Suparshv Chopra | Director – Digital Media

Very recently, Google discovered that it is not just YouTube that is facing a threat from popular social media apps like Instagram or TikTok but it’s also their core services such as Google Search & Google Maps that are losing their popularity amongst Gen Z . Based on a recent study conducted by Google, as much as 40% of Gen Z are using these social media platforms as a search engine. 

I have penned down my two cents on why this is becoming a growing trend amongst the most sought-after target group and how brands/advertisers can adapt to this changing audience behaviour:

First the why:

As quoted by Prabhakar Raghavan (VP, Google Knowledge & Information Organisation) at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, “New internet users do not have the expectation and the mindset that we have become accustomed to. The queries they ask are completely different.”  

This generation is thriftier than millennials, chooses practicality over customer experience &, most importantly, prefers visual content over plain text.

According to Think with Google, 85% of teenagers within Gen Z use YouTube to regularly find content, while 80% of Gen Z says YouTube videos are very useful in learning new things. This re-emphasises how aggressively Gen Z seeks visual content. Video is becoming their first stop on the path of discovery. Google’s research also highlights that this new generation is turning to social video apps when looking for new places or experiences instead of finding their next destination through Google Maps or Google Search. 

Social media platforms not only provide the content Gen Z seeks in their preferred format, but also supports that content with proof points in the form of reviews and feedback from the community they trust in comments or chat sections. In their eyes, this makes it easier and more efficient to make the correct decisions.

Next steps for brands/advertisers:

The rising popularity of short-form videos made Tiktok the most downloaded app in the world (Q1’22). It has forced big tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Snapchat, etc. to follow suit and create their own short-form video offering. It is becoming imperative for brands to respond to this demand for short-form videos by adding it to their content strategy. As per our learnings, here are some of the best practices to follow when creating short-form video content:

  1. Tailor your video content to each platform
  2. Leverage User Generated Content wherever possible
  3. Use content creators or influencers to drive higher engagement
  4. Ride on the current trends quickly and thoughtfully 
  5. Go beyond the marketing messages and produce educational content related to the brand
  6. Focus on the first few seconds and make them a thumb-stopper
  7. Have a clear call to action in the end

Brands should also understand other ways they can take advantage of these new trends. Creating and publishing a rich depository of short-form video content should not be restricted to social media platforms. It should also be made available on the brand’s website. This will boost the brand’s SEO efforts as Google announced that they will leverage AI to analyse videos on the web and show users a more rich and visual heavy search results to their queries.  

Your target group’s behaviour is changing, are you up for the challenge?  

By Abdalla Yousef, Senior Account Manager, Serviceplan Experience

In the age of constant communication, brands are no longer expected to remain silent on issues outside of their perceived scope of expertise. Many of today’s most successful brands take a stand on topics ranging from global warming to political conflicts. 

Look at Nike’s “Dream Crazy” advert featuring Colin Kaepernick, which took an unwavering stance on racial justice, or P&G’s commitment to establishing gender equality. How about Ben & Jerry’s clear public position on voting rights, climate justice, and more? 

Even though these brands’ products have little to do with the issues they are advocating for, they still choose to use their platform to highlight their brand identity in a way that is grounded in real-world issues. This not only helps raise awareness about these issues, but it also shows their customers who exactly they are and what statement they want their products to be making. 

Thinking in the same vein, brands can also use their platform to raise awareness about life-threatening diseases and other important healthcare topics. Any brand, regardless of whether or not they are directly related to the medical field, can choose to raise awareness about or advocate for a particular healthcare concern that they feel passionately about. 

How can a brand find the right strategic approach to stepping into healthcare marketing even if their product focus is not in the medical field? A number of brands already use their voice to raise awareness about healthcare issues – showing their customers that they truly care about their wellbeing. There are two key approaches that brands take to healthcare communication. 

First, they create their very own healthcare-related campaign, and include experts on the topic to convey accurate information to their target group. 

Let’s look at MINI Middle East’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign as a masterclass in how brands, regardless of their products, can help save lives through this first approach. For two weeks during the month of October, MINI Middle East partnered with Dubai-based breast cancer survivor, Dina Aman and invited women to a special test drive with Dina. The women would drive the official test drive car, an unmissable pink MINI with the words ‘Circle around. Look for unusual bumps’ written on the side, around different roundabouts in Dubai. This clever campaign not only reminded women of the life-saving task of checking for early signs of breast cancer, but it also gave them the opportunity to learn about Dina’s experience and how she remained strong in the face of unimaginable adversity. Although on the surface cars have little to do with breast cancer, MINI Middle East exemplified their ethos of Big Love by finding a creative way to keep their audience safe while also promoting their products. 

Second, brands collaborate with diverse entities, from business communities to mental health centers, to address pertinent issues their audiences are struggling with.

A perfect illustration of this technique is Dubai Science Park’s ‘Hostages of Depression’ campaign. Serviceplan Middle East collaborated with Dubai Science Park and Thrive Wellbeing, a leading mental health clinic in the U.A.E., to raise awareness about the symptoms of depression and encourage those who are suffering to seek help. With the intention of tackling the stigma against mental illness in the Middle East, the key message of this campaign was that depression is not the fault of the person struggling. For example, oversleeping is one of the clearest signs of chronic depression, and yet over 66% of cases of depression go undiagnosed. As a result, the depressed individual falls further into self-doubt and away from recovery. ‘Hostages of Depression’ aimed to show people that what they may be mistaking for personal flaws could actually be symptoms of a debilitating mental illness and emphasize the importance of seeking help. Though Dubai Science Park, a community for healthcare and business professionals, does not explicitly work on mental health related issues, this campaign aligned with the company commitment to creating lasting, positive change in people’s lives.    

