Stephen Li
Dec 23, 2016

Let's stay human in 2017

Embracing data and real-time metrics ought not to be done at the expense of building lasting brand love, writes OMD's Asia-Pacific CEO, Stephen Li

Let's stay human in 2017

What the US election certainly proved was that even when we have the most sophisticated algorithms analyzing genuinely robust data points – that it comes down to whether you are putting the right question, to the right person. Now more than ever, we need to get out of the echo chamber of ‘what we know’ being constantly played back to us.

When we consider this in relation to our modern marketing world, I ask myself - is anyone really thinking about building brand love anymore?

Balancing both the demand and the desire sides of the equation for short-term performance and long-term success is critical. However, in an industry so captivated by the power of data and technology, it is an easy balance to forget. It is easy to forget that the people we are marketing to...are humans. They think and act with their head AND their heart. They make rational AND emotional decisions, and while we have advanced so rapidly as an industry in identifying, understanding and predicting their behavior, their relationships with brands are complex and constantly at risk for disruption.

And because of this constant threat of disruption, there are fewer conversations about building brand love, or about harnessing consumer emotions, or about anything long-term. They are about today, tomorrow. The short term, driving sales, maximizing performance.

We are at risk of becoming data day traders, hyper focusing on short-term performance and not thinking about long-term growth.

This puts us at great risk of under-delivering on the brand love part of the equation. We are not spending enough time as portfolio managers understanding the totality of the dynamics that impact growth and performance. And we are not invested enough as an industry in that skill set. More and more, we hire only day traders.

This needs to begin changing in 2017. We need to spend more time understanding how to tap into the motivations, inspirations and aspirations of our consumers - what drives their desire and how brands fulfill it, so that we can create consumer demand for a lifetime.  

No one will argue that data should not inform decisions and refine our executional precision.  No one will disagree that we need to get smarter about how we mine and apply data.  But data alone is not the answer.  We need to acquire new consumers and mine sources of growth that might not show up in the data, or aren’t an opportunity today but will be tomorrow. We must be the portfolio managers that understand how reason and emotion, demand and desire, short and long term, all work together.

The more things change, the more they are the same…

But what are some of the things that will evolve in 2017?

  • Rise of chatbots as a consumer interface – Google has launched Allo, Facebook is reportedly integrating chatbot features into Messenger, Quartz has launched a successful news chatbot, and the near future will see chatbots increasingly used in customer service and professional services environments. How can brand communications be a part of this environment?
  • The decline of the website. Exact figures on this are hard to find as greater numbers of consumers access the mobile internet, but its likely that as messaging environments and other walled gardens develop ways for brands to have a presence, that these will become the first port of call for consumers over brand websites
  • We start to think less about ‘number of users’ or ‘daily users’ and more about share of attention. Whatever happens there are only 24 hours in a day
  • E-commerce will grow quickly in Southeast Asia.  Currently, there is only 3% online retail penetration compared to 14% in both the US and China, according to a Bain & Co report. But there is serious investment in the sector; China’s JD.com are in Indonesia, while Softbank and others have invested more than $100 million in Tokopedia. We expect the rate of growth to increase quickly

So technology and data will continue to play a key role in all of our decision-making in 2017– but let’s not forget that they are a means to an end.  Human interaction and insight still sit at the core of the marketing challenge.