There is no dearth of buzzwords in any conversation that delves on how marketers should leverage the digital ecosystem. However, to truly make marketing smarter and more efficient, applying these buzzwords, especially ones such as artificial intelligence (AI) or data, in daily decision making is critical. Starcom Middle East reiterated this in an on-ground initiative for its key clients, where the agency partnered with Google to present insights on AI, data, next generation search and ecommerce trends in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region.
Steve Parker, CEO, Publicis Media Middle East explained that the initiative was in line with the agency’s thought process of ‘better together’. Among other things, ‘better together’ encourages connecting marketers and platforms to understand how technology can achieve business objectives. In the half-day forum, experts from Google’s leadership team articulated a few key messages. The underlying principle of these messages was to understand that machine learning and data availability have made it possible for technology to do the heavy lifting and allow people to focus on strategy and creativity.
Mr Parker’s objective from the day was also to urge not only Starcom’s clients but also the leadership team to specify how some of the newer tech can be applied to their everyday businesses. “We had a large number of our clients, our leadership talent and media partner Google in the same room. The discussions are important, but it is more important converting talk into action, and communicating with each of our clients and our teams to ensure that we make AI, search marketing and ecommerce transform our clients’ businesses,” he said.
Tick-Tock Tech Talk
One of the most riveting conversations around the day was about AI, an area where Starcom is investing significantly globally. Charbel Sarkis, Sector Lead, Ecommerce, Telecom and Technology, Google MENA explained how machine learning, a subset of AI, could make automation intelligent, and add speed, context and relevance to real time engagement with consumers. He asserted that machine learning had the potential to bring about even bigger change than the internet or the growth of smartphones did.
“If you can get some help from a computer that gets smarter all the time, it frees up your talent to add a creative, instinctive and strategic layer to recommendations and solutions. This will drive effectiveness and efficiencies. Globally, Publicis Group is invested in both the importance and the value of AI. We are creating Marcel globally which will help transform our thinking the Middle East as well,” Mr Parker informed.
As is known, Marcel is the AI capability that Publicis is investing in as a step forward in its ‘power of one’ philosophy. Marcel is a mechanic for connecting the holding companies talent and business globally to benefit its clients. It aims to make insights and global learnings available despite any geographical or similar barrier.
Where machine learning unlocks value and allows automation, it also leads to a situation of creating commodity. Alex Brunori, Creative Agency Head for Google MENA explained that the more data there is, the more important creativity becomes. In his address, he acknowledged data to be the illuminator in the approach to marketing, and that in the age of apps and information exchange, storytelling was in the interface.
One of the important talking points on the Publicis Media agenda is leveraging ecommerce in MENA. Google MENA’s analytical consultant for retail, Tanmay Dhall, shared facts to detail the sheer headroom for growth in the ecommerce sector in MENA. He also highlighted areas such as infrastructure or the gap in the supply side as some of the challenges that the region had to contend with for ecommerce to grow.
“There are many elements and stages to ecommerce; the smallest of things can make the biggest difference in driving consumer experience. We have the best capabilities in the region for ecommerce, validated by our relationship not only with companies such as Souq and Sporter but also with the work we are doing with over a dozen key client partners in developing their direct to consumer properties. And we want to build on this further,” Mr Parker stated.
Starcom and Google also took a closer look at how search marketing has evolved over the years. Souheil Soueid, Agency Head MENA for Google explained that search had become intelligent and contextual, opening up more opportunities for marketers in connecting with consumers in a more relevant fashion. Mr Soueid explained that from a mobile-first era, the industry was moving to an AI-first age, which would have continued implications on businesses.
Adding to the several assertions on the role that data plays, Google’s head of media buying solutions for MENA and Turkey, Rayan Karaky, outlined the power of data for modern day marketer.
Several marketers working with Starcom such as DTCM, Duracel, OSN, ADIB, du, YAS MALL, Mars, Asics, Visa, FCA, Samsung and Farah Experiences attended the forum.
“An initiative such as this helps us to better understand our customer, how we target and how we reach out to them. Consumers share significant information on such platforms and this will help us customize product, promotions and services for them. Some of the sessions also refreshed our minds, and I know we will keep pushing our agencies to share new trends and new products in the market,” said Ibrahim Al Mayahi, Senior Director, Marketing Communications, du.
“Data is one of our main focus areas. Consumer engagement and consumer journey experiences are all about data and machine learning. Hearing about AI and how we use data for our daily business needs is one of our core pillars. I took a lot out of these sessions,” added David Abidaoud, Direct and Digital Marketing Director, Farah Experiences LLC.
Reiterating the proposition of better together, Mr Parker said, “We are running these types of collaborative events across all our key partners. We have to be open and collaborative and allow our media owner partners to work closely with our talent and our clients because we are better together, stronger together and smarter together. One person doesn’t know everything — get smart people in the room and good stuff happens.”