The campaigns of MINI Middle East and Dubai Science Park illustrate just two of the many ways your brand can help save lives by supporting the awareness of serious illnesses; by creating your very own healthcare-related campaign or by collaborating with diverse entities to address pertinent issues These campaigns also showcase how brands can go about saving lives: by running an awareness campaign about a specific illness, more people will become aware of the disease, which may in turn lead to patients getting diagnosed and treated more quickly and accurately. 

Both approaches clearly demonstrate that brands don’t have to be limited to the confines of their products and how their goods can add value to people’s lives; there are a myriad of opportunities for brands to showcase that they truly care about their customers’ wellbeing, beyond sales and profits. Nevertheless, a campaign that focuses on something else other than the brand’s profitability can simultaneously increase your customer loyalty, the positive reputation of your brand amongst both your target group and potential new audiences, and support from the general public for your brand. 

We encourage your brand to seize these opportunities and either start or continue spreading awareness about healthcare topics that will change the course of people’s lives for the better. 

Connecting the real and virtual worlds, the metaverse is set to be the next big challenge for marketers. Gaming and e-sports are the drivers of a whole new entertainment industry.

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the new name of his company was Meta, it was a huge clue to the internet’s next stage of evolution: the metaverse as the next iteration of the World Wide Web as we knew it. After all, virtual and physical worlds are increasingly converging and constantly creating new digital spaces. And one of the main drivers of this are games and the digital world of sports . So, it was only logical that the latest “International Roadshow” by the Serviceplan Group was dedicated to “Mythbusting the Metaverse” – with a particular focus on e-sports and gaming.

People are spending more and more time online, as Eva Simone Lihotzky, Director Group Corporate Strategy Serviceplan Group, is observing. While it was just 7 percent of their day in 2010, it is now around 38 percent – and will soon be 50 percent. “The pandemic has certainly fueled this development, but the third web is already very present.  Virtual worlds are becoming mainstream.”

Virtual spaces are now more creative and social

Online gaming platforms like Roblox, where the users invent their own computer games and can play them with others, are proving a huge hit. Like the team-based strategy game League of Legends, which is played by hundreds of millions of players every month and is constantly being developed. “Virtual worlds are becoming more creative and spatial,” Lihotzky says. “And they are also adapting themselves to users’ needs. This consistency is what makes them lasting companions and therefore also so interesting for the brand economy.”

We are currently “in the early stages of a new technology that has outgrown its hype status,” says Stefanie Kuhnhen, Chief Strategy Officer at the Serviceplan Group. In her view, a “learning community” is currently emerging and it is important to now get a foot in the door. “We shouldn’t just be thinking in single platforms anymore. There are lots of different metaverses that are emerging: open and decentralised, no longer just accessible with AR glasses, but more and more browser-based and mobile.” And the focus is not so much on creating 3D-rooms per se, but on creating exiting experiences and hence time that consumers want to spend with a brand. The “15 minutes that a user is spending in branded spaces or new communities can be worth more than the six seconds that they spend looking at an Instagram ad.”

Marketing is reinventing itself in the metaverse

Marketers need to face up to the metaverse in all its complexity. It is a gigantic space for playing, creating things, connecting with others and working, but also for processing transactions, consuming and even earning money. Online gamers and e-sports players are icons of youth culture and influencers in one. Something that hardly seemed conceivable to older generations is now becoming a reality: while the whole family used to sit down to watch TV together for an evening, young people are now tuning into Twitch to watch other online gamers play.

“In the USA, more kids play Fortnite than football and basketball combined,” says Christian Waitzinger, Chief Experience Officer Plan.Net Group, giving us a good idea of the dimensions. In his point of view, the convergence of the digital and physical lifestyle is already fully underway. Brands like Liverpool F.C. have a shop on Roblox, Chipotle has launched the Burrito Builder there and fashion brands like Gucci are also gradually making a foray into the worlds where young people can be found today. It all comes down to being in the place where your future customers spend the most time. And for Waitzinger, it is extremely exciting to see how more and more new business models are emerging from this and brands are rethinking their understanding of consumers.

Gaming is taking over from TV

Gaming has become more unifying across national borders than almost anything else. “Gaming is a sympathy multiplier,” says Alexander Turtschan, Director Digital Accelerator the Mediaplus Group. “E-sports arenas are the new movie theatres.” A way to lose yourself in stories, compete with others and keep on improving. “We see ecosystems emerging here. You can even become a superstar yourself and earn a lot of money. That’s why, e-sports are a serious contender for traditional sports in terms of marketing or sponsorship.” Here you can find everything that the marketer’s heart desires: attractive target groups, influencers, strong communities and, last but not least, the perfect gateway into youth culture.

The advertising industry is merging more and more into these new worlds and its focus now is to create meaningful engagement of lasting value. Nevertheless, “brands should still stick to their values,” believes Helmi Abdalhadi, Manager of House of Gaming at the House of Communication Dubai. He sees gamers as being very critical and professional and, as a result, the only way to reach them is with authenticity. “So, brands that engage with this target group always need to give something back, really embrace the culture and build up something from scratch. We definitely see a new media genre emerging here.

Brands are leading the way in brandification

More and more brands are recognising the momentum of this global movement and are aligning their gaming and e-sports strategies accordingly. “We realised that there are overlaps with our own fundamental brand strategy,” says Pia Schörner, Head of Gaming and Sponsoring at BMW Group. “Joy” or “thrills” are the perfect fit for what the BMW world refers to as its core. So, two and a half years ago, the Munich-based company began making their brand “future-proof for the younger target groups.”

Above all, it was about generating the maximum impact in what Schörner calls “the fastest growing segment of the entertainment industry”. They achieved this with partnerships with the six best e-sports teams in the world, as well as the development of unique formats such as ‘Brawls’, where well-known e-sports players compete against each other. Schörner believes that it’s very important to not just stubbornly throw in product placements, as so many brands do. “For us, it’s about being relevant.” Brandification is the magic word here.

