Over the past two weeks we've been living and breathing digital transformation at The Drum. Our Digital Transformation Festival highlighted the most important trends and tools that have risen to prominence over the past few years - especially those that have been accelerated over the course of lockdown.
No examination of the industry's response to digital transformation would be complete without the views of the members of The Drum Network. We asked our members to explain which of the digital transformation trends they've personally experienced have been the most profound - for their own agencies, their clients, and the consumers.
Christopher Ho, innovation director, Posterscope
The single most transformative digital marketing of the past few years in my opinion is the resurgence of contextually driven targeting. For the past five years the digital marketing world has consistently revolved around the balance between privacy and personalisation. The meteoric rise in short-term attribution metrics gave brands of all sizes the confidence to engage in advertising campaigns that drove visible business benefits and ROI – feeding the personalisation machine, but ultimately at great cost to the consumer’s privacy.
Now are we seeing a major correction to this situation, with the implementation of GDPR and CCPA regulations, plus tectonic shifts from the major players in the market that will drive practical change. The correction to this balance has meant a renaissance in the world of Contextual Targeting. A pivot away from identifying whose attention to capture and sell, towards offering consumers the brands they want to buy.
AI generated contextual targeting
Without the unifying point of truth of 3rd party cookies, we are seeing the rise of AI and Machine Learning beginning to address the Contextual challenging digital marketing. Using observations across millions of content interactions and aggregated real-world behaviours, AI will be able to eloquently describe the contexts in which to reach consumers, unlocking relevance and hyper-targeting while preserving consumer privacy.
While it’s a seismic shift for many channels, others, such as OOH have functioned around contextual and aggregated data and insights consistently for years, meaning that they have a head-start on the competition. Unifying data sources around a new contextual North star such as Location means that the playing fields will shift to the heartlands of one-to-many channels.
Mobilising 1st party data
So what does all this mean for the future? Brands’ own CRM databases will become vitally important in creating bespoke solutions for clients and privacy compliant companies such as InfoSum, that can take 1st party data and match segments to use cases across different channels, will certainly come to the fore.
With the entire ecosystem re-focussing around context this may be the catalyst that the industry needs to begin delivering relevance as standard, setting aside short-term vanity metrics and a return to the fore of long-term brand building.
Stephen Jenkins, founder and managing director, Too Many Dreams
Over the course of a career there are moments that stand out. Rare moments where the paradigm shifts underway reveal themselves and you realise that things in the future will be very different.
One such moment occurred in 2005, when I was working on the launch of the Kooks’ debut album. Our planning meetings were initially very traditional: trying to figure out how we could win over the editors, DJs and producers that stood between the band and its awaiting public.
Then we stumbled upon a way of cutting out the gatekeeps. During each gig, we sent someone along to take down the email addresses of concertgoers. Over time, nurturing, growing and activating this list became the main focus of our planning meetings. Digital had provided the means to circumvent the gatekeepers so we could speak directly to their fans.
Fast forward two years, and another epoch-changing moment occurred with the launch of the iPhone. It seemed clear to me from that moment that smartphones were the future of content, a realisation that caused me to quit the record industry for the nascent mobile entertainment industry. Smartphones have subsequently supercharged the process started by digital, and further eroded the barriers that once stood between content creators, their audiences and fans.
As a result, we today find ourselves in a world of tribes. People choose the mobile apps, streaming services, digital channels and brands that best serve their tribe and get lost within them. There are far fewer crossover mainstream hits than before, but we have in their place thousands of niche hits, were a person or brand could be famous within their tribe but unrecognisable to outsiders.
Our new world of tribes – the world that mobile has done so much to enable – has huge implications for marketing. First, companies - whether B2C or B2B - need to be very clear from the outset who they wish to serve. That means understanding your audience as much as possible against both their emotional and rational decision-making criteria. Here, tools like the jobs to be done framework can be useful by helping brands focus on what matters most: the audience need in a given interaction. Those needs should then form the basis of your content and communications strategy.
