The stakeholders in the digital marketing ecosystem need to pull together to face its challenges and capitalise on opportunities.
With more than 346 million new internet users coming online globally, 2020 opened up the digital gates – including access, interactivity, and engagement. This phenomenal growth resulted in the equivalent of 10 years’ innovation in a mere six months.
Local publishers saw a surge in monthly traffic, with News24, Fin24, the Citizen and Business Insider showing a month-on-month increase of more than 50% in unique browsers over the height of lockdown as we searched for credible updates in real-time online. This was combined with radical bursts of a global, collective energy that saw historical structures and ideologies being re-evaluated and recalibrated, redefining almost everything we know, even if we cannot fully articulate these monumental changes just yet.
Our industry has been faced with equally significant challenges, and as the obstacles (and opportunities) of last year still hang in the air of this one like a thick fog, we find ourselves asking myriad questions about the nature of our businesses and personal lives: Do we move our business completely online or keep our physical space as our primary customer touchpoint? Do we bring all our staff back to HQ or remain a predominantly work-from-home business? Do we stop using third-party data completely and move it all to first-party? Do I keep my career path linear or do I specialise and branch out into an expertise-driven field?
In my experience, and as we build the bridge to better fortunes out of the year that was, the answer is in fact to choose both.
As Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Global CEO David Cohen so aptly puts it, “Our ability to meet the very large changes ahead depends on how much we are willing to rise to the occasion. We can’t shrug and go back to business as usual. As an industry, we must reset our mindset. We need to remind the world of all that the ad-supported internet has provided – and continues to provide.
The endless drumbeat of negativity about tracking, privacy, fraud and fears of Big Tech will continue in 2021. When naysayers shout, ‘What good is digital?’ the answer is: plenty. The free and open web that helped us all get through 2020 is indispensable.”
Some of the most notable disruptions from the IAB Global Brand Disruption Report that we can expect to navigate locally in the year ahead include:
- The fastest-growing brands of 2021 will be store-less, data-rich, live, participatory, entertaining, localised and streaming.
- Small brands will continue to gain market share. All the trends in production, distribution, retailing, and marketing make small brands more competitive against large brands. That said, big brands’ scale, recognition and trust still give them significant advantages.
- You cannot delay gratification. With Walmart and Amazon competing to make two-hour delivery the norm in major markets globally, delivery partnerships for rapid fulfilment are now essential for all brands. In what ways will this play out in South Africa in the year ahead?
- How do I engage thee? Let me count the ways. While the goal of marketing remains ‘create a customer’, the way to do so is through participation via ongoing communities, social selling, live virtual events, classes and other forms of active involvement in the brand – tactics that will experience hyper growth as Covid-19 propels them into the mainstream.
- Make it streamable, make it shoppable, and make it fast. Media advertising will increasingly focus on driving participation in live events. Successful publishers, brands and experience providers will partner to create live experiences and enable shopping directly. The growth of free, ad-supported, streaming TV will boost the usage of shoppable media.
- Brands must be data companies that make things, not the other way around. Consumer-facing companies cannot remain competitive without growing their first-party relationships and first-party data.
Let change bring us together
“Change will happen at a dizzying pace, and it will be happening everywhere at once – from privacy and policy decisions to addressability and attribution across every imaginable device, to the convergence of video and commerce in consumers’ living rooms, to an unstoppable drive for diversity across the industry,” continues Cohen. “This is not the year to go it alone. More so than in any year in recent memory, 2021 is a time when the entire ecosystem – publishers, ad tech, agencies, and brands – must come together to make sense of it all.
At the IAB we call this the ‘big tent’, with our membership crossing all marketing, media, platforms, ad technology and marketing technology segments to identify relevant growth opportunities and deliver cross-purpose solutions. Whether solving for brand safety, viewability or benchmarking online ad spend in South Africa, it is the uniting of all the various industry stakeholders that enables the IAB to empower the media and marketing industries to thrive in a digital economy.
“We must reset our commitment to working together as an ecosystem,” says Cohen. “We must park our egos and our pride of ownership at the door and pull together. The most challenging industry problems we face – cross-screen measurement; identity resolution; balancing privacy, personalisation and safety; and more – won’t improve unless we all work together. Ready or not, 2021 is here. When the industry looks back at this moment in 10 or 20 years, we won’t remember what ended; instead, we’ll remember what started. This is our moment. What we make of it is up to us.”
Paula Hulley joined the IAB SA as CEO on 1 July 2018, with more than 15 years of experience in building brands and consumer-engaging experiences. She joined digital agency Gloo in its first year of inception, going on to become MD of the Cape Town office and then MD of the integrated business, Gloo@Ogilvy post the merger with Ogilvy in 2015. Hulley then became head of innovation and digital for Ogilvy Cape Town.
Sources: DataReportal, July 2020; ITU, 2019; IAB 2020 Global Brand Disruption Report
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