Ask the expert: AI and the future of the brand-consumer relationship

An interview with Ogilvy's Jai Kotecha

Ogilvy is one of the world’s most successful and recognized marketing agencies. With more than 10,000 employees across the globe and recognition as a global leader in branding, marketing, and digital transformation spanning more than six decades and 83 countries, to call Ogilvy a market leader would be a vast understatement.

As the COVID-19 crisis and world-changing social movements shift the ground beneath the marketing world’s very feet, we at Phrasee were more than a little curious about how Ogilvy and its sizeable team have adjusted in such unprecedented circumstances.

To that end, we reached out to Managing Partner – Head of Social, Content and Strategic Partnerships, Jai Kotecha, to find out how this established marketing agency is adjusting to the widely touted “new normal” the world is slowly growing accustomed to.

Here’s what Jai had to say…

1. Obviously, this is a strange time for consumers and agencies around the world, how have the current circumstances affected you and the team at Ogilvy? How have you changed your processes to reflect this? 

Every organization has experienced a huge shift, specifically toward working remotely. Obviously, this has significantly changed how we at Ogilvy do what we do. There are three specific areas where the recent changes have been felt most acutely here at Ogilvy:

i) Our culture: being apart from each other and losing the “osmosis” aspect of how our team operates/interacts with one another. We’ve had a fair degree of success, but this is an entirely different dynamic for the Ogilvy team, so it’s been quite an adjustment.

ii) Our work: we’ve had to make significant adjustment to how we produce marketing content. We still need to do video shoots and create content for our clients. Doing all of this remotely is a new way of operating for us. We needed to streamline most aspects of the work we do to account for the changes in our team’s dynamic and how we interact. Seeing how adaptable everyone on the Ogilvy team – and our clients – have been to the changes has been amazing to watch and be a part of.

iii) Our clients: keeping our client relationships robust and productive has always been priority #1 for us here at Ogilvy. Our focus has been on supporting our clients through whatever difficulties they are experiencing currently and making sure we’re adapting to their needs. We are aware of the struggles our clients are going through now. Keeping the client at the absolute center of everything we’re doing is key.

2. What do you think brands should be focusing on from a marketing standpoint as the 2020 recovery begins?

We’ve seen more brands shifting their marketing focus to digital channels. Many have been able to accomplish this shift in the space of a few months, which is phenomenal. The COVID-19 crisis, the Black Lives Matter activism we’ve seen, and the Facebook boycott that is currently taking shape have accelerated the digital marketing transformation in ways and at a scale that few could’ve anticipated. There is good energy and momentum in the social sphere as well as in the marketing sphere, which will be good for everyone as we emerge into whatever it is that comes next. Keeping that momentum and energy going is key going forward.

3. How has the relationship between brands and consumers changed in the past 6 months, and how can marketers make the most of these changes in the months to come? 

There have been many interesting changes taking place. TikTok, Instagram, Zoom, and Microsoft, have all seen huge surges recently. Brands have done a brilliant job of understanding what consumers need in times like these and delivering it. If we look at supermarkets, for example, they responded very well. Their marketing messages changed very quickly. Asda was one of the first grocery brands thanking front line workers for the risk they were taking for the benefit of others. Brands responded remarkably to remind customers to behave responsibly in a way that was informative and helpful, rather than being parental and condescending. Such brands could’ve easily leant into a much adversarial tone. It was inspiring to see how the supermarkets in the UK came together to unify their message and reassure consumers about their plans to “feed the nation”.

"Brands have done a brilliant job of understanding what consumers need in times like these and delivering it."

Jai Kotecha, Ogvily

4. How do you think the role of marketing language has changed in the current environment? 

The last three months have been extraordinary. Brands boycotting Facebook, the Covid-19 crisis, and the Black Lives Matter protests all converging at the same time has made this quite intense.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an area very close to my heart. I am the executive sponsor of Ogilvy Roots, our BAME network. When the movement began, I was talking to the black community within Ogilvy. I found it emotional to learn and understand what black people were feeling. I learned so much.

We’ve been doing workshops via Zoom about what language to use within our network to ensure that everyone feels respected and comfortable. We’ve also implemented “safe rooms” for people of colour to speak about their needs from co-workers, leaders, and Ogilvy as a company.

We’ve launched several initiatives focused on educating our community and company culture at large on how to be allies for people of colour and other minority groups. The feedback has been incredibly positive. At Ogilvy, we aren’t simply paying lip service to the changes happening around us. We want to be leaders in this area. We are taking action, and it’s been interesting to be a part of such a seismic shift in the world’s culture.

We’ve made an effort to share the outputs and learnings we’ve gleaned with our clients, and they’ve seemed to appreciate it.

They might not have asked for it, but we’ve taken the decision to be proactive in these areas, and our clients have been grateful for the feedback we’ve been able to provide as far as educating people on what should/shouldn’t be said, and what language brands should/shouldn’t be using.

As an agency we need to keep our clients ahead of the curve. It’s paramount to the success of everyone involved, and it’s simply the right thing to do.

5. What part do you envision AI/machine learning playing in the brand-consumer relationship moving forward? 

From my perspective, AI is absolutely the future of the brand-consumer relationship. It’s why we’ve brought Phrasee on board as a key partner. Firstly, because we sincerely believe that AI and machine learning are crucial tools for marketing’s future, and secondly, because it’s what our clients are asking for.

Emerging from these uncertain times, efficiency will be key, and artificial intelligence is an outstanding tool to maximize that efficiency in terms of how/where/when brands are speaking to their audiences. These are tools that I believe will be indispensable in the months to come.

"AI is absolutely the future of the brand-consumer relationship."

Jai Kotecha, Ogilvy

6. What is Ogilvy working on in the second half of 2020 that people should be aware of? 

We are currently focused on several important initiatives:

– AI-Powered Copywriting as a key driver of audience engagement
– Developing top-notch media (ie: Podcasts) for our clients
– General health and wellbeing
– A new CEO was appointed 2 weeks ago. We’re all very excited to see where this leads Ogilvy in the future. He comes from a digital-first background, which is obviously very timely and appropriate as that’s the direction we’re heading in.

7. How have Ogilvy’s trials with AI-Powered Copywriting and Phrasee been going so far?

We’ve done two trials with Phrasee’s AI-Powered Copywriting products so far: one with Czech auto manufacturer Skoda, and one with European airline brand LEVEL.

The results from both trials have been extremely positive – although it’s obviously worth noting that the airline industry is going through tough times at the moment.

We will be releasing more information about these Ogilvy-Phrasee collaborations in the months to come, so stay tuned for that! It’s going to be awesome.

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