Insights Extraordinaire: PHD MENA’s Pedro Navigates the Programmatic Landscape
Pedro Gonçalves, Head of Digital at PHD MENA, is a seasoned Digital Marketing leader with over 16 years of global experience. Renowned for conquering challenges in Media, Technology, and Business, he boasts a successful track record in constructing multimillion-dollar operations.
In this exclusive interview, he generously shares invaluable insights, navigating from the intricate realm of programmatic advertising to addressing the intricacies of cultural nuances in the Middle East. A true visionary in digital transformation, Pedro illuminates the challenges and opportunities within the ever-evolving landscape, providing a sneak peek into the future of data-driven marketing.
Reflecting on your digital marketing career journey, how has the experience shaped your decisions in choosing professional paths? Can you share a pivotal decision and its impact on your trajectory thus far?
I’ve always enjoyed exploring and gathering early knowledge on emerging topics and trends. Shifting my focus from Offline Media to Digital happened naturally when I started my career. Looking back today, I’m very thankful to my younger self for prioritizing curiosity over stability.
There were a couple of pivotal moments in my career, but if I were to pick one, it would be when I embraced the challenge of building IPG’s Programmatic & Ad Tech specialized unit from the ground up in my home country, Brazil. It was the perfect storm: an exponentially growing practice, an abnormally fast-developing market, and the first time I oversaw an entire operation and P&L. This sharpened my views and practices on how to combine technical excellence, client focus, and business profitability until today.
With your extensive experience in digital marketing, what do you believe are the key trends shaping the industry in the Middle East currently?
The Middle East is rapidly adopting global trends, including the widespread experimentation of AI across both private and government sectors. However, there is a particular interest in advancing eCommerce and Media Quality measurement in the region, with brands allocating more of their budgets towards Retail Media and investing in Ad Verification/Attention technologies.
Due to historical challenges in obtaining data for the Middle East, brands naturally have a higher appetite for anything that can provide metrics to support their marketing efforts and demonstrate efficiency.
Another concurrent trend is the increased diversification of suppliers, influenced by the language factor, making room for local players and startups with specialized solutions.
In the Middle East market, cultural nuances play a significant role. How do you navigate cultural nuances and tailor digital marketing strategies to resonate with diverse audiences?
From a marketer’s perspective, addressing multiple audiences in communication introduces various operational and cost considerations. My approach to this challenge involves establishing a primary focus on what unites our target audiences, rather than emphasizing the factors that set them apart. The next step is to map relevant pockets of opportunity that require specific and customized approaches.
This is where the importance of well-structured research becomes evident, as it remains the most effective way to uncover cultural norms and sensitivities that need to be integrated into the strategy. This includes language and dialect-specific messaging, as well as visuals that reflect population diversity and other segmentation techniques.
Can you share a memorable success story where your digital marketing strategies not only met but exceeded the expectations of stakeholders?
One of my all-time favorite projects is the work we undertook for the relaunch of the AXE brand for Unilever in 2015. At a time when Programmatic and Dynamic Advertising were still in their infancy, we managed to achieve massive personalization.
Featuring a modern Romeo & Juliet story, we meticulously crafted and distributed over 100,000+ long-form video ads, each tailored based on user audience behavior, engagement, and response data.
Through a process of radical collaboration among all parties, including the client, we developed a proprietary tech piece. This tech was fed with five master stories crafted by world-renowned directors, along with campaign performance data, enabling the continuous generation of unique long-form video ad variations served 100% programmatically. The outcome was a 1.7x higher retention rate and a 20% brand lift. The campaign garnered global recognition, industry coverage, and awards, prompting discussions with the client about replicating the model in future campaigns
In the context of Programmatic Media, how do you see the future of programmatic advertising evolving, and what challenges and opportunities do you anticipate?
The way I perceive it, the term “programmatic” will become redundant. When something evolves into the default standard, we refrain from labeling it as something unique and discussing it separately.
In its essence, programmatic signifies the use of automated technology to buy media. Examining our progression in understanding, its growth over the years, and forecasting into the future, it is poised to become the base and the majority of spending in our industry.
While the possibilities available through programmatic methods are getting bigger, with the rapid assimilation of other digital environments like Connected TV and even non-digital environments, fraud remains a formidable challenge. The more adept we become at detecting it, the more fraud diversifies, especially in emerging formats. An often overlooked advantage is the establishment of a centralized repository for brand activity data. This organized information, readily available within programmatic platforms, replaces unreliable manual spreadsheets and presentations.
In the ever-expanding landscape of MarTech and AdTech, how do you evaluate and select the most relevant technologies for your digital marketing stack, and what criteria do you prioritize in making these decisions?
I focus not only on comprehending the value proposition of each new technology and how to seize the opportunities within it but also closely monitor how users are reacting to it. This involves assessing if it is skewing towards a specific audience group, checking for overlap and audience fragmentation, and, more importantly, ensuring brand safety and suitability in a way that applies to the new platform.
With an expanding array of options at our disposal, the complexity of how we plan, craft, and perfect connections with customers increases. To counter this, it is crucial to have a dedicated framework that enables brands to be nimble in exploring fast-paced trends and avoiding pitfalls amidst ongoing changes with each partner, all while maximizing the use of algorithmic learning.
It is also imperative to assess if new players can bring robust capabilities and diversified options in terms of formats and targeting, capable of driving results across distinct stages of the consumer journey. This enables us to swiftly categorize natural tendencies and well-established roles for each.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the next big frontier or challenge in the digital marketing landscape, and how do you plan to address it?
Privacy and data collection have become the most debated challenges recently, leading us to the next one: Addressability. Over the past years, marketers have heavily invested in collecting, cleaning, and categorizing data, enabling them to connect at will with specific audiences and customers. However, just one recent change implemented by Apple rendered a significant part of this asset unusable.
With the impending demise of third-party cookies, some organizations still believe they can continue using the same data practices, merely relying on a different type of technology. In my view, this is shortsighted and deviates from a real opportunity for the advertising industry: to offer new types of CRM solutions, grow revenues, and secure a stronger preferred partner position with brands.
Lastly, if your digital marketing approach were a puzzle, what pieces would represent the key elements, and how do they fit together to create a complete picture of success? What can be an answer to this?
To me, everything starts and ends with data.
Sourcing analytical data, such as market and customer research, cultural factors, media consumption, and other relevant types of information, would be my essential piece in this puzzle.
Next comes data analysis, making sense of the collected data, and transforming it into relevant and applicable insights for your context.
We then incorporate data-backed decisions, derived from the outputs of the data analysis, making your strategy distinctly yours and no one else’s. Following that is data-driven activation, where you bring strategies to life by translating all earlier steps into audiences, channels, signals, connections, journeys, and messages.
A data-led optimization ditches the guesswork, improves immediate results, and feeds the last piece: closed-loop data, using all the new info as a fresh, unique, ongoing, and growing analytical data source, thus empowering creativity.
- Neha Mehta
- Neha started her journey as a financial professional but soon realized her passion for writing and is now living her dreams as a content writer. Her goal is to enlighten the audience on various topics through her writing and in-depth research. She is geeky and friendly. When not busy writing, she is spending time with her little one or travelling.
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