‘Consumers, Not Companies, Drive Brand Value’
There is a lot of social and political pressure on Facebook and Google to be transparent with their customers. And there is a lot of pressure on companies as well, looking at the social climate, to do the best things for humanity.
Alan Wexler, who took over from Publicis.Sapient co-CEO and longtime agency executive Chip Register early this year, has major plans for the digital shop. Acknowledging that ‘digital transformation’ is an overused term today but will drive businesses in the future, Wexler is designing the agency to be ahead of the digital game. In his maiden trip to India as CEO, he talks to BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma about how the country is different from other markets and why the agency plans to invest more in India. Edited excerpts:
What is your vision for Publicis. Sapient? Since legacy business models are today threatened by digital-first competitors, how do you see the marketing landscape changing?
Publicis.Sapient is uniquely positioned to help companies go through digital transformation. I know that ‘digital transformation’ is an overused term, but it is happening around the world, at different paces. Some companies are really looking to reinvent themselves and the number of challenges goes up for them as the demands of consumers increase — both in the digital and physical worlds.
Today, consumers, instead of companies, are driving the value of a brand. Consumers are becoming content creators and so much is happening on social media. So all this is putting pressure on companies to reinvent themselves. Now the exciting thing which we are witnessing is that it is beyond customer experience. It is now about how companies are reinventing and how do they think about the technology they need; it is not what they do but how do they do it to keep pace with the customer. There is a lot of pressure on how not to be disruptive and to get on the side of disruption.
How much is Publicis.Sapient investing in capabilities and upskilling its people in India?
We are looking to double our number of people in India in the next three to five years. We are hiring aggressively and also training people. There is something really unique to people we attract because of our culture. We are not just looking at people specialised in one skill set; we are looking at people who think from an industry lens, are interested in the experiences of clients and customers they serve and interested in different technologies. Though Publicis has a very large creative contingent, for us the idea can come from anywhere; we are looking at nurturing an idea from a technologist as much as from a traditional creative person.
Publicis. Sapient is a specialised agency, so the cost involved does not come cheap. Are brands willing to spend much on digital?
Yes. Right now we are seeing tremendous demand from clients. I will mention that it is beyond digital. Companies going through organisational changes, technological changes and experience changes are leveraging data. Digital is becoming more than just an extension of the business but also becoming core for some of the successful businesses. For instance, different companies move across this trajectory at different stages. If we look at CPG companies, the challenge for them is that they now connect directly with their customers, unlike earlier. So, CPG companies have to change their fundamentals about how they advertise to their customers. And if we look at automobile, less than 10 years ago, an average auto buyer would visit usually more than three showrooms before buying a car. Now an average buyer just visits one showroom; so this fundamentally disrupts their business model. As for financial services, millennials do not go to the bank. So, a lot of them have to venture into mobile banks rather than physical banks. Most industries therefore have to adopt digital-first. Therefore, we are seeing the demand to not just extend digital businesses but to have digital at the core.
Recently Facebook announced changes to its news feed algorithm. Others are also likely doing the same. How do you see this impacting advertising?
Facebook is under a lot of pressure to do a lot of things differently. It had challenges around transparency that has an effect on advertisers. There is a lot of social and political pressure on Facebook and Google to be transparent with their customers. And there is a lot of pressure on companies as well, looking at the social climate, to do the best things for humanity. If one looked at advertisers at Super Bowl, a lot of them spoke about social causes like gender equality. We are having these conversations with advertisers — who have very large media and advertising budgets — that they have a place in making a social impact.
The year 2017 was the year of digital disruption — artificial intelligence, big data and analytics. What trends do you foresee for 2018?
There are a lot of technology trends happening, but the trend which is heading in a positive way across Publicis is the use of data. In Publicis, we have developed a new technology and data division called Spine, which enables us to not look at data in silos. Publicis Spine brings together 3,500 people as well as resources and data from across the group including data scientists, IT experts, data experts, among others. It is actually a cloud platform that allows brands (our clients) to be able to create a unique identification for individual customers using a unified data matching technique.
The agency will design the ‘professional assistant’ for Marcel with the help of Microsoft. How will Marcel change the way business is done today?
Marcel is an awesome idea and is groundbreaking. What is interesting about Marcel is that we are democratising ideas to help our clients. Traditionally, Publicis as well as its competitors such as IPG, Omnicom or WPP, have helped clients build brands which were somehow in a silo because we depended on the interactions we were having with the brand to reach to the customer; but now we are democratising the ideas with Marcel.
If we are helping a client in India to come up with a new campaign, why not source it from the other 80,000 people we have across the world as everything is becoming global and technology is making the world seamless?
We are excited about our partnership with Microsoft as well. We are going away from the world where people worked on a campaign through a silo and looked at awards for recognition; now we are saying that a great idea can come from anywhere. We are pushing the limits with AI. We believe that we do not have to just change with our clients but lead the change to help clients.