In a world saturated with content you need to ensure your strategy does three things: grow brand awareness - creating moments where your brand stands out from the competition; increase brand salience - build and reinforce memory structures by regularly using distinct brand assets; and drive sales - creating and nurturing new leads and then moving them through the purchase funnel.
Thanks to mobile, success in marketing is now this: discover your tribe and then talk to them directly, authentically and often.
Tristan Sanders, head of performance, Artefact UK
It might seem like a strange choice, cheap cloud data warehousing as a nominee. However, for us at Artefact, Google’s BigQuery product has been hugely empowering in that it has allowed us to interrogate and segment our media audiences like never before. It’s underpinned a revolutionary approach to handling our clients’ media.
Without BigQuery, and the trend to the greater democratisation of data warehousing and analysis, we would not, in turn, be able to capitalise on what we see as “the single most transformative digital marketing trend of the last few years”: the ever-greater ability to tailor our media to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience.
At Artefact, we do this with our Audience Engine (AE) tool, our in-house proprietary technology that underpins the majority of our media activation output. The AE ingests multiple 1st/2nd/3rd party data points on a potential customer, then using advanced Machine Learning algorithms to predict that user’s propensity to behave in a certain way (e.g. purchase a product). It allows us to build and analyse cohorts, mapped in line with our client’s customer profiles.
We can now merge consumer behaviour against the output of the propensity modelling, the resulting matrix allowing for hyper-targeted media campaigns, tightly aligned with user behaviours, needs and life-stages, that can be rolled out at mass scale. Furthermore, the output of this analysis also provides seeds for audience lookalikes that underpin an approach to prospecting that is by its nature much more data-led.
This approach has driven down cost-efficiencies for clients, in our case especially in the retail and travel space.
This trend towards ever greater personalisation of digital advertising has not been linear, with GDPR, Safari/iOS14 and the greater move towards a cookieless future providing significant challenges. However, these barriers, if anything, put even greater emphasis upon 1P data sources. Site behaviour data from Google Analytics is fed directly into BigQuery for manipulation to in turn feed agency products such as Audience Engine.
Together, the trajectory towards ever greater ad personalisation ought to be a win-win-win: a win for our clients, able to achieve better results for lower costs; for consumers, who are pestered less and less by irrelevant, inappropriate advertising; and for us as an agency, at the forefront of it all. The democratisation of cloud data warehousing is the unsung hero behind the shift, and, in our view, represents the most transformative digital marketing trend of the last few years.
Simon Richings, executive creative director, AnalogFolk
The biggest shift has been in who controls the engine of digital creativity. It’s not the sharp-suited, deep-pocketed consultants – it’s a considerably bigger group, and they have a creative department of one billion people.
It’s everyone on TikTok. Well, not just TikTok, but that’s the current headline act in what I’d call ‘participatory creativity.’ You might be thinking I mean UGC, but I’m trying to avoid saying ‘User Generated Content’ for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a horrible phrase, and belongs in 2006 (when you contractually had to mention it in every presentation). Secondly, UGC means almost anything shared digitally, regardless of media, effort, idea, purpose or format – and that doesn’t encapsulate the specific chaotic collaborative creativity that’s flourishing right now.
There’s been a steady procession of incremental improvements to in-app, on-mobile photo and then video editing capabilities. New Instagram filters appear. Phones get faster. New techniques and hacks emerge. And the language of self expression shifts, bit by bit, pixel by pixel. TikTok has massively accelerated that process, partly because of its endless development of flexible new editing tools, but also because – I suspect – that it’s crossed a certain ease-of-use threshold that we’ve been hurtling towards for years.
Actually, it’s more than a suspicion. I’ve got some pretty strong numbers that say it’s easier than ever to MAKE stuff (as opposed to just ‘post stuff’). AnalogFolk created a campaign with Beats by Dre to bring some new Powerbeats Pro headphones to the attention of Gen Z. We worked with TikTok star Ashnikko on a big fan music video collaboration – she appealed to her followers to submit some colour themed TikToks matched to the new Beats headphone colours. There was a sizeable media push to get it going, so a huge amount of people on the platform saw Ashnikko’s invitation to participate, but how many actually did?
