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Digicon POP envisions the future of digital

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Digital technologies have become part of the numerous ways of doing business at present. As brands continue harnessing such innovations to build their future, they must know how to properly navigate the multidimensional digital space.

Providing insights to envision this digital future for brands, the Digicon POP 2021 gathered leaders, experts, and creators from various industries all over the world to discuss what a future further shaped by digital holds.

Organized by the Internet & Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP), the five-day virtual conference — held on Oct. 11 to 15 — employed a framework of four programming tracks, namely Disruption, Expansion, Emerging, and Possibilities.

Day One: Rethinking ahead

The management of ABS-CBN, which now calls itself a “content company,” began the first day of Digicon by sharing how they disrupted the country’s largest entertainment and media conglomerate through digital channels.

Melissa Henson, vice-president and chief marketing officer of Manulife, followed the discussion by talking about resetting, restructuring, and revisiting priorities for the new normal to make every day better.

The Disruption track, which covered discussions to learn from innovators from different fields, gathered Pablo Gomez, head of Creative and Media Singapore and Regional Media Lead for APAC at Kantar; Michael Patent, founder of Culture Group; and Rushit Jhaveri, head of Content Solutions & Sponsorship (SEA) at Google. They talked about media and digital trends; the metaverse marketing ecosystem; and maximizing content reach, respectively.

Meanwhile, speakers at the Expansion expounded on the new growth areas and opportunities from digital technologies. The track’s first speaker on Day One was Nicholas Kontopoulos, head of Growth Market APAC at Adobe, who explored the future of customer experience. The next talk centered on rewriting the brand narrative with Wattpad, discussed by Twila Bergania, head of Fandom & Community Engagement at Culture Group, and Walter Demesa, senior account manager at Wattpad. The last session on Day One under the Expansion track was a panel discussion that answered the question of whether brands can go “Glocal.”

The Emerging leg, where speakers shared the emerging digital trends and tools, started its first day with Akshat Jain, country manager at Facebook, discussing “Making conversations deliver more for businesses;” followed by a panel discussion on the topic titled, “Your audience is listening. Are you missing out?;” and finally with Philip Tnee, country head for Global Business Service at TikTok, talking about “How Brands can Succeed in the Age of Participation.”

Recognizing new potential markets and underserved needs were the goal of Digicon’s last track, Possibilities. Its Day One speakers included Alasdair Gray, strategy director at BBH; Ash Mandhyan, former CEO of Quanta Digital; and Benjamin Burne, director of product strategy at Nielsen. Their respective talks dealt with learnings brands can get from games; the next step for retail with e-commerce; and transformation in audience measurement.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and best-selling author

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and best-selling author, culminated the first day of Digicon with a reminder of the importance of rethinking or “thinking like a scientist” for businesses.

According to Mr. Grant, thinking like a scientist would free entrepreneurs from falling into the trap of escalation of commitment to a losing course of action where instead of rethinking a choice that did not go as hoped, they double down and invest more time, energy, and money on this failing claim.

“Rethinking does not always mean you have to change your mind. It means you’re open to reevaluating and reconsidering,” he said. “When you think more like a scientist, you take people who disagree with you not as a threat to your ego or image, but as people you can learn from.”

“The pandemic last year forced us to do a lot of rethinking, to question our assumptions or decisions,” he added. “I hope for 2021 and beyond, we do our rethinking more deliberately and proactively.”

Day Two: Meaningful connections and partnerships

The second day of Digicon POP was kicked off by Bretman Rock, sharing his thoughts about content creation and connecting with the audience as well as his advice for influencers.

The social media sensation shared that content creating is mentally draining at times, which some people do not talk about much. “Sometimes the pressure of content creating — the numbers, likes, views — could create so much problems,” he said. “This creator world is very taboo [and has] a lot of unspoken things.”

“If anyone out there struggling with their mental health, joining social media will not help them,” he added. “Having fame will not fix your mental health. Sometimes it’s better to not post today; it’s okay to not get as much likes on a post.”

He also expressed that he loved seeing “real” people on Philippine commercials today, also telling marketers that their audience and demographic now want real things. “I think that’s what the world is craving right now. That’s why I feel like the world loves me because I’m a real person.”

He also reminded his fellow and aspiring influencers about false self-entitlement. “Sometimes people want to have fame or start influencing to get the perks. But it should never be about that. People can see your intentions,” he said. “If you want to be an influencer for the perks of it, don’t.”

