Rise of the Machines: agencies need to be consultative, not a commodity, to succeed

According to those who helped us to compile this new joint Hall & Partners and TBWA study, marketing’s future will be both made easier and more complex by the rise of the machines.

Easier, for instance, because the best marketers will be able to understand the customer to an even greater degree, adding value to an organisation by providing a clearer voice to the customer.

More complex because people will have more control in choosing what they want from brands so marketers will no longer be able to assume that people will accept whatever they’re given. We know well through our multiple global campaigns that marketers need to craft their messages with greater regularity from the consumers’ point of view, and unless they add value consumers won’t engage. Because of the consumer’s tech-fuelled control, experiential marketing will be vital for brand development.

That control, believes David Naidu of Friesland Campina, will mean that experiential marketing, enabled by new technology, will become essential within the industry.

He says: “We’re moving away from marketing products to marketing experiences, and I think this is really where technology can play a very vital role in engaging with customers. Twenty years ago, I think consumers were asking, what can this product give me? But now they are more interested in knowing what drives the brand; what is your point of view and how do those points of view align with my own beliefs as a human being? And that’s the kind of experience that brands will try to provide.”

Equally, Benjamin Pommeraud, general manager of Riot Games in Singapore, says that because “people now decide exactly what they want, so you should never assume that they will accept whatever you give them. You should always try to give something that has value, otherwise there will be no response.”

As both Hall & Partners and TBWA have demonstrated, partnerships are crucial if companies are to construct efficient multi-disciplinary strategies that will extract the most value out of technological advances. Marketers will need to partner with agencies, tech partners and start-ups, trying to be more experimental as they shift from the traditional view of vendors and partners.

A leading CMO in Asia says that marketers will “be outsourcing to agencies who understand the breadth of technology, media and creativity.” For instance, he adds: “More effort will need to be invested in real-time marketing and so marketers will need to be able to think more on their feet. That means agencies and creative marketers will need to become much more practical, and take ego out of the process.”

The compulsion to adopt some of these technologically-driven techniques will mean that brands and marketers will need to know how to interpret data accurately in a bid to create the most meaningful content that can be delivered efficiently in real-time. As we’ve learned swiftly, one of the great things about artificial intelligence is that it gives marketers the ability to have direct contact with individuals and their needs in a more honest, open and natural environment.

For Voler creative Dillon Seo, the secret of understanding the customer better lies in more direct contact – marketers, he believes, need to act in a more journalistic manner, supplementing the insight that machines can bring with a more ‘human’ approach.

“Previously it was not possible to delve so deeply into individual needs,’ he says. ‘But now we live in a world now where we can use AI to ask those questions on a personal level.”

This means that the role of data scientist and data architect within a creative agency will be fundamental. After all, if you want to improve the client experience and add value, than you need to become expert in leveraging data in real-time in an impactful and authentic manner.

According to a member of the leadership team at one of the world’s leading tech companies, highly regarded for its research and development of AI algorithms, they believe: “The role of a data scientist or data architect within a creative agency will be absolutely fundamental. Marketers need to be sitting next to data scientists to make the magic happen.”

Instead of simply marketing products, we know that brands will need to be able to market experiences and align with a consumer’s deeply-held beliefs. If this new tech-world is indeed driven by the consumer – and thus far more competitive - then brands will need to be much clearer about what they’re trying to sell.

At the same time, that brand experience can’t be too intrusive. To counter that claustrophobic Big Brother-style strategy, they will need to have conversations that go beyond the products themselves, engaging with agencies such as ourselves to craft their message.

Which means the human touch, enabling these tech-conversations to take place, will be even more important – consumers still want the intuitive, listening reactive element that, as yet, robots simply don’t possess.

As Mark Liversidge, founder of Eight Magpies, says: “Marketers need to exercise caution’ about embracing all types of technology. Consumers want control and enrichment, not to be controlled.”

And not abandoning the human element is something that particularly concerns Martin Ryan, who believes over-enthusiasm in replacing humans with machines is a “real risk to our industry. Consumers still want something more intuitive and that listening and reacting element isn’t there with robots. Yet.”

Control doesn’t just pass to consumers, technology allows manufacturers to take back control of their retail spaces – to offer experiences that are more spontaneous, varied and immersive. In particular, FMCG brands will be able to take customers to the journey to the very roots of a brand which is a key advantage in markets such as China where they so value the orientation of product. Such technology, believes a senior marketer from a leading FMCG company, will have applications far beyond those which we currently perceive. The combination of richer customer data, she says, including better analytics and the growing sophistication of these technologies will allow brands to break the mould and offer retail experiences (whether physical, mobile or virtual) that are more spontaneous, varied and immersive.

Another leading CMO based in Singapore said he is confident that marketers will adapt to the machine-fuelled future. Indeed, he is adamant that they must. He says: “The machines are going to help us find out who’s very good at marketing. Right now there’s a commodity-like relationship between brands and agencies; a brand will say here’s my brief and budget, give me an ad campaign. As machines become a more integral part of that process, we will have a different relationship where agencies need to be a strategic partner to fill the gaps. We’ll be outsourcing it to agencies who understand the breadth of technology, media and creativity.

“The key thing is that the best marketers will be the ones who understand customers. And that means the best marketers will need to be always-on.”

As we’ve demonstrated at both Hall & Partners and TBWA, a machine-fuelled future will liberate marketers and allow them and the industry greater flexibility in the ways brands will engage with consumers. Our report, however, shows just how reskilling and adapting in an agile manner to fluctuating strategies will be key drivers of success.

The article is the fourth and final chapter in a five-part series by TBWA\Asia Pacific and Hall & Partners.

An introduction, looked at the concept that the machines have risen, followed by the first chapter, which looked at how the industry is dealing with the fears around automation. The second chapter asked marketers whether they thought algorithms could perfect emotion. The third chapter argued that the true potential lay in using this technology to improve online and offline experiences. The concluding chapter (this chapter) reveals the practical things agencies and brands need to do to prepare.

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