Imagine we were back in 2006 and waving the UGC flag. What would a good number of responses be? A thousand? Ten thousand? With Beats and Ashnikko in 2020 that number was 2.1 million. That’s 2.1 million videos uploaded with the campaign hashtag, #BeatsDaisyChallenge. There’s a lot here which was right – the right star, the right simple and compelling idea. But it’s also about a phenomenon whose time has come. Participatory creativity can happen – is happening – because tech and culture have arrived in the right place for it.
Andrew Dunbar, general manager EMEA, Appnovation
Smarter, more agile deployment of content assets across channels is a key digital marketing trend
The pandemic has accelerated the uptake in digital, meaning brands are under pressure to build increasingly intelligent platforms which both respond to customer behaviour and which provide a return on investment on content assets.
From a customer point of view, these intelligent platforms need to take the form of digital experiences which deliver more timely, relevant, purpose driven and immersive engagement with the brand then ever before.
The implications for brands is that they need to get smarter and faster at managing content assets across all their channels. In a volatile news environment where social and racial injustice are key flashpoints, content and messaging needs to be adapted and personalised quickly across many channels at once in order to stand out in a deafeningly noisy sphere.
Knowing your audience and what they will respond to is key here and brands need to continuously invest in real time social listening, behavioural mapping and consumer research tools to build a 3D picture of what their target market thinks and feels and what drives their decisions at any given moment.
Understanding the customer journey: how, where and when they interact with your brand is also important to delivering a joining up approach to distributing content and assets where they will have most impact. So too, is a deep tech knowledge of how tools around navigating, ecommerce and engagement are reshaping customer behaviour.
As a result, we can expect to see brands increasingly turning to one central piece of architecture – such as headless content management systems – that allows content and other assets to be quickly repurposed across multiple settings.
This approach makes it easier to track what’s working and what’s not in order to maximise ROI. Brands need the back-up of a simple yet powerful hub from which to harness increasingly complex tech. As digital audiences become more transient, a smarter, more streamlined strategy around content assets is core to globalisation efforts, too. In fact, when it comes to market expansion, it’s something of a superpower.
Appnovation’s recent work with Danone’s Alpro, a leader in plant-based food, is a good example of this. We used a headless content management system from Contentful to deliver launch campaigns in 30 markets globally. The omnichannel design helped us to manage the localisation and language demands of each market within an accelerated time frame. It meant we could pivot effortlessly between overarching brand consistency, and the smaller nuances of each market. "
Wesley ter Haar, founder, MediaMonks
The most important digital marketing trend in the past few years has been digital's reawakening—and by that, we mean the realization that brands can build loyalty and love by investing in tactile, interactive and meaningful experiences across the digital ecosystem.
MediaMonks launched in the age of the million-dollar microsite, when Flash was king. While Flash has fallen out of favor before its ultimate demise, in the early 2000s it played a revolutionary role in transforming static experiences into ones that were feature-rich and interactive. But much like with traditional "big idea" advertising, there was no real way to measure whether these experiences "worked" or moved the needle.
So the industry began to invest in technology rather than the customer experience, resulting in the rise of analytics focused primarily on last-click attribution and conversion. While these analytics helped brands measure the value of their investment, it also contributed to a misguided understanding that digital was just for the lower funnel–and modern brand building got lost in the equation. As video metrics opened up made digital investment more trackable and brands cut down TVC's for feeds, we'd taken a medium full of fun and turned it into a tiny TV that targets you.
Then Covid-19 happened, prompting the realization that brands could meaningfully show up for audiences across digital channels in new ways. An example of how we've put this into practice before the pandemic is our "People Are the Places" activation for Aeromexico, which builds on the insight that people often travel to connect with others. The idea could function as a TVC on its own, but we gave people the chance to book destinations based on the people they want to visit, with those people marked as the end destination printed right on the ticket. This execution is a vast departure from the standard airline app experience, which is almost always the same everywhere you look.