Laurent Ezekiel, chief marketing and growth officer at WPP, continued the second day of Digicon through a conversation with Gill Zhou, chief marketing officer of IBM APAC. They talked about IBM’s marketing transformation with agency partners.

Ms. Zhou shared that their needs and expectations evolved from their agency partners. First of which is they need “an agency partner that helps push the boundaries to find and test new and engaging formats across all channels.” Next is they need “a very diverse and inclusive talent pool to ensure the best work.” And lastly, they also need to “work seamlessly as one team driving one, shared outcome.”

“As the marketing transformation is ongoing at IBM, I think we will rely even more on the agency partners. If we elevate this relationship into business partner relationship, then I think that kind of mutual accountability and mutual reliance on each other for mutual success is just becoming inevitable,” Ms. Zhou said.

“I’m doing the work every day in my part of the world to get on this transformation journey with all my teams and agency partners over here to create that future that is quite foreseeable.”

Dhruv Vahra, Facebook’s director of Small and Medium Businesses in Southeast Asia, presented the digital adoption and consumption growth, among others, in the region. He also highlighted that Southeast Asia leads the digital transformation in the Asia-Pacific.

Day Two of Digicon’s Disruption track covered the key influencer marketing trends for 2022 in a panel discussion of the Content and Influencers Council of the Philippines. It was followed by Beia Latay, CEO of HealthNow, who shared what can be learned from the healthtech boom.

The Expansion track started with a discussion about mothers as consumers, led by Bela Gupta, founder of Edamama. Afterward, Jay Jenkins, tech strategist and evangelist for APAC at Google Cloud, talked about building a digital workforce.

Chris Schimkat, regional analytics director for APAC at Reprise, began the second day of Emerging with a talk about data science and getting the right data. Mehul Mandalia, co-founder of Moving Walls, followed with a topic on programmatic digital out-of-home.

The Possibilities track covered radio and podcasting. The Manila Broadcasting Corp. shared the story of radio amid the pandemic, including the innovations. Ron Baetiong, CEO and co-founder of Podcast Network Asia, then explained why podcasting is the new word of mouth.

Digicon’s second day ended with Ken Mandel, Grab’s regional marketing director for GrabAds and Brand Insights, talking about brand as a service.

Day Three: Striking balances

Starting Day Three of Digicon was a fireside chat on growth with Alex Tsering and Crystal Widjaja, Kumu’s respective chief growth officer and chief product officer. They were followed by Chandan Deep, head of Emerging Business for SEA at Twitter, discussing brand safety. Ragde Faicis, CEO of ChatGenie, subsequently talked about hyper-convenience in the time of the rising presence of super apps.

The third day of Disruption track opened with Bea Atienza, IBE Leader at Colgate Palmolive, speaking on the topic “Designing Customer Experiences that Pop.” Paula Abjelina, AdColony’s country manager for the Philippines and Thailand, and Memo Moreno, a managing partner at Mindshare, afterward talk over gaming as a new channel for marketing.

Esports was the central topic on the Expansion track, beginning with ONE Esports CEO Carlos Alimurung elucidating how this form of gaming builds fan engagement. The next topic dealt with esports going from the influencer to creator economy, a discussion led by Brian Dacanay, associate vice-president for Tier One’s Commercial Partnerships.

The first session on Day Three of Emerging was about “Marketing to Women,” discussed by Lucille McCart, comm’s director for APAC at Bumble. Marty Buaragay and Lian Capati, the respective country lead for Video and Head of Agencies at Facebook Philippines, then talked about “Rising in the era of social video.”

Gen Z, meanwhile, was the focus in Possibilities. Grace David, CEO of Edukasyon, and Isabelle Yap, special projects officer, SAVP at East West Bank, fulfilled the track’s third day by talking about exploring the said generation in the workforce and creating a banking solution for them, respectively.

The day ended with a discussion on balancing technological innovations with the human factor. “A great brand understands how to balance the automatic, the low friction, and the efficient with the human,” argued Rory Sutherland in his keynote talk at Digicon. “When you automate something, you also need to invest in the opposite.”

The vice-chair at Ogilvy UK underscored the issues with looking at technologies exclusively through the lens of efficiency, explaining it through the “doorman fallacy.” It is an idea in which one replaced a hotel doorman with an automatic door-opening, considering it to be cost-saving and efficient. “We get so excited by things that can be automated, that we tend to ignore the downside,” he commented.