Authentic advertising instead of mere selling

Markus Weiß, Director of Corporate Affairs & Company Spokesperson at McDonald’s Germany, is taking a similar approach. He admits that “McDonald’s isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when talking about something like e-sports”, but they have developed an approach for the new virtual worlds that is valuable and beneficial and goes beyond merely wanting to sell. “As a brand, we want to be an everyday companion that also gives something back and who is as just as passionate as our target group.”

Entering into a partnership with tournament organisers ESL, the world’s leading e-sports company, was not just a first step but is an important pillar of its gaming engagement until today. McDonald’s is meanwhile active at Gamescom, the world’s biggest trade show for video games, and is launching attention-grabbing promotions like the Twitch Sub Bombs (one-off subscription gifts): in this format, which saw them team up with well-known player collective PietSmiet, the burger giant surprised small content creators (micro-streamers) with a ‘gift’. Those watching the PietSmiet broadcast were encouraged to visit the micro-streamers’ pages – sending their total viewing numbers from the low double-digits into the thousands and therefore supporting the micro-streamers financially. “Whenever possible, we rather integrate the brand in a playful way, combined with our messages, instead of playing classic commercials”, explains Weiß. “Our ethos is: brand love meets brand trust.”

Missed the IRS22? If you’d like to watch one of the sessions, the videos are available on our website

For too long, human beings have focused on computational power and have been obsessed with the power of the mind, says Azhar Siddiqui. Here he explains, why we need to turn to our emotions, feelings and intuition to achieve a higher form of intelligence – and a human driven future.

Over the last 20 years we have witnessed almost all labour-intensive jobs move from human hands to robots or other complex machines. In the last five years, machines are being used to perform complex intelligence based tasks in areas of medicine, research, space exploration, quantum physics, climate change, infrastructure development and in almost all other areas outpacing human capacity to process information. Human progress today is almost completely dependent on machines. Without the internet which is the machine network, we will stop functioning as a modern society.  

Now here’s the interesting part: With this exponential growth of machine power, it is predicted that somewhere between 2030 and 2045, the neural networks in machines will be able to compute and process more data and at higher speeds than the neural networks in the human brain – an event known as technological singularity. Simply put, machines will outthink and outsmart human beings creating a more intelligent being per se. Artificial Intelligence will be more intelligent than human intelligence. 

What happens then is the subject of many debates with one side stating that machines will take over the world and another side who believe that machines will collaborate with human beings and accelerate human evolution further. So what is the future going to be like? Should we be scared and stop creating more intelligent machines that will eventually outsmart us and possibly make us their slaves? If we are to evaluate the scenario purely on the computation power or processing speed, then there is no doubt that at some point we will have to submit our dominant position to a more intelligent machine system – known as Artificial Intelligence. 

But, I am not threatened by the this predicament. For the name artificial itself means its not real. Human intelligence should not be evaluated only as computational intelligence based on the processing power of the brain. For humans can do so much more than just process information or compute. Humans can feel, humans can connect, humans can sense, humans can empathize. We have emotions and a unique sense called intuition. The problem is that we do not know how to tap into these emotions and the bigger problem is that we have programmed ourselves not to trust our intuition. We have been relying so heavily on our brain and focusing so much on the ability to algorithmically understand everything around us that we have forgotten how to feel and how to connect with the world around us.  

Human’s understood the mysteries of the universe long before the laws of gravity and physics were defined. The theories of the universe that we are revealing today are not a revelation, but rather a confirmation of what was already understood thousands of years ago by men and women who we call philosophers, oracles, saints or prophets. Where did their answers come from in an age where no computer or microchip existed? Clearly humans felt and connected not just through their minds but through other means. Maybe the answers came to them through thoughtful meditation and introspection. Maybe we simply listened more our feelings and were more in touch with our intuition. We knew how to balance the understanding of our universe between computational thinking, emotional thinking and intuitive thinking? 

Perhaps this is the greatest power of being human: To really understand and trust out gut as they say. Feelings that we cannot compute in 0s and 1s but feelings that still give us answers to so many questions that are mathematically impossible to equate. 

Today, we fear that we may no longer be the most intelligent life on earth because the machines we built will compute faster than us. But that’s just one part of who we are what we can do for the machines can’t feel or imagine.  In the future, machines will do exactly what they are built to do – process information. And hopefully, humans will learn to escalate to a higher form of intelligence.  We will better understand the universe and our place in it. After all this is what being human is all about. 

But this is not going to be an easy journey and there is a real danger that if do not consciously put a real effort into this evolution, we very well may end up living one of the Hollywood movies where we become slaves to our machines. We continue to place more and more emphasis on sciences, finance, production, data processing and in doing so we are becoming more machine and less human ourselves. We equate success with machine like productivity and evaluate progress through the equation of output of goods and services that have material or monetary value. We need to stop this obsession and learn how to balance it better with our humanness.   This is not going to come automatically for this requires us to learn the techniques and put in hard work and commitment required to understand our own humanness first. It will require the investment of our time, and our time right now is disproportionately skewed towards computing the whole universe in equations of IF and THEN. We need to change this obsession with the computational power and algorithmic logic and learn to trust the fact that there is another way for human evolution. 

We need a time-out. There is an urgent need to collectively as a human race have a greater understanding and appreciation for art, music, spirituality, humanity, and everything else that is not materialistic in value. We need to formulate more policies in our personal lives, in our businesses and in our governments not just for ourselves but for our entire planet. We need to accept that we are part of a macro ecosystem known as planet earth and we cannot simply use and abuse our planet in the ways we have been doing. We need to celebrate heroes who do good things versus only celebrate heroes who do things that make money. Our evaluation of life overall needs to be redefined from the never-ending chase of materialism to a higher cause of self-realization. Our current obsession is turning us into machines and if we try to compete with Artificial Intelligence by become machines, we will certainly fail. This is proven by the theory of technological singularity.  

