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Deep Dive 3 May 2022 - 6 min read

Shift happens: PHD Global CMO says marketers buried in reporting instead of growth generation; future roles emerging as marketing function restructures for next wave of gaming, influencer, commerce, decisioning disruption

By Paul McIntyre and Sam Buckingham-Jones
Chris Stephenson PHD

PHD Worldwide CMO Chris Stephenson: "Reporting has overtaken origination for marketers. But 91 per cent want it back on the table." Which means brands and agencies must start building the support roles to throw off admin shackles, sooner rather than later

Chris Stephenson, global CMO at media agency network PHD, thinks marketing's massive blindspot around gaming may come back to haunt those left behind when the metaverse – eventually – eats the internet. But that and other myopic tendencies may be because marketers are buried in admin rather than doing actual marketing. Per PHD’s latest research, 1,700 marketers globally say their biggest time allocation is spent on reporting, not smarts. Marketers unable to shake off administrative shackles risk being overtaken by a function overhaul now fast approaching – at least according to the group’s new book, ‘SHIFT: a Marketing Rethink’. PHD's futurists says it's time to build influencer programmatic teams, creator collaborators, decision scientists and distributed talent managers while preparing for 'agencies as a platform'. Meanwhile, Stephenson thinks those rushing headlong into Web 3.0 are barrelling into Gartner Hype Cycle's trough of disappointment.

What you need to know:

  • PHD's survey of 1,700 marketers found they are buried in reporting, not actual marketing.
  • Rapid technological change means the situation risks running out of control unless brands and agencies start designing roles and building capability for the next 10 years.
  • That means creating functions such as video commerce and conversational AI specialists, through to building influencer programmatic teams and hiring decision scientists to train smart algorithms to automatically bid on better prospects, connect all offline and online dots back into CRMs – and constantly get better at it.
  • But in the immediate term, brands need to get to grips with the opportunities presented by gaming, says PHD global marketing boss Chris Stephenson, because it will form the bedrock of the metaverse – which he reckons will eat the internet... eventually.

Marketers were really clear – they want origination back on the table. Some 91 per cent of marketers said that in ten years from now they want to be regularly carrying out origination functions.

Chris Stephenson, Global CMO, PHD

Chief reporting officers

Marketers are buried in reporting at the expense of growth – and are now asked to do half as much again as they were 10 years ago. Something has to give, says PHD Global CMO Chris Stephenson, and he reckons the solution is to start resourcing for the future before marketing’s smoking tyres blow out altogether.

The Omnicom-owned network surveyed 1,700 marketers for its new book, ‘SHIFT: A Marketing Rethink’. Per their answers, there has been a 51 per cent increase in overall number of functions those marketers have been asked to perform over the last 10 years. Across the same timeframe, the top task marketers say they’re commonly doing has changed from origination, i.e. ideas and proposition development, to reporting, i.e. admin. “So reporting has overtaken origination,” says Stephenson, an existential problem PHD attempts to address.

The first step is hacking back admin. “We've got to be honest about the amount of reporting that needs to be done and  be honest about trying to curtail that so the marketers can get back to what they want to be doing,” says Stephenson.

“Marketers were really clear – they want origination back on the table. Some 91 per cent of marketers said that in ten years from now they want to be regularly carrying out origination functions.”

The second step is to understand what future resource looks like to free marketers from reporting purgatory. So PHD attempted to understand the roles and capability that will be required, working with Google’s Singularity University initiative to map out six macro forces that will shape marketing over the decade to come. With a bit of help from the likes of Professor Mark Ritson and Unilever’s Chief Digital and Marketing Officer Conny Braams, the macro trends they landed on were:

  • Physical Separation: “The sense that we're spending a lot more time connecting via screens, that’s obvious,” per Stephenson.
  • Shallow Living: An overabundance of stimuli that make deep engagement difficult.
  • Trust Dissolution: “At no time really has trust in institutions being more tested or more valued,” Stephenson says. This is linked to brand trust.
  • Engineered Serendipity: A more palatable version of targeting or retargeting. “How do these connections with brands feel much more serendipitous? So it doesn't feel like we're being chased around by ads for pants you've already bought?” he adds.
  • Decentralised Influence: A few big places holding all the influence is gone, a trend already well underway.
  • Purpose Pervasion: With every brand thinking about purpose, it becomes white noise. “How do we stay credible and honest on that?” Stephenson says.

Personalised ads are over

Perhaps the most immediate takeaway for marketers and their agencies is that personalisation has no future – at least when it comes to advertising. According to PHD, personalisation sits in CX, not creepy ads.

“It's got a brilliant place when it comes to the product or the service – if you go to a bank website, you absolutely want a personalised banking experience,” says Stephenson.

“Could that extend to marketing, communications? Almost certainly, no. I don't want a poster with a personalised communication from my bank – or even a digital ad. So we're actually really clear on that when it comes to personalisation … we've actually thought about this idea of serendipity and how we can get a much better iteration version of that going forward.”

The roles marketers and agencies need to build

Creator collaborators’ should be one of the first future roles on the development list for both marketers and agency groups, reckons Stephenson.