This doesn't mean there's no need for analytics that hold a marketing team (or its partners) accountable. In an age of increased scrutiny on data collection and privacy, the digital reawakening invites brands to use data respectfully and make better decisions—and power
more meaningful experiences. Digital is moneyball for brand building, we take our creative shots, we measure and optimize, and when we find out sweetspot we scale the best and best performing ideas across the whole ecosystem.
Jonny Tooze, CEO, LAB Group
Face to face most human beings have a brilliant tactic awareness of people around them. We see, hear, and are sometimes forced to smell them. We feel the resonance of people's voices. We pick up on the tiniest shifts behaviours, pheromones, or changes in tone. Face-to-face human interaction and our ability to empathise and understand each other is visceral and primal.
Digital has undoubtedly brought us a new way of being. It is, by its very nature, transformative in almost all areas of our lives. Advancement has made digital more accessible than ever and organisations are using digital to change the way we work, talk, buy, eat, meet, shag, learn, and rest. But has it also stripped away some essential elements of our humanity?
Digital is great for businesses - it increases operational efficiency, improves quality, creates USPs, and negates geography. It's great for customers who don't have to wait in queues - they can do almost everything they want at the click of a button with almost zero friction.
While this feels like progress, digital transformation has typically focused on the masses, the middle of the bell curve. But what about the edges of the curve? And is a frictionless experience really what we want?
Should it be frictionless to sign up for credit when you're buying new clothes? How does digital serve the edges of the bell curve, those people that the 'persona workshop' really didn't consider, like people who are vulnerable?
At LAB our team has been collaborating with some of the brightest academic institutions and researchers in the world on a SaaS regtech product to help organisations digitally empathise with their customers and begin to see signs of vulnerability, purely through kinetic browser behaviour. The theory and previous research says it's possible, and it could revolutionise how finance, gambling and many other industries operate online. We're aiming to make that a reality and inject a little humanity back into digital.
Mark Bower, executive creative director, Woven Agency
There are loads of nice digital ads and implementations out there (and loads of humdrum stuff, too). The Discovery Channel’s pioneering 360° videos on YouTube and the Lego Rebuild the World campaign spring to mind as great recent examples.
But beyond being beautifully produced, well-targeted, entertaining and whatnot, what really appeals to me is a digital experience or advert that understands the medium it’s created for - and has fun with it. That’s why Geico’s series of Unskippable digital ads really hits home.
We all know the pain of our carefully curated YouTube playlist being interrupted by a Grammarly ad… for the fiftieth time that day. Like a reflex action, we immediately look to the bottom right-hand side of the screen as we watch that 5- (but-feels-like-500-) second delay tick down. It’s this truth that Geico understood and played on with brilliant results. Their Unskippable ads from around 2015 front-loaded everything they wanted the viewer to know in the first few seconds before knowingly stating: You can’t skip this Geico ad, because it’s already over.
Except it wasn’t, because for the next ten, thirty or sixty seconds, the comedy kicks in. The actors - whose cue is to pretend the advert is over - stay statue-still while life carries on around them. Cue awkward moments in lifts, dogs stealing unguarded meatballs, even an homage to the cult classic film, The Breakfast Club. In short, Geico made an ad built for that 5-second window but that made you want to ignore the skip button and watch the whole thing. YouTube playlist be damned.
Are audiences still receptive to novelty in digital marketing? Well, I’d first argue that there’s no such thing as digital marketing. Digital is a (hugely important) tactical approach to marketing, but we’re often in danger of conflating digital with marketing strategy when it’s a tactic. Which means the real question is: are audiences still receptive to novelty in marketing as a whole? And the answer is: too right they are! Novelty is the lifeblood of marketing. Making innovative products, creating more accessible UX platforms, coming up with proper funny advertising - what’s new (as in, what’s different) drives audience participation in the short-term so brands can thrive in the long-term.
Novelty fades. People get used to it. Competitors catch up and bring you back into the pack. You’re suddenly not standing out anymore. So you always have to be thinking of new ways to do things. New pricing models, new UX ideas, new creative. It’s not easy, but it’s what audiences want - and it’s what clients should want, too.