But my hope lies in the fact that we are not machines, we are humans. We are not artificial, we are real. We can feel, we can sense and we can connect with each other and with the world around us in more than just one way. We are meant to have a higher purpose and perhaps it is the threat of something artificial that will push us to realize our true potential. 

So how do we counter the threat of artificial intelligence – just be more human!

Will the blockchain enhance the digital media landscape and if so, what are the barriers?

By looking at the fundamentals of the blockchain technology and projecting them onto the principles of the digital media landscape, we begin to notice a common ground but with different terminology that creates a range of opportunities for those of wants.

In this article, we will project the blockchain infrastructure onto programmatic advertising, click fraud, and metrics reporting.

I assume by now, most of you are familiar with what the blockchain is, but for those who are still confused by this fancy term, I will try to explain it using a simple comparison:

IS BLOCKCHAIN A DATABASE (DB)?

Quick answer, no. Although they have a lot in common, they are completely different, and I will cover the why and how in this section.

From an architectural standpoint, DB is based on a client server methodology, where the client is the node or the user accessing the DB, and the server is the centralized node that, for simplicity’s sake, we are going to say is where the DB is hosted. On the other hand, blockchain is based on a distributed network that is interconnected through a node-to-node or peer-to-peer methodology. When a transaction occurs, Blockchain uses a consensus algorithm, which is called proof-of-work, to validate and then store or transfer through read and write operations only.DB is completely centralized, which means that a DB manager or operator has full control over the DB, and one user with access can create, read, update, and delete data. So, in one word, blockchain ensures transparency, which leads us into the next section of this article.

TRANSPARENCY

With the rise of click fraud, chaotic targeting, and limited budgets, advertisers are seeking various ways to protect their media spend and to maximize efficiency. Transparency is what they need to ensure all of the above.

Imagine company X is launching an awareness campaign where the media plan includes Display ads, Video Ads, Audio Ads, Native Ads, Proximity Ads, and many more.

In a traditional ecosystem, reporting will take place manually or in real-time (a fancy term), but the data is published manually or through data parsing from a third-party supplier.

How can company X ensure that their campaign reached the right audience, at the right time, in the right location and that the report in hand reflects the right views and right clicks actioned by the right audience and not by bots?

Blockchain technology ensures transparency in the whole digital landscape through multiple applications from click fraud detection, fake traffic, and domain spoofing to precise tracking and ad buying.

Thanks to the Proof-of-View and the likes of PoV technology that are sitting on the blockchain, advertisers can now ensure that the result in hand reflects what their content and pages really got, which will lead to efficiency. It can also track where and how their ads have been placed, which will enhance the reporting process and offer an accurate optimization.

Similarly, blockchain is offering an evolution in the media supply-chain – a chain that is interconnected by a middleman throughout. 

Agencies, DSPs, Ad Exchanges, SSPs and publishers are all running their own ledgers and this is only because data is the main product in media, and every entity wants to keep the accessibility and the processing of this data within closed doors, which is centralization at its best.

Obviously, the main loser in this is the advertiser. However, from an effectiveness point of view, the healthy media supply chain should be backed by the blockchain where advertisers, agencies, DSPs, Ad-exchanges, SSPs, and publishers are forming this network and working on a shared ledger to authenticate, validate, and exchange.

This will provide all entities the ability to agree on every single transaction, to know where the metrics are coming from and how they are changing over time, and finally, to approve and validate the authenticity of the delivery, which can trigger the automated payments, and all will be governed by smart contracts.

The opportunities are limitless, but like any tech-evolution, obstacles will pop up – creating adoption barriers where some are systematic and others are technical. Here are a few just for clarity:

  • Speed of transaction and validation (that is why it is recommended to not transform the whole supply-chain, but rather transform the crucial parts that require validation and authentication).
  • Data is the product and once it becomes decentralized, companies fear losing control and IP.
  • Conflict of interest: blockchain imposes a necessity for different players, even competitors, to collaborate.
  • Competition within the one industry: the fact that all parties are being exposed in a decentralized system creates a challenge, especially between the competitors whose main goal is to own the bigger share of that pie (Advertiser).
  • And much more… 

Blockchain will create an evolution in the media world by forcing transparency, accuracy, and authenticity, but the main question remains: when will we see a mass adoption within the industry? In my opinion, we’re still far from it, but for most of you who are struggling with the “How?” my advice is to forget about the how and to focus on the why and the what.

The how starts like any transformation – with requirement gathering – and goes into the normal transformation lifecycle, and there’re plenty of good players who can support on this.

‘Carpenter.’ That was my genuine, enthusiastic answer to the classic question that every elementary school student is asked, but it was always met by laughter from the teacher, as if I was telling a joke. I went home to my mom, who explained how the profession I chose was unsuitable for women, and only men could do such work.

I am fairly certain there are countless stories like mine. Many girls dream of being boxers, rally drivers, electricians, automotive mechanics, and many other ‘untraditional’ professions. But they can’t do more than dream because it’s against society’s norms.

With time and openness to greater possibilities, things improved regarding gender equality in the Arab region. Yet, studies show a gap between female labour force participation rates and that of males in certain professions, and this gender gap leads to many talents and opportunities being lost.

UN WOMEN for gender equality and female empowerment wanted to launch an awareness campaign, encouraging society to break the perception that women can’t work in any profession they choose. 

Thinking of it from a creative design perspective, the insight was how the male form takes over the inclusive speech in the Arabic language, especially in job ads.

For example, the usual form is DOCTOR WANTED- Doctor is used in male form, although the ad is directed at both men and women.  

From here, as a global team from the House of Communication in Munich and Dubai, we wanted to create a symbol and add it to every male-formed job title in job ads. People will then see these teaser ads LinkedIn to certain platforms where we have our full campaign communication.

