The Future of Marketing – Mixing Logic And Magic

Shufen Goh, AAMS

AS technology continues to rearrange the traditional marketing landscape, practitioners attempt to wield this digital weapon to gain insights into consumer habits while grappling with data privacy challenges, as they attempt to wrestle consumer focus from their competitors in an era of ever shortening attention spans.

Shufen Goh, President of the newly formed Association of Advertising and Marketing Singapore (AAMS), which was formed on 1 Nov 2019, merging both the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Singapore (4As) and Institute of Advertising Singapore (IAS).

AAMS now represents all aspects of advertising, marketing, media owners, and marketing communications.

Where Art Meets Science

Shufen has over two decades of experience in marketing optimisation, with an impressive resume featuring brands such as Coca-Cola, P&G, L’Oréal, Unilever and Mastercard.

Over this time, she has observed a wave of changes brought about by the utilisation of data and AI in the field of marketing, and the acceleration of this trend in recent years. This rapid evolution has provided many insights into the benefits of this potent combination.

“Dollars and marketing budgets have been shifting to digital channels, but how do we evaluate the effectiveness of ‘cross-channel optimisation?” Shufen asks.

“Marketing is no longer about gut feel, but gut feel is still really important, as it’s not 100% art nor 100% science. What hasn’t changed is that in this profession it’s always about logic and magic, the balance of logic and magic hasn’t changed, but how you get to the logic has changed and has very much been empowered by technology. 

“We have many ways of getting deeper insights from data, but that always starts with asking the right questions.”

Marketers previously had to rely heavily on consumer opinions from surveys and the like, but cookies and other tools that capture significant volumes of behavioural data have enabled a greater level of intimacy with consumer sentiment.

With more power comes more responsibility. While the data can be misleading, technology may provide market analysts other tools to isolate the ‘truth’. 

With face and eye movement tracking technologies, marketers have greater insights into what consumers are thinking, feeling, and most importantly how they’re spending their money. 

As Shufen jovially explains, “In times to come, the tech may even be able to track your heartbeat and see how you’re reacting. This kind of data can’t lie!”

Power Shift

The data-oriented approach has also transferred some power back to the unwitting consumers, marketers now waiting to extract data from every available digital footprint. The speed of tech has also influenced consumer expectations and people are now far less willing to have their time wasted, with the ability to block adverts they no longer wish to see and starve modern marketers of their precious life force.

In contrast, marketers such as Shufen Goh aim to create experiences that leave consumers begging for more. “The holy grail of great comms, of great content, is that you create something that people seek out. 

“When a piece of work is not getting enough engagement, you have good ways to find out why, but that curiosity, constant learning is an attitude we all need to embrace.”

Data feeds enable adverts to be tailored to the individual, but Shufen has observed that modern consumers are polarised with respect to personalisation of their experiences. 

“At what point do you become creepy? It does vary by category. In some cases, customers may say, ‘I’ve been a client for 10 years, by now you should know what moves the needle for me.’ 

“On the other hand, you have people who take privacy to a high expectation and would be very creeped out by that,” Shufen reckons. 

The lack of a one-size-fits-all solution creates fertile ground for developing intuition and showcasing individual creativity beyond the capabilities of purely data-oriented thinking.

Generational Divide

Thus, there is still much room for blending older intuition with the modern marketing environment, for those willing to take the steps to familiarise themselves with the tech.

Shufen presents a scenario where the generations can work better together.

“I don’t think people from my era can ever be as knowledgeable as someone who is young, whose brain is still absorbing. It comes a lot more naturally to them, they grew up in that world! There’s no offline world for them. 

“What they lack is the wisdom that comes with lived experience, that’s where middle to senior management come in.”

For the overstimulated youths, some wisdom and guidance may be prudent. But those from younger generations should also be engaged with empathy. While the youthful may appear lazy and lacking in resilience, having grown up in a rapidly changing world, the unprecedented challenges they face can be daunting.

Shufen preaches understanding: “We often complain about Gen Zs giving up too easily, lacking resilience, but we need to empathise with their future, their current state. Yes, they grew up in that Instagram and instant gratification era, they’re constantly stimulated, but at the same time they are trying to seek some mind space for themselves, they’ve gone through quite a lot. 

“The kind of wisdom you can impart to them, whether as lived or career experience, I think remains very relevant and the Gen Zs I have spoken to want that kind of mentoring from their seniors.”

Balancing the Magic with the Machine

Generative AI could enable the consistent creation of content that is unique yet also high quality, while also saving on the costs of an expensive shoot. 

In related schools of thought, could ChatGPT replace script writers, or even make ads in future? For the foreseeable future empathy will still be crucial in gauging an audience’s fundamental response to content, securing creative work for the time being.

The AAMS president gives context to the current landscape. 

“I think just like when the world was first introduced to Adobe, and then no one did manual photo editing, and now we have Photoshop, I think it’s that same kind of journey. I don’t think it replaces humans yet. It’s still our job to tell compelling stories that move the hearts and the wallets.”

The industry itself is reshaping, with some being reskilled and departmental balances changing. Previously absent from marketing departments, data scientists are now commonplace. The magic side of the resource department won’t change, but there may be a merging of resources from both sides of the aisle.

“What’s to say that the Einstein of this age can’t be creative,” asks Shufen. 

“So, I think we’ve got to tear down some of those traditional silos and reinvent some of the roles that have been there for a long time. I don’t think anything is sacred.”

Go Fast or Go Far

More brands will soon realise the importance of utilising data analytics to better understand customers, not just to effectively deliver ads but also to enable them to accurately identify those who are engaging with the brand. The AAMS president anticipates that as tech makes marketing teams more intelligent, this will enable them to spend money in a more targeted and efficient manner.

While there is much potential for smaller teams and solo creators to thrive given the technology available at people’s fingertips, Shufen does not expect the future of marketing and digital content to employ guerrilla tactics as many may anticipate.

Small companies do not have the luxury of standing behind a brand with a legacy and must move a lot faster. While larger vessels turn more slowly, they can acquire those that have displayed the ability to quickly navigate unknown and turbulent waters filled with untold riches. 

As tech levels the playing field, such acquisitions or reverse integrations will allow conglomerates to maintain their grip on the industry.

Shufen whips out an African proverb to reflect her thoughts: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. 

“Together, we have a better shot at staying relevant, and raising the bar for Singapore on our little, tiny dot in this big world.”

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