Applying the concept to marketing, Mr. Sutherland thus encouraged to “start acknowledging that advertising works in multiple, different ways. And some of them are not best captured by the narrow-minded pursuit of accountability and efficiency.”

“It changes social context and meaning,” he added. “Sometimes it works at the individual level, sometimes at collective.”

Day Four: Potential pivots

Digicon Day Four commenced with “Starting Fires: An Ambition of our Post-Digital Education,” led by Peachy Pacquing, MA programme director at Hyper Island. SHAREit executives then shared how the platform can help accelerating user acquisition as well as monetizing and accepting payments.

The Disruption track was opened by Karl Mak, co-founder and CEO of Hepmil Media, with an exploration of this decentralized media age. Nina Dizon, CEO of Colourette Cosmetics, talked about building a beauty brand via digital means. The track’s fourth day ended with Shoppertainment Live sharing how to engage before, during, and after a livestream.

Edouard Leo, head of Performance and Ecommerce at Havas Media, led the first session of Expansion by showing the function of offline commerce in one’s e-commerce strategy. Anurag Gupta, Ada’s COC for APAC, afterward explained “Why Brands Need Partners and Not Agencies.” Patrick Gentry, CEO of Sprout, finished the track by elucidating how HR transformed for the future of work.

The Emerging track started its fourth day with Weldon Fung, social solutions director at MeltWater, discussing the topic “Experience Marketing 2.0: Moving at the Speed Culture with Social Data.” A panel discussion followed, focusing on “Brand Suitability: Striking the Right Balance for Your Brand.” Arshan Saha, APAC CEO of Xavis and Specialty Businesses, completed the track on the topic, “The Future You & I.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Hughes, chief data officer at Publicis Groupe APAC and MEA, opened Possibilities by discussing “Successful Pivots through Marketing Technology.” Brankas CEO Todd Schweitzer and Tonik CEO and founder Greg Kasnov followed with the topics on open banking and reinventing banking, respectively.

The fourth day of Digicon was wrapped up by Budjette Tan, the creator of Trese, and his words about storytelling.

Day Five: Profound opportunities

Digicon’s fifth and final day started with Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University Stern School of Business. The best-selling author and entrepreneur shared four points during his keynote talk.

Mr. Galloway believed that COVID-19 will be seen as an accelerant more than a change agent.

He then talked about companies that he called “The Four” — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — and shared how their market capitalization soared in the last five years. Topping the four was Apple, which went from having $740 billion to $2.48 trillion. Amazon followed with $1.84 trillion, jumping from $221 billion. “These companies now have market capitalizations that are greater than the GDP of many G20 nations,” he noted.

“Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are monopolies or duopolies and their unfettered markets creating tremendous negative externalities in our society in the United States and also globally,” he added.

Mr. Galloway’s next point was his projection that 2022 could be the best or the worst year for the world. “I think it’s up to us, what kind of investments do we want to make. Do we want to have more global cooperation or superpowers?”

He finished with the meaningful and profound opportunities that came from the pandemic. “There’s a meaningful opportunity professionally, and that is if your company provides you with the technology, the culture, and the support to work remotely and work through this pandemic at full tilt,” he explained. “The profound opportunity is more personal, [which] is for the repair and the cementing of key relationships.”

Following Mr. Galloway’s keynote talk was a discussion on “Collaboration for Impact” led by Margot Torres, managing director at McDonald’s Philippines.

The last day of Disruption started with the topic “Exploring TikTok Verticals,” explored by Alex Soon, a community operations manager at the social networking company. Melanie Norris, head of Planning at BBDO Knows, completed the track by discussing the emotional drivers that currently influence the market.

Yang Yang Zhang, managing director at Xendit, began the Expansion through “Regionalization through Localization.” IMMAP Advocacy on MIX (Meaningful Internet Experiences) finished the Expansion.

The Emerging track was started by Rain D. Balares, INCA Lead for the Philippines at GroupM, who talked about the “New rules of engagement for influencers.” Andrew Nicholls, co-founder and managing director at Carma Asia, subsequently shared how businesses can maximize data to unlock new opportunities.

Two panel discussions were held under the Possibilities track. The first was about “Escaping the Stereotype Trap” led by Investing in Women on Diversity & Inclusion. It was followed by the topic, “Planning for a Post-Cookie Future.”

Concluding the Digicon POP 2021 was a panel discussion that envisioned the future of digital skills.

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