To promote women’s economic empowerment in the Arab states, UN Women organized a webinar on the role of media and advertising. Together with my colleague Natalie Shardan, MD of Serviceplan, I had the chance to talk about the ALL-GENDER campaign, discuss the situation of gender equality at work, and state our take on gender inequalities:

“Jobs have no gender, so why should job advertisements address only half of the population? With our latest campaign, we want to highlight that inclusiveness should be promoted in the workplace from the recruitment phase.”

UN Women Arabic | Twitter

The discussed topics and information were up-and-coming in terms of supporting women at work by many media entities in the Arab region. And obviously, there is a massive interest in highlighting inclusivity as much as possible. The campaign is still in its first phase. The next challenge is to get as many entities as possible to adopt this symbol and use it in their job ads. To make this process even easier for everyone, we created an All-Gender font that can be easily downloaded and used. Seeing the emblem online will prove that this initiative succeeded in revealing that jobs like truck driver, carpenter, firefighter, or even CEO are not male-exclusive anymore.

Natalie Shardan and Rana Ahmad taking part at the UN WOMEN webinar | March 2022

This is just the beginning of something big. Together with UN WOMEN, more milestones can be expected, such as the release of a powerful manifesto and the collaboration with influencers for targeted editorials. With all of that, we want to encourage girls and boys alike to actually start their professional lives in whatever direction they are dreaming of.

While still pursuing the carpentry profession on a smaller scale with starting my own handiwork projects at home, I am more than grateful to contribute, as part of the Serviceplan Group team, to the global issue of diversity and inclusion. Through our work, every day we see how bringing together diverging mindsets, skills, and cultural imprints in one common project is by far the most effective way of fostering true creativity and enabling major breakthroughs. We want to share this spirit of “Strength by Diversity“, with our clients, as we strongly believe that respecting every human-being, overcoming all forms of systematic exclusion, and unlocking the full potential of every talent gives companies and individuals the inner strength, resilience, and innovative energy it takes to overcome the challenges of highly globalized, rapidly changing markets and local issues.

Together with UN WOMEN and the ALL-GENDER-SIGN, we are fighting for our shared mission of making this world we live in an equal, diversified one – starting with a girl’s dream profession and her teacher’s encouraging reaction to it.

Author: Rana Ahmad, Senior Copywriter Serviceplan Experience

Jobtitel Bingo | Kai Martin Ruck

Developing creative concepts is teamwork!

In our new round of Jobtitles Bingo, Kai Martin Ruck explains to us in detail how he, as Client Service Director Asset Production, ensures that things run smoothly in the production of assets, what a typical day at work looks like for him, and why his job can be compared to an energy drink.

Gallery owner Johann König on the digital transformation of the art sector, the significance of personal experiences and the allure of art for young target groups. An interview with Eva Simone Lihotzky.

EVA SIMONE LIHOTZKY: Mr König, you are regarded as one of Germany’s leading gallery owners. In recent months, you have designed and implemented a number of digital formats, such as an exhibition called The Artist Is Online together with Anika Meier. The international group exhibition could be seen offline at the KÖNIG GALERIE and online in Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. What has been your experience with formats like these?

JOHANN KÖNIG: We are initiating many of these digital formats on www. misa.art with a view to being accessible and removing barriers and thresholds. For instance, in Decentraland – a virtual world based on blockchain technology – we held an online exhibition that ended with an online auction. However, we found that it was very difficult to access and that collectors were finding it difficult to buy an NFT – the underlying process was too complex (editor’s note: non-fungible tokens – NFTs for short – are counterfeit-proof certificates stored on a blockchain, effectively rendering digital artworks unique). As a result, we set up our own marketplace that allows people to pay with credit cards and bank transfers. This makes the market more accessible.

Do you think the art world will hold onto digital platforms like this in future or are they just a passing fad?

JK: No, they’re definitely here to stay. What’s also interesting is the technological possibilities that it opens up. That’s why we are planning to sell fractionalised artworks on www.misa.art as well – so people can buy part of an artwork instead of the whole thing. We believe that this will get far more people interested in art and lead to a greater identification with the market.

In another interview, you say that one of the main functions of the art world is to allow people to experience art more. In the business world, this would be termed ‘customer centricity’. What does the art sector need to do to be more customer- centric in its thinking?

JK: To answer this, I asked myself: “Why don’t people buy art? Or, to put it another way, what reasons are there for not buying art?” We then tried to identify and eliminate these objections one by one. In most cases, it’s because people don’t know the price or aren’t able to determine if the given price is reasonable – or sometimes it’s trivial things like not knowing how much it will cost to transport the artwork home. We resolved all of this with a software that brings all of these factors together

Immersive art experiences are an art form where the audience takes centre stage – just like Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol does with his works. What makes these artists’ work so special?

JK: First of all, I believe that art is always a holistic experience. And that you always need to feel it – not just see it. When you look at Refik Anadol’s art, it’s like being hypnotised: they are always moving and, thanks to AI, always new. That’s why it’s like a kind of meditative performance. He has succeeded in bringing aesthetics and concept together.

Do people who visit an immersive art exhibition have a different connection to art than they might have with traditional exhibitions?

JK: For me, it’s important for all KÖNIG GALERIE exhibitions to be immersive experiences – so we can use a space to let people experience something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. It’s only by offering your visitors an experience money can’t buy that you will make a lasting impression on them. At the same time, I believe that the experience factor in itself is becoming increasingly important. And that, in the age of social media, it’s very important to share the experiences with others, so that they in turn will feel compelled to experience them and will also be in a position to do so.

Do you think there will be more and more collaborations between commercial enterprises and artists in order to create exactly the kind of experiences we are talking about here?

JK: We are getting more and more commissions in this area in particular. This is because companies – or their brands – are not familiar with this kind of thing, don’t understand how the art market works and don’t know what relevant positions there are for specific target groups. We, on the other hand, have plenty of expertise and know what the right artistic position is for any given company. This is definitely an area that is not directly related to our gallery work where we are positioning ourselves to a greater and greater extent. We take a close look at the companies in question and determine what they stand for, what they want to achieve with the artistic collaboration and what target group they are aiming to reach. We also carry out a data-based analysis so that we can find the right position for the right company.

