Natalie Lyall
Digital Transformation
What digital efficiency means in the short and long term

With the world’s largest advertiser, P&G, experiencing an increase in sales after cutting its digital budget by $140 million, a new conversation has been sparked around digital efficiency in today and tomorrow’s media economy. Even among the panel of senior marketing experts assembled at Xaxis’ DeViate summit, the definition can vary.

“Most of the time when clients talk about efficiency, they’re talking about saving money, or at the very least not wasting it,” says Lucy McCabe, Managing Partner at Ogilvy, during a panel at Xaxis’ DeViate summit. “But really, brands are always there to grow vs. their competition. Efficiency is growing faster than your competition while spending less than them.”

“Efficiency is a tactic, not a strategy,” says Joe Nguyen, Senior Vice President (APAC) at comScore Inc. “The days of mass media are over; the consumer is smarter and better informed, they’re consuming media on more platforms and devices than ever. And as that landscape becomes more complex, what’s gone is not the tactics, it’s the strategy.”

So in that increasingly noisy landscape populated by ad-free streaming services and subscription models, how can brands be seen? “We talk about ad-less content, but I don’t think that’s really the case,” says McCabe, citing the example of her teenage children who watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, which is itself arguably an exercise in branded content. “We need to be conscious of where we put those awareness-driving messages,” she advises. “Because the moment a teenager can press ‘skip ad’ then they will.”

“If efficiency leads to greater creativity and greater value, that’s a great thing, but unfortunately efficiency is currently looked at through a lens of cost-saving and procurement,” says Nguyen. The high profile example of P&G also raises questions about the ramifications of radical efficiency for long term business goals vs. short term wins. Marketers can’t afford to lose sight of one by focusing on the other, says McCabe: “You have to think long term, quarter on quarter, and then daily too, because of the immediate interaction between consumers and brands. You have to consider how all three are going to drive growth.”

Real efficiency will also involve grappling with the opportunities and obstacles presented by big data, says Marcus Loh, Director of APAC Communication at Tableau Software. “Consumers are producing more data than we can actually handle, which poses two challenges,” he says. “Firstly, only a small number of marketers have access to the right data. And secondly, there’s an overreliance on data. Data doesn’t tell you why people do things. How can data illuminate human behaviour? It might be nonlinear or illogical, it won’t come down to just an algorithm, and we as human beings have to make that judgment call.”

Turning that friction between machine and human into something more symbiotic is at the centre of how agencies can become meaningfully efficient, and that starts with fostering collaboration between human teams.

“Many data-backed marketers don’t understand brand-building, and vice-versa,” says Silas Lewis-Meiulus, Director of Media (APAC), GlaxoSmithKline. “The end state really needs to be brand marketers who understand and can leverage the value of big data to unearth true insights about customers… A lot of marketers who grow up with data specialisms really have no idea what a brand can offer regarding short term and long term business goals.”

“The human component of our ecosystem is where trust is built,” he continues. “Whether it’s a platform or an agency, trust has to be built with that human touch.” The entire panel agrees that marketers need to take a long hard look at the current relationship model in their industry; not just between agencies and brands, but the relationship that agencies have with their own people.

On both sides, relationships these days tend to be relatively short term; the brand/agency partnership exists from brief to brief, while internally, many agencies are prepared for the fact that they might have talent for three years before it is then poached. Such a transient way of working is neither conducive to managing and retaining talent, nor to building trust with clients.

“Where I’d love to be is for us to be trusted partners in growing the business,” says McCabe. She sees a return to that specific aspect of the Mad Men paradigm, when agencies were trusted, as one potential way for agencies to make the kind of money that banks and law firms are currently using to lure away the marketing industry’s talent.

“Our jobs as marketers have become more complex, there’s no denying that,” she says, “but the fundamentals of how to build a business and how to build a brand remain the same.”

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