We recently caught up with Prakash Kamdar, CEO of dentsu Singapore, to get his thoughts on the changes the industry has undergone due to the pandemic, the relationship between data-driven insights and creativity, and the social responsibility that agencies have in today’s world.
Kamdar has headed up the Singapore business for the past two years. Previously he led Isobar in Singapore and before that co-founded The Upper Story.
He believes that the tumultuous events of the past year and a half have kick-started a seismic shift that most of us have never seen before.
“We will experience an awakening of the human conscience like we have not seen in the last 100 years, an expectation of greater human empathy, and for businesses and brands to demonstrate the principles of stakeholder capitalism,” he stated.
How did dentsu Singapore adapt to keep moving forward through the strangest 18 months the ad industry has ever seen?
It has indeed been a strange 18 months for the planet as a whole, let alone for our industry.
At dentsu Singapore, our focus throughout has been to firstly, help our people adapt to and continue to be the best version of themselves so we can bring this best version to our clients and help them in turn adapt and keep moving forward.
That being said, our transformation journey actually began in 2019, and COVID-19 has largely played the role of an accelerator in this journey.
By transformation, what I mean is our investments in technology infrastructure and services (we owe a massive debt of gratitude to our technology team and technology partners) so that we can continue working seamlessly, efficiently, and team even more collaboratively without borders, through this period and the years ahead.
“Based on what we have experienced in the last 18 months, most businesses that do not leverage digital (including the cloud or hybrid cloud, and cloud computing) will be left behind.”
Another significant component of our transformation journey is the investment in and integration of our capabilities across data, technology, commerce, experience design, content, and media so that we can help our clients address their business challenges and accelerate their own transformation in a joined-up manner through our joined-up thinking and delivery.
This includes enabling them to quickly set up and scale their online commerce presence, drive quality traffic, and convert through meaningful personalisation and value exchange.
We have also helped organisations in traditional industries during this period to reimagine and deploy new business models. For instance, we consulted a global real estate company and helped them rethink the concept of real estate and transition to an omni-channel offering for their tenants.
While we consult incumbents and help them transform, we are also deeply passionate about and committed to partnering with ‘Good for Growth’ start-ups that were born prior to or during the last 18 months, to help them go-to-market, scale, and change the world.
You can expect to hear more on such partnerships in the months and years ahead.
What long term changes if any do you see coming out of all of this?
The first big change that we will see is that digital transformation and digitalisation will be table stakes, both as an acceleration and de-risking strategy. Based on what we have experienced in the last 18 months, most businesses that do not leverage digital (including the cloud or hybrid cloud, and cloud computing) will be left behind.
Consumers have learned new habits that make their lives easier, be it digital/mobile banking, getting both essentials and non-essentials delivered to their doorstep with a few touches/clicks, watching great content on OTA platforms, and business leaders have experienced that a number of work-related meetings happen just as effectively via collaboration platforms like Teams and Zoom.
These new habits are unlikely to reverse even when the world returns to normality or rather new normality. Why would they? There will therefore be even greater consumption of cloud as both our professional (be it for cloud computing, collaboration, or connection) and personal (think more video calls, more phone camera photos and videos memories having to be stored, OTT entertainment) lives demand it.
“Technology such as Artificial Intelligence will become even more mainstream and it will help us use the massive amount of structured and unstructured data generated by society and companies to interpret all of the data to come up with predictions about everything…”
That being said, I believe that humankind has arrived at an inflection or tipping point soon after the start of the pandemic – one where we learnt not to take travel, being with those nearest and dearest to us, our health, and our planet, for granted.
I believe that we will experience an awakening of the human conscience like we have not seen in the last 100 years, an expectation of greater human empathy, and for businesses and brands to demonstrate the principles of stakeholder capitalism.
Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) shared a point of view recently about Singapore needing to become a mature and inspiring nation underpinned by values rather than one being over-reliant on a government, and needing ‘innovation, inclusion, and inspiration’.
I fully agree with this POV, and I believe that the problems that need solving now and ahead cannot be solved unilaterally.
We will therefore see far more teaming and partnerships between businesses, brands, and multiple other partners stakeholders that form ecosystems designed to achieve meaningful progress and to address challenges. The creative industry can and will play a key role in making such teaming/partnerships happen, and do what we do best – be a lighthouse of creative ideas.