And then when you have your findings, you come together with the artists to create experiences that will make a lasting impression on the companies’ end consumers?

JK: It’s a mixture of things. It needs to be related to the brand and, in some cases, it needs to sell the brand – and of course it also aims to make something possible. But due to the fascination for art among a younger generation – or a wider group of people – we are also noticing that more and more companies are exploring the possibilities offered by art.

Why does art play such a great role among younger generations in particular?

JK: It’s because their own creativity plays a more important role. And because art and their own preferences and niche interests are a lot more accessible these days thanks to the internet and social media.

So you believe that, if companies differentiate themselves through various art collaborations, this could put them higher on the radar of younger generations?

JK: Absolutely! Thank you for talking to us, Mr König.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent de Paul is the sole shareholder of one of the most successful mineral water companies in Germany, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH. The order uses the company’s profits to finance social and charity projects. How compatible are Christian values and business-minded thinking? How do these values shape corporate culture? An interview with Superior General Sister Rosa Maria Dick and Adelholzener Managing Director Stefan Hoechter.

FLORIAN HALLER: Sustainability is one of the most important issues of our time – if not the most important. You might say that sustainability is part of Adelholzener’s DNA. Mr Hoechter, what is sustainable brand management in your view?

STEFAN HOECHTER: We have just completed the first Adelholzener Alpenquellen sustainability report and couldn’t help but notice how much people’s understanding of sustainability has changed. It used to be about how much energy the company needed or where savings could be made. Today, sustainability is defined in much broader terms. It not only includes ecological and economic responsibility but social responsibility too. Within these three areas, we identified our materiality matrix with the relevant areas of responsibility – such as climate protection and energy – and this forms the basis for our sustainability strategy.

How do you practise ecological sus-tainability in your brand management activities?

SH: Sustainability is something we take very seriously indeed. Even though our Active O2 water and parts of our Adelholzener range are distributed throughout Germany, the main focus of our sales is right here in Bavaria. This is also where our advertising is primarily concentrated and where we record our strongest growth. We have also come up with a very future-oriented packaging  – and have a reuse quota of over 80%, which is way above the rest of the sector.

Sustainability and good sales figures aren’t always 100% compatible. Or are they?

SH: It is possible to have sustainable business practices and still be economically viable. We are reinforcing this trend, for example by selling our products in reusable packaging in the region and highlighting this in our advertising. We generally set great store by gearing our brand management firmly towards consumers. Only companies that truly understand consumers and have a certain humility towards them will ultimately be able to develop and market products that are target group-specific and geared towards actual usage situations.

As shareholders, what role does the order play in determining the com-pany’s direction and shaping the corporate culture?

SH: When Sister Rosa Maria took over as Superior General in 2016, it soon became very clear that the values the order stands for are the same ones that are growing in importance at Adelholzener Alpenquellen. The order wanted us to implement these values proactively and in the company’s everyday activities. To begin with, it wasn’t clear whether they could be applied in the same way to a business entity. We embarked on a journey together, a journey with an unknown destination that involved lots of discussions and values workshops. In the end, we actually succeeded in reinterpreting the congregation’s five values for our company and also made them readily understandable for all our employees. We are currently in the process of anchoring these values even more firmly within the company by holding employee training courses. Regardless of the values, the fact that our shareholder is a religious order that invests the company’s profits – after making the operational investments needed to safeguard jobs in the long term – entirely in social projects, is social responsi-bility in its purest form.

Sister Rosa Maria, what made you want to anchor your order’s values in the company as well?

Sr. ROSA MARIA DICK: We formulated he five classic values of the Munich Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy back in 2006, adding a mission based on these values a year later. What prompted this was the fact that more and more Sisters had left active service within the company and were being replaced by lay employees. They did a good job, but we weren’t sure if they had sufficient moral guidance. We felt an obligation to provide this moral guidance and, with this in mind, defined our values clearly – in the form they currently take. In other words, what do I understand by mercy and compassion, or by the value ‘Serving – with one another – for one another’? What does that mean for us as an order, in the hospital run by the order – or at Adelholzener?

What relevance do Christian values have in the modern world?

Sr. RMD: The possibilities that are now being offered by science, technology and the digital revolution know virtually no bounds. And this is precisely why human and Christian values are so important in the modern world. I recently read ‘Digital Ethics’ by Professor Sarah Spiekermann, in which she writes about the importance of human values. These are particularly relevant now because there is a greater danger than ever of our being steamrolled by digital technology. And this technology can no longer be seen as a good thing if it replaces people rather than assisting them. However, there has been a slight change in how these values are experienced these days. This is why I have always believed that it’s important for people to be able to ‘experience’ our five values and feel them within themselves – and our values workshops are set up along these lines as well. For instance, we deal with the following question: what does a value like mercy or compassion mean to me in my personal and professional surroundings?

SH: Our code of values includes the following: “We create and nurture a culture of appreciation. We are cordial, benevolent, trusting and appreciative by conviction. Because this inspires and strengthens us. We respect and appreciate each person and what makes them different. To be able to appreciate other people, I first need to be able to appreciate myself. We maintain this culture of appreciation together so that we can grow, develop and be grateful and happy.” The point about appreciating yourself came from Sister Rosa Maria. If you don’t strengthen yourself, you won’t have the strength to help others. And if you’re feeling run down, you won’t have the energy to live your life. We feel that this values-based training enriches us as a company.

And how are these values put into practice in everyday company life?

Sr. RMD: In every values workshop, I point out once again that values are not something that can be prescribed and then taken “three times a day”. People need to be able to experience values themselves. I need to be familiar with values, understand them, question them and then accept them for myself. Only then can I apply them and pass them on to others.

