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What Digital Transformation Means for Brand Communications

When I was in graduate school one of my Professors asked us, “When you think about a brand, what does it mean to you?”. My immediate response was, “It’s like having an imaginary best friend”; an answer I blurted out without hesitation. He looked at me surprised, maybe a little shocked, but I still agree with what I said. Great brands get you. They grow with you. And they've got your back.

The more I’ve worked in the ad industry the more perspective I have gained from partnering with a variety of clients to working on the business development and operations side for global media and creative agencies. No matter where you are in the business, there’s one thing that everyone shares in common: the need for evolution.

When new-age companies began to truly disrupt industries a few years ago, the results were exciting for consumers and terrifying for some existing businesses; startups (Airbnb, Lyft, WeWork etc.) changed how we lived our lives. I was even provoked to create a company of my own while I was living in Italy, inspired by the democratization of technology and a timely opportunity. I co-founded one of the first yacht-share booking platforms in 2010 when the sharing economy and collaborative consumption concept was on the rise, with a friend from Napoli who owned a 65-foot Canadian Ketch sailboat. We created a new way for consumers to take a sailing trip through our model called cabin charter, which allowed us to monetize cabin space on board (and also hedged us from not being able to charter a whole yacht to an individual for a much higher price). Since then, handfuls of other similar yacht-share and boat rental companies have emerged, making an experience that was once very exclusive, very accessible. This personal example demonstrates how technology has changed ways of doing business, the habits of individuals, societies and cultures. But most of all, how it has changed consumer expectations.

With the emergence of brands that are embracing digital as the core of their operations, how we leverage both the threats and opportunities that these new models yield matters tremendously for our own brands and businesses. As technology continues to surprise us, brands need to be integrated in the experiences where their audience is engaged, if not creating them for consumers. The role of creativity and storytelling (in addition to all other business functions), must take into account and reflect the cadence of optimizations occurring in the pursuit of a customer-centric offer.

Speed is the name of the game, and we’re really just beginning to better understand how to improve on existing innovations in communications, from navigating programmatic developments and media commoditization, to collaborating with in-house creative units (considering U.S. creative account wins are an average 38% smaller this year than in 2016). But when you look at the stats, by the end of 2019, spending on digital transformation (DX) will reach $1.7 trillion worldwide—up 42% from 2017, and there are a myriad of ways organizations and industries will need to respond to new consumer expectations. Revenue from AI services is expected to grow from $2.4 billion in 2017 to $59.8 billion in 2025, and Big Data is projected to grow from $33.5 billion in 2017 to $88.5 billion in 2025. This alludes to not only how organizations will use data and technology to advance, but to how the consumer journey will continue to be rerouted. And with all this happening at once, as brands’ organizations transform to innovate and better service customers, the changing role of the CMO means the expectation of agency partners will be more and more different.

It’s been said that creativity is the process of making new combinations from components that are already present; so what does that mean for your business? In the context of brand storytelling, effective communications will manifest through the ability to find synergies amongst existing human needs, new expectations, and technology. In order to evolve and progress in how we communicate a brand proposition, we must be cognizant of how new markets affect our own. We must ask ourselves honest questions when it comes to observing the current situation, and draw inspiration from hard evidence, insight, and opportunity. And most importantly, continue to create a sustainable advantage by understanding the consumer fluently, positioning the brand as that imaginary ‘best friend’ everyone wishes they had.


About Tara Nolan

Tara Nolan is a New York City based business development executive and entrepreneur. With over 10 years in media and advertising, she is the former Director of Global Brand and Business Development for global creative network MullenLowe Group, and previous Director of Marketing & Communications for PHD Media Worldwide.

During her time at MullenLowe Group (2015—2017) she was responsible for global marketing, communications and business development. In 2016 her team led the global rebranding of the MullenLowe Group network following the merger of Mullen with Lowe and Partners; the merger rebranding was awarded a Cannes Lion in 2016 and led to the network being named to the AdAge 2017 Agency Standout Awards List. In her time at PHD Media Worldwide (2012—2015), she he was responsible for brand reputation management in support of U.S. business development, and the agency was named Global Media Agency of the Year 2013 by AdWeek.

Tara began her career in media at WPP’s Group M and has worked across a range of categories and blue chip clients including Xerox, Richemont, Pfizer, Giorgio Armani, Swiss Re, Sagatiba liquor, and Cessna aviation. She graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in Marketing and Music. She also holds an MBA in International Business from St. John’s University Rome where she lived for several years, learning how to cook, sail, and drink wine. Tara is the recent founder of a blog dedicated to the promotion of sustainable living, and is currently writing a white paper with the Global Tourism Sustainability Council in support of the United Nations sustainable development goals.

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