Mazher Abidi, Strategy Director at Initiative, on why data has to be part of our media discussion and how to improve the way we use it.
As we pass through February, we’ve comfortably had two months to digest the growing volume of commentary speculating on how 2021 will shape up for the industry.
Yet, in the search for clues to what lies ahead, it’s easy to get lost in the fog of reading into the future. And given the flux we’ve just experienced, many will likely still be catching breath after the pace of 2020.
The good news is that there are still significant gains in simply taking on board lessons from what’s just gone and fixing fundamentals, especially in areas where, as an industry, we have room for improvement.
Another crack at true customer centricity
Customer-centric business models have always seemed caught in a paradox – simultaneously requiring more robust data before using what’s currently available. Take e-commerce; entering 2020, a Visa study estimated the sector was worth $15 billion+ in sales and growing 25% year on year in the UAE (vs. 11% in mature markets). Since then, over 50% of the region’s online shoppers have increased spends, with between 40% to 70% of transactions attributed to first-time online buyers, depending on the industry. Looking forward, 53% of UAE businesses and a massive 80% of Saudi businesses expect these levels to sustain, especially once pent-up demand is released into the economy.
This is just one example from many, adding up to a lot of extra (and often first-party) data from many new users and customers. Possibly more than we know what to do with.
Yet, 2020 exposed once again just how poorly this data is often used.
My music platform of choice regularly struggles to compile a ‘smart’ playlist of new music I actually like; while asking friends has proven a more effective way of discovering shows to stream that really match my interests vs. what’s served up on screen (both would’ve been helpful during lockdown).
Targeted offers can be useful but email is a flawed delivery channel since everything gets lost in an NPS feedback minefield; on a related thread, targeted emails from a major online portal seem to always offer me everything but what I want.
So, for 2021, perhaps it’s time we broke into this complexity to use the data we always had and the new data we got, for good. Not just campaign or media good; but genuinely to benefit the people we’re meant to serve – our customers.
We can start by breaking large data sets down into manageable subsets for specific tasks, channels, and business units; as we slowly scale improvements up over time and across different parts of a business, we’ll start to see tangible improvements in customer retention and satisfaction that help businesses – finally become truly customer-centric.
Addressing privacy through trust
Naturally, any conversation around data eventually trends towards impending privacy policies from the tech behemoths. Especially when overlaid with GWI polling suggesting that during the last half year alone, the gap between the number of MENA users preferring to pay for services to keep data private vs. use free versions in exchange for data has almost doubled in favor of the former.
The pandemic highlights a route through this bottleneck by building trust through transparency. When audiences were further polled about willingness to share data for personal or public good – the example being contact-tracing apps – 73% approved.
This is worth noting in the context of proposed solutions for post-pandemic challenges. The travel industry, for example, is talking about digital vaccine passports to support recovery. These solutions have found support locally, with Emirates and Etihad among the first to sign up to trial the IATA travel pass, indicating our region’s keenness to show the world a route to normality.
As similar solutions are proposed across healthcare, retail, entertainment, and other sectors, it becomes clear that acceptance of data sharing across secured, universal, and unified platforms will need to rise significantly before we see results. The UAE’s Minister of State for the Digital Economy & AI went as far as acknowledging governments’ role as facilitators and guardians of this space at this year’s virtual WEF.
It proves tech, industry, and lawmakers will need to unite and quickly – to develop these solutions; but if attitudes shift far enough, businesses downstream in the economy will feel enormous benefit. Framing the data conversation through the lens of transparency and true customer benefit (and NOT just asking permission to use data for a ‘better website experience’) can reassure a skeptical public that platforms normally considered frenemies are capable of protecting data AND working together for a greater good.
Using what we know to understand what we don’t
Finally, if there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that we simply have no idea what’s really coming around the corner this year. No article or meme gets close to offering real certainty.
Yet, if every future shift, no matter how large or small, is qualified (through audience behavior data) as to whether it’s here for now, here to stay, or still to grow, we can plan with more confidence. Changes for now require a tactical response until normal patterns return – for example, our collective ramp up of screen time during lockdowns. Simply, there are not enough hours in the day for us to sustain 2020 levels of media consumption forever.
Changes that stay – such as work-from-home behavior – and changes still growing such as the continued rapid adoption of contactless & mobile payments throughout the economy, require more strategic responses that fundamentally transform how businesses operate.
This strategic vs. tactical balance – coincidentally close to the 60/40 ratio between long and short-term planning that Binet & Field recommend – should set most businesses up to plan more effectively.
And if we complement that with a more transparent and customer-centric approach to data, some of those predictions of a better year ahead may just hold true this time around.
This article was published in Communicate’s Q1 edition. You can access the full magazine here.
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