SH: We are currently in the process of preparing guidelines in which these very values are anchored. My fellow managing directors and I are making every effort to apply these values in our organisation and to make them tangible at all times. Of course, we don’t always succeed. In some areas, this is still quite a challenge, but we have every confidence that we will be able to communicate the values here in the future too.

Sr. RMD: We employ almost 600 people at Adelholzener. Our values are a kind of guardrail when working with all these people in all kinds of situations. They are not a nice-to-have addition or a cherry on top, but are primarily there to help us structure and live our everyday lives. This includes making decisions, finding the right staff, encouraging them and also trying to resolve crises in a way that is in keeping with our values. For instance, if we have to part ways with an employee, how can this be done in a manner that reflects these values?

Quite a challenge for managers, I would imagine…

Sr. RMD: Values are not always all that easy to put into practice. Of course our employees look to their managers but they aren’t infallible either. Values-based work can sometimes mean admitting mistakes and apologising to their staff. Values like ‘appreciating life’, ‘serving – with one another – for one another’ and ‘creating and nurturing a culture of ap-preciation’ can also be conveyed through an apology.

Sister Rosa Maria, has there ever been a situation in which you were forced to choose between church values and economic viability?

Sr. RMD: There was one time we had a very strong season that led to sup-ply bottlenecks. Our management had no choice other than to ask employees to come in to work on Sundays as well. This represented a moral dilemma for me too because Sunday has been a protected day of rest for decades and I was being asked to make a decision on the spot. First of all, management defined what exactly was meant by Sunday work. In this case, it meant that about 75 employees would be working for ten or twelve Sundays at the most – they would work for ten days and have four days off. This was also family-friendly and would go on for no more than half a year. And we saw that it worked! Management could easily have said: “Wake up and get real! Can’t you see that we might go out of business if we can’t keep our customers supplied?” Instead, they were respectful of the Sisters, of Sunday as a day of rest and of our employees at all times. I recall thinking that our management were now better than we were at putting values-based work into practice.

Adelholzener’s profits are channel-led into the charities you support, for example providing additional staff for retirement homes and a new hospital with beds for homeless people, to name just two. Is that something that motivates the people working at the company?

SH: When talking to employees about value-based work, we used to hear questions like: “Okay, but how does that affect forklift drivers?” Even just knowing that the end result of their work is going to help other people motivates them. We sell mineral water, which is a great and healthy product. And, once we have made the necessary investments in our operations, the remaining profits will go to areas where we all know that they will benefit people who really need it. Everything we earn goes to ill or needy people. And that is a satisfying and rewarding feeling.

Would you say that companies with a religious order or church as their shareholder are often so successful because they are focused on a long-term corporate strategy rather than on quarterly figures?

SH: The point about the long-term strategy is certainly true. The congrega-tion takes a more long-term view of business than a stock company would, for example. But, interestingly enough, that doesn’t mean that there is less of a focus on profits. We can sense that the Sisters are involved and are keeping a close eye on our business. And yes, we are earning money – we want to, and we need to as well. But it’s different in our case. We know that the order congregation trusts us and this in turn creates an obligation on our part. I’d be devastated if this mutual trust and appreciation between the order congregation and our management team were to break down for some reason. The mutual appreciation is always there and it commits us to one another.

The order is not only Adelholzener’s sole shareholder but, through the advisory board, is also involved in all business decisions. Do you discuss everything together?

SH: There hasn’t been a single advertisement or product that wasn’t seen and approved by the Sisters before being released. Everything we do also needs to have the blessing of the Sisters and the advisory board.

Are there times when you have to put your foot down, Sister Rosa Maria?

Sr. RMD: Last year, we rejected an advertising slogan that didn’t sit right for us. But then we quickly came up with a new suggestion together that everyone was happy with.

Why have you been a little less reticent about talking about your charity projects in your more recent company communications?

SH: People today want to know everything about how a company creates its products, how it treats its employees and what its attitude towards sustainability is. At the same time, social media are becoming more and more important. Given these trends, we see no reason not to shine a spotlight on the good work we do. Such as letting people know that we are building a lift in a retirement and care home and will be covering all the costs so that resident fees won’t be affected in any way. I think these are the things that people really want to know about. We had also discussed the possibility of having slogans – for example, two of these translate roughly as “Drink for a good cause” or “The power to do good” – and there are a variety of approaches that can be used to communicate this.

These days, very few women join religious orders. What does that mean for your order – and what does it mean for the future of Adelholzener?

Sr. RMD: The order is getting smaller and may even cease to exist one day. But I have no doubt that our mission – to spread mercy and compassion – will remain. We will need this in the future. That is the reason for our values-based work, which I am sure will be continued by other people in some form or other. Our mission as an order is to create opportunities for ourselves and for lay employees to help people who are less fortunate than themselves. There are many young people who are looking for meaning in their lives and, yes, maybe we could be even a little more inventive and create new places for them to come together.

Thank you for talking to us.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

The coronavirus crisis caught retailers unawares – and there’s no going back to business as usual. So what does the future hold for retail? Florian Haller asked s.Oliver Group CEO Claus-Dietrich Lahrs how people’s purchasing behaviour changed during the pandemic, which strategy will allow s.Oliver to bring its customers back to its stationary stores and why department stores haven’t fallen behind the times.

FLORIAN HALLER: The COVID-19 crisis hit s.Oliver hard and led to a decline in sales. What has your experience been like?

CLAUS-DIETRICH LAHRS: It was an unnecessary crisis for the entire industry. During the lockdowns we constantly tried to make it clear to the authorities that it was a bad idea to shut down something that is so important to people – places where they can continue to interact with people, treat themselves and browse great clothes, and where the risk of infection is extremely low anyway. For us as a company, the coronavirus was a development that took us by surprise. 70% of our business was suddenly gone (the remaining 30% are online). We tried to stay in contact with our customers and share creative ideas with them, assuring them we were there for them and that our collections were still available. For example, we presented the latest collections in various stores using WhatsApp and video calls. But of course this can only make up for a fraction of the business we lost.

