REMOVE, REFRESH & REFORM
Published on April 21, 2020
Over the years, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. Redefining the nature of business, expression and even human relationships. It has changed the way information circulates all over the world. The manner in which information can now be shared has grown in magnitude and value. Data is the new age currency. Digital economies are leading the change. With minimal cost to enter, this platform economy is growing rapidly with numerous providers offering wide range of services. Digital marketing is now at the center of this explosive adoption.
As a platform, digital marketing now functions as a medium of exchange, a natively-positioned canvas that can radically shape how content is recommended, curated and eventually consumed. Often referred to as a platform economy, this is now part of a larger network made up of brands, advertisers, publishers and consumers, where services are provided on-time, in a convenient and personalized manner; in exchange for some value or the other. This value that is being exchanged between brands, platforms and the consumers is under significant stress, from whichever perspective, one would like to see.
Consumers are concerned about their data being used or abused by the platforms for much more than they have bargained for. Marketers are concerned with the rising cost of engaging with their prospects due to fragmented and duplicated technologies. Platforms are concerned about the cost of retaining their userbase to be able to provide better content to engage with them for as long as they can. These concerns across privacy, provenance and personalization are asymmetrically balanced with each other, but is delicately holding the $1.7 Tn marketing economy. This is going to become heavy to balance anymore.
One of the significant impact of COVID19 is the rapid rise in the digital natives. Webinars, home-based learning, virtual conferences, eShopping, online social engagements, streaming entertainment services, telemedicine etc., has fast tracked some of the latent industries to adopt the digital platform even more quickly. There is going to be an accelerated adoption of digital platforms from more industries across entertainment, education, commerce and most importantly, health. As the digital natives and the channels rise, digital marketing will grow in its size too. And so will be the asymmetry in the balance between brands, platforms and the consumers. Something is going to give in.
Even during this unprecedented situation with a level of uncertainty hitherto never thought of, some sectors have grown in their sales or consumption, while some have declined significantly. This clearly indicates, this is not an economic depression. This is not a contraction in the economy either. This is an enforced simulation of a revision in our needs and wants under certain conditions where our physical and digital assets are pivoted across instead of rallying together. Some of the changes in the behavior we are enforced upon are going to lead to some permanent changes in our lifestyles. We are entering a new world which is going to be virtually universal (global) but physically local (national). This is the new normal.
Whenever there is a need to pivot ourselves towards a new normal, it is common practice to look at what are the current practices that we need to stop doing, what are the best practices we currently have that we should hold and continue and what are the new initiatives that we need to start afresh. For the purpose of simplicity let us call it Remove, Refresh and Reform. All the earlier pandemics ran the course for more than 2 years and had more than two waves. So evidence indicates that even with this simulation, the return is not going to be an abrupt or a sudden release but a gradual restoration albeit in a phased manner, over a period of 3-6 months; but settle to a new normal. A new behavior. A new awareness towards health and hygiene. A refreshed look at travel and transport. A new cost baseline for businesses on office administration and general costs. Above all, an altogether new need hierarchies.
This is not an exhaustive list but some thought starters on the areas that we need to Remove, Refresh and Reform, with a specific focus on the digital marketing platform economy.
Remove the past data:
In a rather philosophical way, past will not have anything to do with the future and so will the future be without a proper understanding of the present. Perhaps it is a good idea to remove the trends we have analysed from the past for future projections. So are the econometric work done with various consumer mix modelling. Our estimation of the audience and the market size are based on the past data, which might not reflect the new normal. There will also be no universal models that will be applicable to estimate even our general administrative costs, as the global supply chain pivots to a new world order. Essentially, both the topline growth assumptions and the bottomline cost estimations will need a reset.
Refresh our muscle memory:
Internet or the world wide web as we know, is now an integral part of our life. Mobile telephony will take internet to the last mile and will continue with the expansion both in terms of quality and quantity through 5G and related technologies. Perhaps it is a good idea to reverse the sequence and start stacking all other channels digital out. Instead of calculating incremental reach of digital over TV, what if we start calculating incremental reach of TV over digital? Our muscle memory as regards to our methodologies remain intact, but we pivot our research digital out. Use this simulation time to recast the metrics that matter. Essentially, go back to the first principles of keeping consumer first, channel next and start building new models.
Reform the technology:
The digital platform economy is under siege with multiple technologies and softwares built for the primitive digital era. Not for the new world where seamless interoperability will be required between our different digital footprints across entertainment, education, commerce and health. This is not an efficiency play for the brands. This is equally an effectiveness play for the consumers and the platforms. Privacy and Personalisation cannot be at cross purposes. There is a need to find a collaborative way where neither of this are compromised. Essentially, converging the 30+ technologies that are serving the digital marketing ecosystem across Search, Social, Commerce and Engagement into a collaborative stack. This is a necessity rather than a luxury.
This requires the industry to come together. Use this year as an opportunity to transform existing processes; revise to the metrics that matter; create new benchmarks for the future. We have the next 6-9 months to get this started. Better late than never!