The Direct Marketing Association of Singapore have recently changed their name. It’s still the same acronym but the 30-odd year old industry body is now called Data-Driven Marketing Association of Singapore.

The new DMAS seems to have been reinvigorated by the name change, as it has been on a bit of a roll lately. Successful instalments in their monthly Soundbites series have regularly drawn above average audiences, and covered hot topics like Omnichannel, Artificial Intelligence, and Data Privacy.

One of the latest Soundbites was a panel on Marketing Automation: newfangled methods that enable marketers to engage with millions of consumers or prospects simultaneously, each on their own individual terms. It’s software that helps you monitor customer and prospect databases, and allows you to build automatic triggers that react to specific behaviour patters.

Marketing Automation fits very well with two of marketing’s current mega-trends: it helps marketers treat people individually, allowing them to stay relevant at all times; and it puts the customer firmly in charge of the marketing, as it is his or her behaviour that actually dictates what happens at any given point in time.

Marketing Automation grew out of email marketing but has become a force of its own. Many people still treat it as an advanced eDM tool; but increasingly we see examples of forward-thinking companies who adapt their campaign strategy to a completely customer-driven approach.

An interesting question is, are agencies embracing the new world of technology-driven marketing? This was one of the main subjects the DMAS Soundbites panel aimed to tackle, and the outcome was not good.

The panel consisted of three marketers who are among the few who already earned their spurs in the new area: Avis Easteal, Regional Head of Consumer for LuxAsia; Dheer Hirani, VP & Regional Digital Ad Tech Strategy for Citibank; and Matthieu Vermeulen, Digital Director for Brand’s Suntory. Moderator was Will Griffith, Head of GTM Strategy for Oracle Marketing Cloud.


From left: Avis Easteal, Matthieu Vermeulen, Dheer Hirani, Will Griffith and Mark van den Haak, Exco Member, DMAS.

To begin with, the panel was asked whether they thought marketing technology would become a dominant force in marketing in the near future. The panel unanimously agreed on this. Matthieu Vermeulen added that the millennials among us will probably be quicker to adapt, but sooner or later we’re all expected to sing that song.

A no-brainer was the obligatory question, do marketers really put the customer at the centre? Because let’s face it, that’s what we’re all supposed to do these days. The experts’ answers: yes, at least in principle; in practice, not so much.

That set the tone for the rest of the session. Will Griffith, the moderator, quickly moved on to the centrepiece: the role of agencies.

First question was, are agencies up to the task? The collective answer was a resounding ‘NO.’ Only Avis Easteal, apparently in a forgiving mood, added ‘well, maybe a tiny little bit.’ But the panel readily agreed that agencies in general are excruciatingly bad at anything having to do with technology. Avis suggested that agencies focus on their jobs, which would make embracing technology a natural thing to do; and Matthieu advised agencies to ‘stop proposing bad solutions, or solutions [they]’re only guessing if they would work.’

So if today’s agencies suck at this, do we need a new breed of agencies? Matthieu: “They’re already here.” Dheer Hirani saw agencies as a training ground and was confident that ‘at some point they will evolve.’ Only Avis agreed that new specialisations should bring us new specialist agencies. “We need agencies that understand things like planning and milestones.” Ouch.

If not agencies, would anyone else pick up the job? Do they need to fear competition from other directions? System Integrators, like Accenture, for example? The panel was not so sure about that. Avis saw them as not exciting enough to make a difference in marketing; Dheer agreed but warned them ‘not to sit still’ or else it actually might happen; and Matthieu saw smaller and more modern agencies as more likely sources of innovation than stodgy old SIs.

Funny enough, shortly after that a leading French bank issued a research report naming WPP and Publicis as likely takeover targets for the likes of Accenture. Watch this space.

Finally, what advice would the panel send agencies away with? Matthieu: “Be honest, people, be honest.” Apparently honesty in tech savviness is a rare good in today’s agency world. He also advised people to ‘go to events, talk to pros, and follow me on social media.’

Dheer voiced a familiar frustration that anyone would echo who’s met agencies on technology related pitches: “Whatever you do, don’t tell me you hired some rocket scientists, or scientists of any kind.” Sound advice, that.

And finally, we’ll let Avis have the last word: “Don’t talk about yourself. Talk about the business, the problems you’re going to solve, and results you’re going to achieve.”


Publisher: Jos. Birken



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