Time, even in this accelerated Covid age, is still flying by and we found ourselves eager to wave goodbye to 2020 in anticipation of what January will bring. Let’s not kid ourselves; we’re in for more of the same, however I think our mindset has changed. Certainly our priorities have, both on a personal and professional level, but in lieu of the usual forecasts, I’m using this period to look back at what I’ve learned this year, both as a leader and from an industry perspective, and how I can use this to reshape 2021 for me and my team.

  1. You Cannot Predict The Future: That’s not to say that I don’t like having a go at predictions – it’s usually something I look forward to around now. In 2019, I championed the ‘NOW’ factor when talking about the future, coupled with a reduction in fancy buzzwords that had very little meaning in practical terms. Essentially, I thought we needed to more see long-term strategies break down into smaller, more achievable short-term goals, creating a pathway to digital success with manageable checkpoints along the way. I still think this is valid, although 2020 has humbled us all in showing just how quickly the tide can turn. My focus in 2021 will be on strengthening our digital offering even more, upskilling our teams and broadening our remits, as well as continuing to expand in different markets. Each country is different, each responding differently to the pandemic and dealing with different after effects. Ultimately, we may not be able to ‘predict’ the future anymore, but we can at least organise ourselves more efficiently and effectively to deal with whatever is coming next.
  2. Look For The Silver Lining: Programmatic is resilient and it’s easy to forget this when everything looked so bleak at the end of Q1. Due to its efficiency and effectiveness, it has performed well during the pandemic, despite initial knee jerk reactions to pause this channel as brands looked to assess their messaging and spend at the outset. Such is the way with digital; it’s easy to pause immediately and easy to reactivate and retarget with minimum effort. Programmatic spend is currently up 11% YoY and a bumper Q4 was expected if 2019’s data is anything to go by. 28.4% of all 2019’s programmatic dollars were spent during Q4, and although this is an unprecedented year there’s no reason to think this will shrink too much. Cautious optimism is what we practiced for the remainder of 2020 and into Q1 2021, remembering the good and learning from the bad.
  3. We Need To Question The Duopoly Stronghold: Facebook and Google have had a tough year facing off regulators in the US (so has Apple and Amazon, but that’s another story altogether) whilst battling a big drop off in ad spend at the start of the year. They have since recovered, reporting huge profits as we closed off 2020 and as Morgan Stanley analysts peg the duopoly (alongside Pinterest interestingly) as the best bets for digital ad growth in 2021, you may wonder why I think we need to question their dominance. Simple. We need to create an environment that allows more competition and gives the smaller players a chance to shine. Amazon is no longer on the periphery either; it’s on its way to establishing itself as the third largest platform as dollars continue to flow their way, shaping a triopoly rule for the foreseeable future. Greed and dominance are two things we could do without in 2021, because recovery is going to be hard enough. We need to work together to create space and champion niche advertising offerings that allow for equal distribution. I’m not naive enough to think this will happen overnight, but let’s at least start having the conversation now.
  4. The Battle For The Future Of Online Identity Is Only Just Beginning: The themes of compliance and identity have been big talking points this year and as we head into 2021, talk will turn to action. This is the ad-tech shakeup we’ve been predicting for years. A fire has been lit under all the key players in the ecosystem, each battling for dominance and position in this new cookie-less world. Google has its privacy sandbox, a proposed set of web standards designed to help protect user privacy, while still allowing for advertiser targeting and measurement capabilities. Lotame recently unveiled its Panorama ID, which promises marketers and publishers increased ad targeting accuracy and scale, effective measurement and a way to safeguard user privacy. And Trade Desk and LiveRamp’s newly announced collaboration looks to consolidate identity and empower addressable advertising and measurement without relying on device identifiers or third-party cookies. There will be more to come, so sit tight for 2021… it’s going to be a big year for online identity.
  5. Be Prepared For Change: This is obvious of course, but a lot of businesses were caught out by circumstances changing so rapidly this year. Usually there is time to opt in or plan, but when your hand is forced, that’s the moment when most companies find out just how unprepared they are to deal with an online-only offering. It’s going to take a long time to resume some form of normality, but we humans have notoriously short memories, especially when we’re eager to forget times of hardship. I’m just as eager as everyone else to see the back of this year, but there is a lot of work to come in 2021 – nothing will come easy. In other words, let’s learn from the struggles to help safeguard and shape the strategies of the future.

By Nader Bitar

Managing Director, MMPWW