Meet the MENA Effie Thought-Leadership Program's speakers.
The pandemic has turned life and business upside down, challenged plans, and tested processes. In this context, companies need to seriously raise their game to be effective and succeed. The MENA Effie Thought-Leadership Program is your chance to Rise and Shine. Two mornings of sessions that will show you how to improve your performance and impress the Effie jury.
Leading up to the event organized by Mediaquest on May 18-19, Communicate presents a series of interviews with the speakers on what effectiveness in marketing means in 2021.
Today, meet Elias Karam, Strategist at Publicis Middle East. Elias will participate in a panel discussion around "Doing lighthearted marketing right."
What has the pandemic changed in terms of marketing effectiveness?
With Covid-19, we saw huge reductions in marketing budgets; yet, at the same time, we knew that consumers were spending more at home and online, so there were greater expectations to make more with less. It became more about being present on specific digital platforms and overperforming on those than being present across a variety of touchpoints and seamlessly building a journey across each one.
Likewise, the pandemic has led to the rise of purposeful communications, with brands activating their brand platforms and driving CSR initiatives to support their consumers at a higher-order level. This is driven by consumers becoming more and more demanding, especially among youth who are looking for purpose beyond just the product from brands.
What has been a salient case of creativity and effectiveness in the last year?
In a time where everyone was fighting for share of mind, share of heart, and even share of pocket, we saw some really great cases that were driven by purpose and a drive to make a difference.
While a challenge to pick a specific case, Nescafe’s ‘Stay Close From Far’ campaign by Publicis Middle East serves as a creative example that was equally as effective.
By staying true to its platform of enabling connections, it extended that purpose during Covid to make it more relevant to the context.
It took a platform-first approach on Instagram that was rooted in real insights into what consumers were feeling during the Covid lockdown and looked to help with that. By inspiring real authentic stories, it enabled stronger connections between consumers in a time when they were feeling lonely.
Nescafe really put the spotlight on its community and proved that it’s not only about saying you care but also showing you care.
Sometimes, simple executions that are founded on real insights can make all the difference.
In a crisis, who reaps the biggest rewards and why: the brave or the cautious?
I am a big proponent of the expression ‘Fortune Favors the Bold’ and I think this rings truer in periods of crisis. Whether it was times of war or economic recession, history has proven that those who see beyond the interim phase of crisis and plan accordingly emerge reaping greater rewards.
I remember reading the WARC 2020 Strategy report that showed how brands that invested in advertising during recessions outperformed those who only invested in economic booms. I believe this has something to do with reaching audiences and connecting with them in a time when many brands are shying away from investing in building stronger connections.
However, it’s important to distinguish boldness for the sake of it and boldness that is calculated and relevant to the context. When it came to humor, we saw many brands take bold steps that backfired.
We forget that a recession isn’t only causing brands to worry and [be frustrated], but our consumers too and we owe it to them to be there for them as we expect them to be there for us.
What does the new normal mean to you?
While I originally wished for a return to normality, I see merits in many of the habits we have adopted and how technology has made our lives more convenient.
I see a ‘new normal’ that brings the best of both worlds, where 9-5 workdays are replaced with greater flexibility and are personalized to our daily habits and rituals. Where technology and live interactions are balanced to give us real human connections and the added convenience that technology offers.
Our new normal will have technology ready for aid to help us filter out which meetings, both local and international, need to be in-person and which can be done over Microsoft Teams.
Lastly, with the rising trend by Google on ‘slow living,’ I believe we will be embracing a new normal where we carve out time every day to slow the pace down and focus on interests that give us purpose outside our work.
How prepared were you for the unexpected and how have you adapted to uncertainty?
Frankly, I wasn’t prepared in the slightest for Covid and could definitely be singled out in the beginning as someone who underestimated its longevity. However, at Publicis, our purpose is ‘Lead the Change.’ It’s in our DNA as an agency and an as humans and it was in this spirit of embracing change that I buckled up and did my homework on how to best deal with it, from less human interactions to working from home.
To adapt to this uncertainty, I first [focused] on building a daily routine that worked for me, that allowed me to feel sufficiently productive, get my work done, and have time to spare for my personal interests (includes a lot of chess playing). But I believe what really helped me adapt to these changes was a change in mindset. Instead of quietly hoping for a return to normal, I slowly began to focus on taking on making the most of each day and having a willingness to accept that tomorrow might require sudden shifts in lifestyle - which, as a strategist, was a very difficult pill to swallow.
Some argue that limited budgets enhance creativity. What do you think 2021’s creative output will be like?
I believe that humanity has always persevered in moments of scarcity and this will equally take form in 2021’s creative output. We are already seeing great pieces of cost-effective creativity like Google’s "Be Kind to Your Mind" that leveraged dynamic content to support different struggles with mental health.
We will be seeing many brands leveraging different strategic partnerships and tapping into their wider networks to keep costs down while playing into their resources and strengths.
Equally, I suspect many brands will either begin or shift their focus more towards leveraging the ad tech solutions of brands like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to reach wider audiences in a more cost-effective way.
At the end of the day, we will need to accept the new reality that businesses are facing, with more emphasis on cost efficiencies and greater effectiveness. Brands will adapt and continue to strive because what drives great creativity is strong human insights, purpose, effective media, strategic partnerships. And while limited budgets do present greater challenges, they by no means will hinder our creativity.
What are the top three skills the marketer of the future will need?
Hard to pin down on just three skills, but I believe that in the comings years, marketers will need to be: data-driven, focused on integrated marketing, and creativity.
We are in a data-led era that has removed subjective preferences from the equation, where marketers need to not only be able to read and interpret different data pieces but to also have a data-first approach when deciding which audiences to target, what strategy to adopt, and such.
Marketers also need to adopt an integrated communications approach where we think beyond our titled roles and adopt the many hats of the marketing chain. This means that we all need to be able to think about creative, strategy, media, data science, digital transformation; that we need to understand the different touchpoints at our disposal, and that, above all, we understand what our consumers will be experiencing every step of the way.
I left the last skill purposely vague because it is one of those intangible skills that we know when we see them but rarely can articulate them. Creativity is more than just being imaginative, it’s also about the ability to make more with less, to be resourceful and agile. That culminates in the ability to create novel opportunity from around you in a way that adds greater meaning. As marketers, we need to imbue creativity with purpose to create real meaning and value. It is a skill that technology cannot replicate and one reserved exclusively for our humanity.
To attend the MENA Effie Thought-Leadership Program, book your tailored experience now.