience. Content and advertising can provide a last push in a particular direction. Even in-store, there is a plethora of touch points that brands can activate to create an immediate, influential and lasting impression. Babyshop is the perfect example. It used kids’ real lives to create stories around the brand, involving them and their parents in an immersive experience that was communicated in an integrated and well phased campaign. This not only created relevance with its audience but also built a strong emotional bond with the brand.


From omnichannel to human channel

With all this focus on data and technology, we shouldn’t forget that appealing to human emotions has always resulted in great advertising. Good storytelling is hard to find and when brands appeal to what connects us as humans, they are always more successful. One of the most famous commercials in history was the launch ad for Apple Macintosh in 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott, it drew parallels with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 by painting Apple as the underdog against a controlling IBM, appealing to consumers to “fight the man”. Winning numerous creative awards, it helped sales reached some $3.5m. The 1984 commercial proved that bold storytelling works. There wasn’t a single product shot in the ad. Apple was selling an idea rather than a product and that’s what attracted people. Today’s consumer is more discerning and expects this level of connection at every interaction with the brand. As advertisers are focused on creating seamless omnichannel experiences, they should keep the human touch at the heart of all plans. Any brand activity needs to be built around people, their emotions, their needs and what resonates with them. The lines between media channels and marketing routes are highly interlinked. Cases that smartly and seamlessly integrated marcom efforts into people’s lives and experiences were often the most successful. They were even more compelling when brands adapted their approach and reshaped their activities as human engagement evolved.

Advertising practice tends to move like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other. If, in the past, most advertising was designed on instinct with a sprinkle of research, today, we’ve swung the other way. No self-deserving marketer would make a decision without the safety blanket of data. In some cases, data have become the only lens through which we look at consumers. We tend to forget they are people, made of flesh and blood, not code. They are driven by emotion and are often irrational, with needs and desires. It’s time marketers moved the pendulum closer to a happy medium position, balancing the gut feeling with the scientific, the rational and the irrational, the human and the machine.

You can download a sample of this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy Report here http://bit.ly/2NWx8cO

Ben Lorkin
Group Strategy Director
Hall & Partners Health

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