Were you able to find any positives from this phase?

CDL: We said that, despite the crisis, we still wanted to carry on developing our big projects, improving our speed, innovation, shop concepts and shop experience, both in our e-commerce as well as in physical retail. And above all, for our collections to be more closely aligned with the market and reflect the trends that we are observing. We want to accompany this process with digital development technology so we can reduce the time taken for everything that was previously only possible by physical means and often very time-consuming. I think we used this time wisely. One drawback, of course, was that we didn’t know when we would be able to open again. That’s why we were cautious about making predictions for the second half of 2021. Overall, we gave the company an enormous innovation boost that made it clear that, once the restrictions officially end, we will have a faster, more agile organisation that is more open to change than before the COVID crisis.

Has the coronavirus crisis changed how you see customers? Are they more at the fore now?

CDL: During the crisis, we gave a lot more thought to the kind of messages we wanted to send out to our customers without them having to actually come to our stores. On the one hand, we spent a lot of time working out how to use the e-shop to communicate with them. And on the other, we had to figure out how to produce digital content for products that were previously only presented at the POS – which is still our most important channel – and ways to make it so effective that it brings our customers back to our stores.

To be honest, as a customer in a store, I don’t often have the feeling that the focus is on me. Customer centricity doesn’t seem to have really established itself in stationary stores yet. How do you see it?

CDL: We have observed that customers these days don’t just drop by anymore. They are much better informed and arrive at our stores with more specific things in mind so we need to be better prepared for that.

What does that mean specifically?

CDL: We need to give a different kind of welcome to our customers and serve them better while they are in the store. That doesn’t just mean serving them in the sense of: here’s the product, there’s the changing room, off you go. It means keeping the dialogue going and the customer engaged. That never used to be necessary in our business. Our attitude used to be: we have a certain flow of customers from which we need to generate enough sales and make sure we are prepared by having enough goods in stock. Today it’s all about giving the people who do come to our stores the feeling that it was worth their while. And that’s why the store, unlike the online shop, needs to be a place where customers experience something special. It’s no longer just about displaying the goods in the right colours and sizes – something has to actually happen from the moment the customer enters the store to when they leave it.

So the store is to some extent losing its logistics function and gaining more of a brand function.

CDL: Yes, definitely.

How will I be able to experience that as a customer in the s.Oliver stores?

CDL: To name just one example, we will be opening a fantastic new store in Munich with a large mezzanine area in December. We decided to fill this space with art that represents who we are and where we come from. The whole craftsmanship aspect – the feel of the textile and the fabrics – is still very important to us. And as we want to convey that in an artistic way, we have commissioned Berlin artist Peter Lindenberg – and also given him plenty of freedom. In the past, stores were just places for transactions, but that can’t remain the case in the future. That’s why art is going to play a more important role for us – by organising exhibitions with this artist at regular intervals, we can make the Munich store much more than a place where transactions happen.

There has been a marked shift from physical to online sales. How will these two sales channels develop at s.Oliver in the future?

CDL: We are observing that a lot of customers who never used to shop online suddenly developed a taste for it during lockdown – and are now really into doing things online. But we can also see that there is something missing in online retail: the physical experience and being able to hold the products in your hands. Only then can you get a feel for what kind of a fabric it is, how it feels when you’re wearing it, what it feels like to the touch. Our online shop now has a very important function for us, because it’s where we present our largest range of products and more and more information on everything including fits. That ensures that the customers who come to our stores will be a lot better informed. But it’s a very sad state of affairs when people are not only working from home all day long but also ordering everything online on top of that. We are noticing that the return to stores, especially on Saturdays, has become incredibly important. In the past, we also had quite evenly distributed footfall during the week because people were working in the city centres and would often pop into our stores during their lunch break or after work. But everyone working from home soon put paid to that. That means we need to be a lot better prepared on Saturdays – and hopefully on Sundays one day too.

One term that keeps cropping up is OMO – online merges with offline. Is s.Oliver planning to integrate digital technologies into its sales strategy in the future?

CDL: We already have, with our app. If we can get our customers on the app first, then that will be the biggest revenue driver. But the app shouldn’t just be all about transactions either. For example, we are thinking about presenting smaller virtual fashion shows on it at the beginning of each month, when we have a new collection in stock, to show people that it’s worth coming back to our stores and taking a look around. These days, everyone is trying to gain a better understanding of which platforms their customers are spending time on, where they can reach them and where they can credibly appeal to them. We are still in the early stages of figuring out where and how we can play a part with the required authenticity. But I think that the traditional separation of physical and digital – both from a channel and an experience perspective – won’t be around for much longer.

Department stores are regarded as outdated models and currently having something of a hard time in Germany. How do you see their future developing?

CDL: Good department stores will still be very important in the future. If we look at what’s happening at department stores like KaDeWe in Berlin or Breuninger, there is a legitimate expectation that these stores will stick around. But they need to offer a good mix of brands, an in-store café and special moments during the year that are turned into a visible theme in the store. And of course tourism is a very important point here: department stores tend to do better in cities with plenty of tourism. In the future it is likely that there won’t be department stores in all of Germany’s cities – and run-of-the mill department stores in medium-sized cities will certainly struggle.

s.Oliver has been pursuing an international expansion strategy since 1998. Which markets are important for you and what potential do you see here for the future?

CDL: I think we would be wise to concentrate on the markets where our brands are already known. That is a basic requirement for continued commercial success. We certainly won’t become a global brand and won’t be setting out to conquer America and China either. But we are already well established in the Benelux countries, Croatia, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Our main focus will be on developing these markets – with our own online shop and our own stores with an even more impressive range of products.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. 

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. You can read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the eighth issue under the central theme “A Human-driven Future: How People Shape the Digital Tomorrow. Click here to access the e-paper.