Digital Disruption for Marketers by Deen Ashraf, iMagining Director-brains at work, Published in Gulf News

Getting a firm handle on digital disruption

But the best part is that even smaller brands have the space and means to make it work for them


In a continuously evolving world, where multiple market forces are forever changing, marketing needs to stay ahead. In the UAE, we are fairly sheltered from the brunt of the shifting economic and technological tides that are remaking many of the world’s economic capitals.


But, as many have seen, change is undoubtedly upon us and here to stay. The impact of a turbulent international market is now also being felt in the region, across industries.


Today’s globalised world has shrunk into smartphones and apps allowing brands to reach their consumers in a flash. So, how can brands use the available technology to emerge stronger and more successful from the current and coming volatility?


I have two suggestions I’d like to share. The first is what I call DiE3, which stands for ‘Disruption, Innovation and Experiential Emotional Engagement’.


The second is my 6C approach: communicate, converse, connect culturally with a customer-centric strategy while being fiercely competitive.


Historically, the UAE has been between six to eight months behind international trends. That gap is slowly eroding, and nowhere faster than in the digital scene. I believe we are on the cusp of rapid growth in digital marketing, apps and behavioural targeting for that reason: because it’s white hot everywhere else, and we’re ready for it here.


Instead of marketers and companies driving change, I believe customers will force brands to up their ante in these spaces because they know how it works elsewhere and will start to demand it here. The brands that survive will be those that anticipate and respond to these changes proactively, the brands that build apps that their customers can and will use.


Second, we as a region are ripe for these changes. It’s not just economic and political change sweeping our neighbourhood, there’s also a paradigm shift brought about by the social networking arena.


With the influx of direct and personal connected technologies like smartphones, instant messaging, instant mass mediums like Twitter, Instagram and Vine, the flourishing of sticky social media and content-driven marketing are not just game changers — they are market makers.


Today, the most powerful marketing is to reach a consumer directly, through their smartphone or app, in real time and with real money and real decisions. Comparative research happens at the touch of a button or a swipe of the screen.


If brands do not adopt the DiE3 and 6C approaches, they will die a natural death in the face of these tidal waves. Let’s take a closer look at these terms: First, DiE3. Forbes magazine may have explained it best when they wrote, ‘Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day.’


One very clever example of disruption is retail start-up Rent the Runway, which redefined the fashion business when it brought high-end fashion to every woman and upended big-ticket, upmarket traditional stores by making new designer styles available for rent to women at low cost.


But Rent the Runway took off because its founders understood how many women borrowed and returned special occasion wear, and because they knew women would congregate to a fantastic customer service experience. To create disruption, the first step is to know what there is to disrupt.


Know your processes backwards and forwards, and understand the nuances of your market, before you can tweak them.


Innovation is a different, but perhaps better-known, beast. It’s about the introduction of new and creative ideas, methods, processes and products. It’s about something that hasn’t been done before. If disruption is about taking a left turn, innovation is about a new start, a new journey, a new direction.


Innovation, more often than not, has to do with industry change; disruption is more about the user experience.


Similarly, to engage you have to know those you need to be engaging with, and what they need to be hearing from you. The focus is on what they need to hear from you, not what you want to tell them, although there should be some of that also.


My 6C mantra builds on this: It’s never been easier to communicate with your team internally and stakeholders externally. There are countless numbers of apps and other tools to take the pain and legwork out of this process, so there really are no excuses.


You have to converse to ensure engagement and to solicit the kind of feedback that drives improvement, change, even disruption and innovation.


In a society like ours, it’s incumbent for all who want to thrive to connect culturally — to understand, respect, accept and deliver to cultural values and norms. That begins with knowing who your customer base is, but ends with setting the highest possible bar that exceeds the expectations of your most stringent clientele.


That’s customer-centric: Understanding the ever-changing and evolving customer needs and purchasing behaviours. Finally, it’s about staying competitive, being ahead of the game as much as possible so that you can be proactive and not reactive, and maintain and grow market share without having to spend time catching up.


Third, it’s very much in the power of all companies, big and small, to ride these waves and do it well. One of the advantages of this newer wave of marketing is its flexibility and scalability.


Unlike traditional and more expensive marketing streams like television, print and outdoor, these are accessible to smaller companies. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is incumbent on companies with small budgets to steer clear of conventional marketing and embrace the digital landscape for short-term and long-term return on investment.


So how do we get from here to there? For one thing, there are decisions to be made, and made strategically. To prepare for the coming changes, decision-makers will — for example — have to allocate budgets to online and digital.


They will have to source and develop skilled talent. They will have to develop a tradition of strategic data analysis. They will have to build a framework that allows for, encourages and thrives on constant content churn.


They will have to build their story, tell their story and tell it often and well — that’s the sell. You can have all the new and innovative pull strategies you want, but without a story, it’s just a flash in the pan.


Decision-makers today will have to stay abreast of the ever evolving digital landscape and implement the DiE3 and 6C mantras to hook the millennials. That said, this is undoubtedly a DiE3 or die world.