It’s never too early to peek into the future; in fact we should never stop doing so. The more aware we are about what’s around the corner, the better prepared we can be. Here is a personal take on the most significant trends that will shape the coming year.
1. Steady as she goes
Not so long ago, we could flaunt double-digit growth rates as a badge of success. Yet, it seems so far away. Today, low single-digit increases are as common here as they are in more mature markets, reflecting a more measured approach by companies on the ground, more conservative allocations from global HQs and a stronger focus on digital. This doesn’t mean the growth targets are any lower though and the mandate is to do more with the same or, sometimes, even less.
2. Looking beyond the obvious
In population and spending power terms, Saudi Arabia remains the region’s powerhouse and the focus of attention for consumer brands. Yet, other markets, such as Iran, Iraq and Egypt, will become more and more significant in companies’ future plans. They all come with their unique challenges, be they political or economic, but brand owners are looking to maximise growth and mitigate risk by exploring multiple emerging opportunities in the region.
3. Data-empowered marketers
Marketers’ ambition is increasingly to enhance corporate agility, detecting trends and reacting in real-time, planning on the present or even the future rather than on the basis of historical data. Empowered by data and technology, they aim to capitalise on every opportunity to perform better. The dream of removing the uncertainty about which part of the marketing budget is not performing is fast turning into reality.
4. The transforming media agency
To help marketers realise this ambition, media agencies have a key role to play. In fact, they have several. As curators of trends, analysts of data, writers of strategies, managers of investments, programmers of algorithms, producers of content and developers of innovations, we are now less in media and more in marketing services. We are at the crossroads of the marketing industry, aggregating all the skills clients need to realise their ambitions. Blending ‘mad men’ with ‘math men’, ‘media’ agencies are best placed to lead in this new order where medium and message are as intertwined as data and content.
5. Not a sideshow but the main act
The fact that the share of digital investments is growing and at a quickening pace will surprise no one. The scale might. Next year, we anticipate it will represent close to 20 percent of total net billings, growing not only in volume and value but also sophistication. Clients are becoming more and more adventurous, buoyed by the effectiveness of their past innovations and the massive appeal of social media platforms in the region. By 2018, digital is expected to capture about one third of the region’s advertising budgets.
6. The shifting balance of power
The rising weight of digital media, as well as the consolidation of investments into a handful of suppliers, will keep on altering the dynamics of our media market. Digital giants are now competing with TV and print heavyweights, stimulating the digitisation of traditional media groups. As we’ve seen in other sectors, digital technology is leading to disintermediation, enabling companies to bypass intermediaries to go directly to their customers. In the advertising industry, it allows media owners to provide their services directly to brand owners. This may work for smaller advertisers, but larger ones still need independent partners to manage more complex and advanced requirements. You can’t replace neutral and platform-agnostic advice with simple transactions with one vehicle.
7. The value of data
The power is shifting to the providers and analysts of the data our digitised lives are generating. More than data, it is important to focus on the ability to identify the important and meaningful connections, the ones that make the difference between a good decision and a bad one. Even more than that, it is the speed at which we react to the emerging trends impacting our clients’ brands that matters. Up until recently, media performance was the key objective media agencies and clients shared, when in fact it is business performance, including brand health, that really counts. Instead of using proxy media measures, our mission is to demonstrably improve business KPIs and we’ve made exciting progress in this area. The multiplication of channels, disciplines and metrics makes getting a holistic view increasingly complex, so advertisers look to us for ways to aggregate and exploit data in a meaningful and efficient way. More and more, we will be evaluated on our ability to demonstrate the business impact of our strategies and campaigns, right down to the last click or transaction.
8. Automation will make us more creative
The automated buying of digital advertising at scale, a human-guided process that combines machine-based transactions, data and algorithms, is proving increasingly popular as it is based on intelligence garnered from centralised data. Together with the dynamic pricing of real-time bidding or without it, programmatic saves us all valuable time while freeing up human resources to focus on being more creative and producing more deeply engaging and lasting experiences.
9. Content x data x technology = context
The impact of data is also felt in content. Though unlikely bedfellows, together they allow brand messages to appear in the most valuable context possible. Weaved together through the technology of data management platforms (DMP), we apply the value of data to content production, creating more and more tailored brand experiences, increasingly in real time. Our first steps in this field are hugely exciting and more will follow. We’re already working on predictive models and approaches.
10. Targeting the individual on a massive scale
After sharing their thoughts in social media, consumers are now able to share their biometric data. Wearable technology will add yet another layer of information, increasingly personal, with all the anxiety about privacy that this causes. Yet, the value to consumers will see their adoption rise and allow brands to eventually tailor communications right down to the individual in real time.
11. Sharing is the new black
Even here in the Middle East, we’re starting to see the emergence of a sharing economy, allowing individuals and companies to share resources and assets. There are some early movers in the region, often inspired by popular global formats, and it’s likely more will follow. Driven by the search for cost-efficiency or a more altruistic environmental concern, this trend will force brands to consider the role they play in this new environment, particularly if it becomes as significant as it has elsewhere.
12. Small screen, big impact
Mobile technology has certainly freed up media consumption, allowing consumers to have the world in their pocket. Be they mobile phones, smartphones, phablets, tablets or now wearables, these devices are enabling a new lifestyle without limits, quietly changing consumption patterns. Everything is commented, compared and even bought at the touch of an index finger. In 2015, m-commerce in the region is expected to represent $5bn, a third of the total e-commerce market. To fully capitalise on this opportunity, it won’t be about simply being accessible through mobile devices but having a dedicated and relevant mobile experience ready. The role of mobile in the purchase cycle is growing and will force retailers to rethink their customer experience. Elsewhere, stores are gradually turning into showrooms or collection points. Here, they’re still a favourite form or entertainment, but the experience won’t go untouched.
13. No medium is an island
We have long detected the concurrent consumption of media across devices, a trend that is becoming more and more pronounced. Today, over 80 percent of Saudi and UAE smartphone owners use their devices while watching TV, over a third while on their computers. This split attention creates both challenges and opportunities, as we have to consider these interactions rather than treating each medium in virtual isolation. Audience measurement studies, particularly single-media ones, have a long way to go before they actually reflect the real world. Video neutral planning is a reality and new technologies will allow us to increase reach by placing ads on TV and tablets at the same time or ambush competitors by targeting their ads.
14. The value of principles
When most decisions balance the rational with the emotional, authenticity and ethics can make all the difference. Stakeholders resonate better with principled businesses in this age of growing transparency. Our own experience shows us that talent, as well as clients, also make career or business decisions on similar principles. Being a good corporate citizen is no longer a soft KPI, just for show, but rather is a crucial differentiator, as long as the move is genuine. In the years ahead, sustainability will become an intrinsic part of corporate culture, rather than a mere allocation in the marketing budget.
15. The value of art
In this challenging world, we can all do with a breath of fresh air. We’ve chosen art in the workplace. It comes with the added benefit of boosting creativity, stimulating imagination and creating engagement with staff and clients. Who knows, besides being an investment in the future, maybe the rising value of art will be a beautiful way to soften the impact of shrinking client fees…
These 15 trends are a selection from a far bigger list of meaningful trends on which we are keeping an eye. Whether we look at the economies of our region, its consumers and their priorities, cultural shifts, the impact of technologies or the evolving media landscape, it’s obvious nothing ever stands still. Neither should we because that’s the best way to fall behind.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.