David Jowett is President of DAC Group Europe, a role to which he brings enormous experience running international and pan-European organizations. In previous roles he was Managing Director of Mediacom UK and President of Global Clients for Aegis Media. He joins us from London to discuss the role of the digital strategist within a European context. You can hear our conversation in the podcast in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud or below now.
David sees considerable change in how strategy is developed across Europe. While marketing strategies once used to be country specific, this is now difficult to do in digital because whatever is done in this medium can be applied across countries. One of the big drivers for this change has been the agency holding companies whose ambition has been to ‘bring consistency to strategy and execution across countries’. David contends that while this is an eminently sensible ambition, it has been taken too far and these agencies have been ‘so obsessed with consistency that they forgot about localization. This forgets about the consumer and how that consumer behaves and how that varies by country’. While striving for joined up thinking and consistency is the right thing to do, so is understanding the differences between Spain, Italy, Scandinavia and the UK. The way to do this in his opinion is to have people on the ground to understand ‘cultural, economic and political insights to be able to bring a Europe-wide strategy to bear’. An example he provides is that in Southern European countries the discipline of organic search is highly technical while in Britain and France it’s more content based. These are the types of insights that lead to subtle differences in how a Europe-wide digital strategy is applied.
But it is not just the agencies that are changing how strategy is being developed in Europe. Most important of all, it is the consumer, and in that, there are consistent patterns. For example, while Europe is a very diverse place, culturally, linguistically and politically, common elements exist such as the digitization of consumer media habits and the increasingly localized perspective they bring in how they interact with brands. An example of this is that the ‘near me’ search term increased 34-fold in volume in the last 3 years.
This is why digital spend in the UK overtook traditional spend in share of total ad market in 2015. But this pivot to digital brings with it considerable added complexity. An example of this is that traditional media is only 4 channels deep while digital media is dozens. This requires considerably more expertise than was ever the case since there is a complexity to digital problem solving that didn’t exist in traditional media. This in turn ‘requires a more fleet of foot solution from agencies’. The challenge inherent in this is that traditional agencies have had a lot of trouble changing. In David’s opinion, the root cause of this is that these ‘agencies are fundamentally commercialized around the old media structures’. This in turn makes it far more difficult to achieve the type of nimbleness necessary to respond appropriately to changing consumer expectations.
Within this changing environment, one that needs to combine broad strategy with localization, David contends that the role of the strategist is to ‘disrupt the obvious answer, the way it’s always been done and to problem solve through that disruption’. This disruption allows the strategist to understand where ‘the consumer journey has broken down or where it can be activated even harder’. This disruption starts with a deep understanding of the client’s business challenges, of the consumer journey, and what has or hasn’t worked in the past.
From his perspective, the best kind of disruption happens in collaboration between the partner agencies. Specifically, when strategists that are experts in their respective areas, be they media, creative, etc, come together, then this is when the best solutions are realized since the thinking being applied is now more holistic and thorough.
The role of the strategist in digital agencies is important since it is relatively straightforward to produce results, creating a tendency to focus on the tactical. David believes that digital agencies have to challenge themselves to step into the strategic gap since the client always wants more. In his opinion, the client wants the digital agency to elevate the conversation in lockstep with the ones they are having with their C-Suite, and this is where the digital strategist comes in. This need to be strategic in a highly tactical environment makes the role challenging, but as he puts it, ‘I can’t think of anything more exciting than something that changes every day…the ability to be deeply thoughtful but for the job to be different every single day you turn up’.
In order to be successful in this role in a European context, he believes the ideal candidate must be driven, smart and flexible. ‘If you aren’t trying to drive for a faster, better solution you aren’t helpful, if you aren’t smart you shouldn’t be in the room and if you’re not flexible enough to cope with linguistic or cultural issues or the changes we face each day you’ll get overwhelmed’. Think about that the next time you are applying for a digital strategist role.
Next week on octopus, we will explore the role of the digital strategist as a transformation agent with our next guest. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.