SourceCode by GroupM: Industry leaders share insights to help shape future of marketing


GroupM, WPP’s media investment arm, successfully concluded SourceCode by Group M, one of its annual APAC ad and marketing conferences that brings together global rainmakers in the advertising and marketing industry. 

Here are 3 big themes distilled from three days of virtual conversations that captivated almost 500 brand and agency stalwarts. As marketers head full throttle towards a new future in a cookie-less world where virtual becomes the new reality, how can brands and agencies reimagine their operations and strategies to continue delivering exemplary growth?

In its third year now, SourceCode by GroupM organized a series of roundtables that saw the industry’s leaders huddle together to discuss critical agendas that will shape the future of marketing. As brand decision-makers from Unilever, Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Oppo, Volvo Cars, Prudential, Astro, Zalora, and Malaysia Airlines exchanged ideas with senior agency and network representatives from GroupM, Mindshare, MediaCom, Xaxis, Wavemaker, m/SIX, INCA, Unruly, Metamorfosa, DoubleVerify, and many more, these three days of conversations were distilled into three overarching themes.

The future of e-commerce

Kicking off with the theme “Future of Identity, Role of Tech in Communications”, the industry experts discussed how marketing can be a purpose-driven and powerful tool in reframing virtual reality as the “new reality”. They talked about going beyond platforms to create a frictionless world of entertainment, wellness and commerce that is custom-built and personalized for the end consumer.

During a fireside chat with Philip See, CEO of Firefly and Divya Acharya, Head of Solutions APAC at Xaxis, the executives broached the topic of a “cookie-less” world, where brands can reach consumers beyond walled gardens by collaborating with publishers to build first party data-information a company safely collects from its own sources.

To obtain a more holistic view of the customer’s preferences, they can tap into a test-and-learn model which allows them to test various user ID solutions and prepare for the cookie-less world of 2023.

Shivendra Misra, Director APAC at IAB Tech Lab, talked about the need to establish a clear value exchange that will enable growth and trust by cultivating meaningful long-term partnerships across the ecosystem. He said, “The future of identity is about expanding our learning, collaborating with publishers and partners – in short, accelerating beyond our comfort zones.”

With e-commerce fueling unprecedented growth across every sector, the panelists discussed the concept of “E-joy” – that wonderful feeling derived from the perks of e-commerce – stemming from its convenience, versatility, and bouquet of brands and offerings such as online-only promotions and attractive bundles.

“The number of hours spent in a week by a highly engaged audience looking to discover and purchase, means e-commerce is all set to win, especially with the advent of online marketplaces,” said Tejas Kirodiwal, Head of Growth at Zalora.

The future of e-commerce is “entertainment commerce”, according to the experts. Javed Jafri, Head of Digital and Media at Unilever, elaborated. “This means more opportunities for branded content to play an evolved role beyond e-commerce spaces. Social commerce gives us an indication of how that’s already well underway especially in view of the evolved consumer journey funnel.”

Exploring the future of social, Jin Lim, Content Creator and Founder of JinnyBoy TV, said, “It is about passion, purpose, and consistency. [We should not look] at social as a post or an IG story but an ecosystem of multi-creators and multi-formats that deliver impact. It is about the 9×16 revolution: creating for a no-frills, content-first and mobile-first audience.”

Could technology be the great equalizer?

With talent retention posing a tremendous challenge for businesses across the world, #TheGreatResignation is an acute problem that People Teams are working round the clock to address. Foremost on the executives’ minds was the hot-button topic of talent management as well as harnessing technology to cultivate teams of the future that are inclusive and diversified.

Rashi Kalucha, Regional HR Lead Business Partner (APAC) at GroupM, expressed her view, “We need to see talents as our invested business partners. Therefore, they have to be managed using technology, the same way we manage our marketing investments.” “We should use technology to track employee sentiment and engagement the same way we do for media. This is especially relevant as Wellness[in the workplace] makes a comeback onto center stage.”

Santharuban Thurai Sundaram, CEO of Atlas Vending, chimed in aptly about talent playing an important role alongside technology to bring ideas to life. He emphasized the enormous responsibility of agencies to retain and grow the talent pool and ensure greater cross-collaboration.

An open call was made to HR practitioners to better leverage technology to “track, measure, learn from and create solutions” that will boost employee retention and enhance their overall welfare. The topic of “Diversity and Inclusion” – moderated by Sheila Shanmugam, CEO of Mindshare Malaysia – resonated strongly with all participants. With technology being touted as “The Great Equalizer”, Sheila led the panel in exploring its potential to spearhead equity beyond equality.

Further elucidating the subject, Tammy Toh, Director of Group Marketing and Communications at Astro, said, “[We can] build social balance through educational content that narrows the divide; for example, by making education accessible to children in remote areas.”

Dr Valentine Gandhi, a highly respected research, evaluation, and innovation specialist, elaborated further, “At a policy level, we are focused on building social justice and dismantling mental barriers through social seeding that works towards building a mindset of equal opportunity as well as empowering the next generation to be more aware of both the privilege and divide.”

Responsibility in the Metaverse

During the conference, participants unequivocally agreed that marketers need to assume leadership responsibility in resolving pertinent issues related to sustainability, brand safety, data privacy, as well as ensuring greater transparency across the value chain.

Senior representatives from Malaysia Airlines, Astro Radio, Rocketfuel Entertainment, GroupM, and Volvo Cars reached this consensus: As important as the crafted message is, marketers also need to carefully consider the consequence and impact on the receiver. Taking responsibility means empowering, educating, and then respecting the response.

“Responsibility” was brought up frequently when it came to marketing in a multidimensional world that involved virtual reality, non-fungible tokens, crypto currency, and decentralized finance that places the power back into the hands of the end-users, the creators, and the consumers.

Vishal Jacob, Chief Digital Officer at Wavemaker India, commented, “Publishers and platforms are now more focused than ever in creating unique hybrid online experiences for consumers that focus on activating first party data. Delivering high-engagement value exchanges has never been more critical [when navigating in a] metaverse. Brands [need to] figure out what works and what doesn’t in the virtual world – it is an open invitation to experiment – for brands to be brave.”

Expanding on the theme of the “metaverse” and the evolving consumer journey, Saurabh Chandrashekhar, Managing Director at MediaCom Malaysia, moderated a session titled “New Marketing Models for Growth”.

Ashutosh Srivastava, CEO at GroupM Asia-Pacific, spoke passionately about “platform excellence” that fuels the business vision of “good growth” – a company that walks the talk of doing good while doing business. David Porter, VP of Global Media at Unilever, concurred with Srivastava’s view.

Porter said, “Whether it is accountability, transparency, brand safety or sustainability, choose the right partners whose values are in sync with yours. That’s the journey from this point onwards – scale will come – what matters is starting right.”

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