We will therefore need to shoulder a greater responsibility, not just in playing the role of a “dinner party host”, but rather, in being a beacon of data-driven and tech-enabled ground-breaking creative ideas that can help address large and existential challenges.
The industry has become more dependent on analytics and big data than ever before. How do you see tech and creativity working together in the future?
I see it more as the industry becoming wiser to the obvious benefits of using big data and analytics to gain better insight and predictability of human behaviour, and therefore becoming more empowered to act on data-driven insights.
Technology such as Artificial Intelligence will become even more mainstream and it will help us use the massive amount of structured and unstructured data generated by society and companies to interpret all of the data to come up with predictions about everything, for instance what the potential lifetime value of a customer may be based on everything we know.
“Technology will continue to help us deliver as well as inspire groundbreaking ideas that are needed to help humankind continue to grow while saving our planet.”
AI will be a massive enabler in both the top of the funnel of creativity (by enabling us to generate big creative ideas that have a better likelihood of delivering impact) and the mid and lower funnel by anticipating what needs and questions consumers will have as they interact with brands. This will help marketers to address/answer them with content and utility even before they are asked, and increase the probability of conversion and retention. And this is just in the context of marketing.
I am convinced that big data, analytics, tech and creativity will work even more seamlessly together to solve some of our most complex problems beyond the world of marketing (refer to response in question 2 on long term changes).
Technology will continue to help us deliver as well as inspire groundbreaking ideas that are needed to help humankind continue to grow while saving our planet. If I were to use the example of Jeff Bezoz’s recent brief trip to space, technology enabled him to make the trip, as well as inspired him to think big and think creatively about heavy industries moving to space.
You previously said that clients are “investing in big ideas and creativity is more critical than before. But at the same time, they want all of this integrated as opposed to it being fragmented.” Could you expand upon that?
One of the consistent themes that emerged in our the dentsu global CMO surveys for 2019 and 2020 is that our clients see creativity and big ideas as top most capabilities required for future business success.
Another consistent theme that emerged from these surveys and in multiple conversations with CXOs is that they are looking to work with partners who can truly connect the dots across creative, media, customer experience, data, and technology to deliver full-funnel marketing in a joined-up manner.
While clients seek deep specialism, the days of fragmentation are well and truly over, and all the progress that we have achieved at dentsu Singapore thus far has been a result of joined up thinking and delivery.
“We have an opportunity, a responsibility, and the privilege, to guide our people, clients, and society through this disruption.”
As our global CEO, Wendy Clark, often hears from clients, our complexity should not be their problem. Dentsu has been championing meaningful progress in reducing these complexities so that we can focus our energies on helping our clients solve their biggest problems through our world-class capabilities in Creative, Media, and Customer Experience Management, powered by our industry-leading Integrated Solutions.
You’ve also spoken about your agency being a force for good, not only for clients but for society and the environment. Could you detail exactly what this means and how you are planning on making a difference?
As we network, we recognise that we are not simply spectators. We have an opportunity, a responsibility, and the privilege, to guide our people, clients, and society through this disruption. Our social purpose – for lasting good – calls for us to create a truly sustainable value for the lasting food of everyone and our global social impact strategy, which is also consistently being applied in Singapore, focuses on three pillars of:
- Sustainable World – accelerating the transition to low carbon and more sustainable future
- Fair & open society – ensure our people and people around us are treated fairly and have opportunity
- Digital for good – ensure positive potential of communications is realised
In Singapore, we are championing these three pillars by pegging our actions to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are focused on creating and maintaining the virtuous cycle of being a force of good and force for growth – committing to addressing the needs and challenges of consumers and businesses, society, and the environment, creatively and innovatively.
We are focused on helping incumbents transform their businesses in order to achieve ‘Good for Growth’ and equally committed to helping start-ups that are already born to be a Force for Good and a Force for Growth to scale through our capabilities.
Our immediate actionable efforts in Social Impact include a commitment to a yearly increase of our total revenue in Singapore being attributable to addressing at least one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will also actively identify and reduce actions and activities where we can achieve net zero emissions by 2030.
To make progress on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we have begun plans to engage our employees in active listening sessions to help us define our localised goals, objectives, and metrics and KPIs for a sustainable action plan. Finally, we are also exploring opportunities to empower digital citizenship, especially among the underserved in Singapore.