Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

Finding relevance in a techno world

The line between marketing and technology has officially disappeared, announces Khurram Mahboob.

The Digital Marketing Expo and Conference (DMEXCO) 2018, one of the premier mobile marketing and advertising conferences, was held in Cologne in September and predictably, the venue was brimming with debates, ideas and technology. DMEXCO is now considered to be the de facto standard when it comes to showcasing the major trends impacting the digital world by bringing together thought leaders from across the digital marketing space under one roof. The 41,000 visitor-strong event had no shortage of groundbreaking insights shared by 550 high-profile speakers.

Technological innovation is now unstoppable and growing exponentially. Whether an innovation is successful or not, cannot be predicted and the biggest takeaway from the event was that the line between marketing and technology has officially disappeared. Technology has to be understood, embraced and deployed. It is critical to know how to combine technology with creativity and customer-centric processes to deliver better digital experiences. Looking ahead, marketing and IT teams can only work even more closely together. Digital experiences are not optional, they are the norm and experience-driven businesses have to deliver the perfect combination of innovation with a human touch. Here are the hottest trends to have emerged from this year’s edition.

1 You, me and every other marketer are in the business of selling experiences

Your marketing objectives must go beyond selling products and services. The focus should be on selling good experiences. Personalisation, although not a new topic, has taken a big step forward and marketers have realised that it involves more than collecting data. Personalisation requires an equal amount of creativity to seamlessly translate into a customer experience. This means close collaboration between data experts and creative people. Never before did brands have the arsenal to integrate insights, creativity, personalisation, data collection and AI, and turn it all into an immersive customer experience. Instead of asking “which programmatic software should I buy?” or “who has the best data management platform?”, marketers should ask the more relevant question: “How can we better understand our customers and use that knowledge to differentiate our brands through incredible experiences?”

2 Cost efficiencies and improved control through programmatic

Programmatic buying through open exchanges and private marketplaces (PMPs) is on the rise. Automation and the greater efficiencies programmatic brings has seen a rise in its adoption by brands (although they are at different stages) and the trend is in favour of heavy programmatic spend. There was plenty of constructive opinion about the fact that brands jump into programmatic buying without addressing some of the key constructs of the data in terms of segmentation; data types (own, shared, syndicated party), vertical categories and partners’ data layering. Concerns were expressed about the issues surrounding increased automation in terms of transparency and brand safety and how they can be addressed. Furthermore, a tectonic shift is underway as brands bring more of their digital marketing capabilities in-house. This is alarming for people in the ad industry who are still practising legacy business models, but exhilarating for anyone who recognises that this is a smarter, more agile and connected way of working. In a 2017 survey, the Association of National Advertisers found that a third of marketers had cut back on media agencies running their programmatic campaigns, preferring to bring those operations in-house. ‘In-housing’ has become a favoured approach. As a result, media agencies will face extinction unless they integrate with the brands’ in-house operations. Stats unveiled at DMEXCO showed that since January 2018, the primary model used to execute in-house programmatic is led by demand-side platforms and ad agencies (35%), followed by enterprise software (33%) and demand-side platforms (32%). A Deloitte survey revealed that a third of marketers are cutting their programmatic budgets and bringing them in-house, which warrants the question of whether ad agencies are dying? Lego, Revlon, Unilever,Vodafone (to name a few) have set up in house agencies to develop more on-site agile expertise. This marks the decline of the traditional way of working between brands and agencies; it also signals the start of something new and potentially exciting. The core reason behind this change is trust and transparency, and perhaps more importantly, the agility brands need in order to stay ahead. Ideas blossom, collaborations peak and everything moves faster when people work together. In the long run, brands are likely to adopt a hybrid model that combines both internal and external talent.


Brands need to leverage AI and machine learning to their advantage and be in the heads of their customers in order to move them into the consideration mindset. The question that marketers should ask is: How will they react to a consumer talking to a brand in real time?


3 Audience Manager and Audience Gatekeeper – the new roles for an omni experience

The consensus is that brands have been unsuccessful in delivering a truly immersive, cross-channel experience because of organisational silos and the lack of a 360 customer approach (which means that customer platforms such as apps, billing systems etc., are not integrated) and as a result, organisations fail to consolidate the data that would improve future customer interaction. Going forward, a smooth cross-channel orchestration will require: 1) An Audience Gatekeeper to identify the insights across different channels that are relevant. 2) An Audience Manager to oversee the customer lifecycle, while the Gatekeeper ensures that the same customer is not approached multiple times as this can create negative brand perceptions in customers’ minds. 3) Further socialisation of customer data platforms within organisational silos. 4) A predictive 360-degree customer view that becomes the industry standard for audience segmentation.

4 AI to the rescue

It was almost impossible to find a session that didn’t mention AI in some capacity. Whether it was or not overkill, there is no doubt that brands are exploring the opportunities AI brings, especially when it comes to speeding up time-consuming processes. AI helps marketers and IT professionals reduce their administrative tasks, liberating them to focus on value-driving tasks, be it creative campaign ideas or innovative delivery models. But that’s only half the story. As Adobe’s Suresh Vittal commented: “AI is not only about crunching; it helps brands fuel their creativity.” In a demo, he illustrated the power of AI for advertising, specifically in automating content creation. Using Adobe Sensei, Vittal was able to design a film poster in a few minutes with different versions for different target groups. Brands need to leverage AI and machine learning to their advantage and be in the heads of their customers in order to move them into the consideration mindset. The question that marketers should ask is: How will they react to a consumer talking to a brand in real time? This is where AI comes in because it detects intentions. Algorithms look at user behaviour to detect the mood and intent of the user. For example, voice assistants represent an additional channel to reach consumers in new ways and offer services. The first step is to understand voice-based commands and content, but the real value will come when brands start to use voice in both directions; delivering experiences back to customers either through their own channels or by adding APIs to popular, third-party voice assistants.


By 2020, the average person will spend 1.2 hours a day watching videos online. At the event, YouTube announced they would begin supporting vertically-aligned video ads. So far, YouTube video ads have been horizontal, in alignment with how videos appear on desktops and laptops and this announcement underlines the disruptive role mobile is playing.


5 Screen-connected TVs

Time spent with mobile devices may be at an all-time high, but a new kind of connected device ‘the connected television set’ is on the horizon. Although nascent, the connected television set will open up exciting opportunities for both broadcasters and advertisers.

6 Mobile is the advertising format and video is king

According to statistics, YouTube viewers consume one billion hours of video every day and this surging growth is fuelled by mobile; research has shown that Gen Z spends longer online on mobile than on any other device combined. By 2020, the average person will spend 1.2 hours a day watching videos online. At the event, YouTube announced they would begin supporting vertically-aligned video ads. So far, YouTube video ads have been horizontal, in alignment with how videos appear on desktops and laptops and this announcement underlines the disruptive role mobile is playing. To engage with a generation that are mobile first, brands must adapt the way they engage with them and keep their eye on new formats, contextually and creatively. 4G, social live video, bumper ads and vertical formats are vital areas that will impact the advertising landscape.


Khurram Mahboob is a tech marketer currently working in the Middle East for a leading fortune 500 company. khurram.mahboob@gmail.com