“Who are those anchors in the business that can collaborate with creators, with influencers, to make sure they're doing it with the brand in authentic, credible ways at scale? How do we ensure marketers are using creators/influencers in ways that not only are really relevant for their communities, but in ways that are relevant and appropriate for the brands as well?”

Video commerce specialists’ and ‘conversational AI developers’ that enable tap to buy ads or product placement within videos, or enable people to ask questions of ads, i.e. ‘how do I make a Negroni?’, should also be on the list, per PHD. As the world shifts further into shoppable ad formats, the smarter virtual sales assistants will win.

The rise of social commerce, according to SHIFT, will drive demand for ‘influencer programmatic teams’ where brands bid for mentions from influencers. While some view that world with tail wagging dog horror, existing platforms such as Indahash, Buzzoole and Talify “will develop into the major trading platforms”, according to PHD’s book.

Decision scientists – already in place at the platforms pushing performance agencies towards AI-powered search investment – will also become more widespread, PHD predicts.

SHIFT describes decisions scientists as people that train machine learning algorithms to make marketing decisions that can work out how likely a post-cookie identifier – ultimately a consumer – is to buy a certain product. Such algorithms would drive bid strategies as well as decide which creative assets to show certain people at certain times.

Nirvana, according to PHD’s book, it tying all on-line, offline and CRM activity together “into one closed loop, self-optimising environment.” At which point marketers can put their feet up and get back to ‘originating’, and the value of those proprietary algorithms “will be listed as intangible assets on the balance sheet” of firms that manage to build them, according to SHIFT. Though some may argue that might put some media buying teams out of a job.

That future would in turn will require ‘technology orchestrators’ to link onsite, offsite and CRM activity and make it all work, while managing identity graphs and privacy compliance.

The book also lists supporting roles for:

  • Agency as a platform (AaaP): A solution for brands that in-house capability such as media. As brands continue to seek in-house talent, some agencies will “effectively become quasi recruitment companies’ per the book, while providing technology services and access to preferential buying rates. That future would at least solve the agency talent crunch.
  • Distributed talent managers: Execs that bring together decentralised resource, or corralling the freelancers and offshore bidders, as a cynic might suggest.
  • Creative consultants and/or advisors: If brands continue to in-house, they may need consultants to help walk them through all the additional complexity that brings – unless they realty want to do more reporting admin – according to SHIFT. The book also sees growing demand for specific roles for ‘purpose-based consultancy’, ‘investment planning’ and ‘commerce strategy’.

The opportunity for brands to build a commerce layer within game platforms is huge. But to do that, you can't think ads, you've got to think branded skins, and branded skills. To get gaming right, you have to rethink brand assets, or you will not able to capitalise on the media spaces.

Chris Stephenson, Global CMO, PHD

Win games, win metaverse

Game commerce specialists are another key role mooted by Stephenson due to the “huge increases of audiences around gaming” and he thinks brands that crack gaming will gain a head start in the rush to conquer the metaverse. “So how can marketers harness the commercial opportunities [presented by gaming] in relevant ways and in authentic ways?” he asks.

A smart first step might be to actually recognise the opportunity. PwC figures last year put the Australian gaming ad market at a paltry $64m, forecasting anaemic growth to $86m by 2025, despite data suggesting there are upwards of 12m gamers in Australia. Gaming ad platforms say marketers locally are way behind the curve.

A second step would be to recognise that traditional advertising – i.e. adverts – are not the best way to reach people, particularly gamers, suggests Stephenson.

“The opportunity for brands to build a commerce layer within game platforms is huge. But to do that, you can't think ads, you've got to think branded skins, and branded skills. You've got to think, how do you manage new forms of purchase or vendorship like NFTs? You've got to start thinking about what some of these more future facing assets are,” says Stephenson. “To get gaming right, you have to rethink brand assets, or you will not able to capitalise on the media spaces.”

Butterfly effect? Or time to just stop pointless reports

While Facebook is pinning its future on the metaverse, Stephenson thinks there’s a lot of disappointment and missteps to crunch through, suggesting the metaverse is now reaching the peak of Gartner’s hype cycle before barreling into the trough of disillusionment. “The trough is coming, I predict it right now,” he says.

But “if gaming is the caterpillar, then the metaverse will be the butterfly”, he says, unashamedly stealing a line from OMG UK Head of Futures, Phil Rowley.

The same rules will apply around how communities form, how humanity represents itself virtually, and how brands interact, says Stephenson, “they’ll form the basis for the metaverse”.

Evolution of media has always followed that path, Stephenson suggests. “Each media kind of swallows the previous one. For example, when we shifted from radio to TV, we put radio presenters on television, and television was radio for a few years with pictures. We saw that with the internet, which ultimately swallowed everything, video, audio, music. We’re now seeing the very early stages of the metaverse doing that,” he says.

“So yes it is overhyped now, but it is going to kick off. We think the metaverse is going to absorb and take the internet to the next major iteration,” adds Stephenson.

“We'll look back on that the way we look back at the start of the internet when people said, ‘what's my internet strategy’ with a degree of incredulity. We'll look back at this time with the same incredulity.

But the next wave is coming. Marketers and agencies, SHIFT implies, need to prepare now, or be lost to reporting nightmares from here on in.

In the meantime, as one of the smarter consultants suggests, maybe marketers should just stop doing some reports and see if anyone actually notices.

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