Haseeb Shaik, digital transformation director, Adapt Worldwide
We are still very much in the midst of a global pandemic – one that has, arguably, caused the greatest changes in behaviour of most of our lives so far.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is calling for greater global co-operation to deal with impact of the Covid-19 crisis and started the great reset initiative. At the same time, equality and ethical principles for data and AI have dominated global headlines.
The biggest digital outcome I have seen through all this is the rapidly increasing rate of ecommerce adoption globally. This is leading to brands adapting their strategies for seamless customer experience to benefit from increased digital footfall.
Data from the ONS, indicates that online retail sales in UK reached a record proportion of total retail in January 2021 at 35.2 %.
To capture this rapidly changing demand – and, fundamentally, a permanent shift in consumer behaviour – businesses are being forced to recalibrate, revalidate their existing structure(s), upgrade their technical infrastructure and prioritise data capabilities.
To capitalise on that trend, we are leveraging search data to identify visibility gaps, then creating actionable strategic roadmaps by focusing on the gaps to delight customers using omni-channel strategies, not only for client web properties and social channels, but also retail partners.
This approach helps synchronize the ecommerce experience alongside retail partners, physical stores and social channels, thereby enhancing seamless customer experience. One of the positive by-products of this is that its helping businesses focus on profitable areas and divest areas that are not adding value.
Some of our leading clients who we have partnered with on their transformation journey exceeded budgeted ecommerce revenue in 2020 and, year-to-date, are showing strong double-digit growth in 2021. The results achieved led to reforecast numbers for rest of the year and attracted incremental investments – accelerating further digital adoption.
Furthermore, with Google’s incoming page experience update is acting as catalyst for brands to invest in upgrading their technical capabilities with a longer-term view, which historically took years and rounds of business case(s) to get much needed C-suite buy-in.
The companies that are exceeding their revenue targets in this pandemic are looking at going beyond and designing their personal digital ecosystems. This is vaulting years of digital transformation in a very short span of time.
Companies are making bigger and bolder decisions – leading to increased revenue from digital acceleration and, ultimately, preparing them for the future and what we anticipate is a permanent shift in consumer behaviour.
Emil Bielski, UK MD, Croud
We all love a trend in marketing, but perhaps the concept of “privacy” is a bit more than a trend or a fad. It is a groundswell of people desiring greater control of their data and ultimately their identity. The challenge is that there is a significant and valuable ecosystem of tech and talent that means media is one of the most buoyant sectors in the UK economy. We have helped create ever more relevant advertising that has driven significant business growth.
Yet as the sophistication of that ecosystem has increased exponentially, people’s understanding has not grown proportionally. How can you consent to something you do not understand? I get tracking, identity resolution and the benefits of personalisation, so I click yes to most consents; otherwise, what a hypocrite I would be? People outside our industry do not have the luxury of this knowledge, nor awareness of the security and safety nets that are in place. I believe that, as an industry, we need to support this moment of reflection and set a sustainable future for people and their data, as well as the industry as a whole.
It is going to be disruptive – Google will need to model more sales, logged-in identifiers such as those proposed by The Trade Desk have a huge mountain to climb, and Facebook could lose visibility of a huge proportion of their sales.
Yet, in disruption comes opportunity - opportunity for platforms such as TikTok to thrive as the playing field is levelled, opportunity for agencies to create value in an increasingly complex and fragmented landscape. Yes, we may no longer be able to target with the same precision, but we can think bigger, more strategically and yes, leverage context and dare-I-say disruption to create engagement and response. I’m excited that creative will become ever more important. So often under the shadow of “hyper targeting”, I think we will see a digital renaissance in this space.
Finally – measurement – we have all, for far too long, taken a simplistic view of the world, taking last-click, post-impression as gospel, when in reality effectiveness is much more nuanced than this. Having the digital attribution plaster ripped off as the cookie dies will signal a new era of commercially focused performance marketing.