The year ahead in digital media – where investors are looking

Last month I was fortunate to chair the Digital Media ’18: Show me the money event hosted by Moore Stephens at the Soho Hotel. During a lively afternoon of presentations and panel debates, the discussions focused on the growing martech industry and its prospects for 2018 and beyond.

The marketing technology (martech) industry has grown rapidly in recent years. In a recent report, developed in conjunction with WARC, Moore Stephens established the size of the martech market at £34bn. Driven by a wealth of consumer data and the face-paces, real time nature of marketing and consumer purchase decision making, martech tools have been developed to help marketers optimise and automate the delivery of their marketing messages at scale. With the backdrop of this growing sector Moore Stephens held an event to consolidate ideas from investors, entrepreneurs, marketers and brands.

The martech sector is young. With over 5,000 providers it is not unreasonable to expect a lot of M&A activity over the next year. In WARC’s martech report half of brands believed that they did not have the necessary digital marketing tools they needed. London is full of opportunities for startups who have solutions to issues and difficulties that new and traditional media continue to struggle with. Delivering fully integrated, regulatory compliant, personalised and global campaigns are becoming the norm and many brands are finding that the new technology is making these easier. With this in mind providers are likely to diverge between the boutique specialist providers and those who consolidate into larger full suite offerings.

Winners

DaaS

‘Data as a Service’ players providing understandable, compliant and intelligent data to fuel engagement with consumers. So much talk about AI and ‘big data’ but in practical terms relating this to ROI and investment into true data science is absolutely the way forward in 2018.

Virtual Reality

Companies that can demonstrate revenue in specialist niches of the VR B2B space. While VR (and AR) has been around for a very long time, witnessing the games sector driving the use of VR is surely going to mean more immersive experiences on the horizon for players in the B2B market too. Devices are dropping in price; technology is allowing for faster production cycles; educators are getting on board.

Customer Experience (CX)

Agencies and service providers supporting the harmonious collision of people, data and devices through measurably rewarding experiences. It’s been said for some time that “advertising is dead” and only CX will be required. Not so sure about that but I think what’s really important in the digital world is the responsibility and ownership of CX is placed firmly into the laps of individuals who understand marketing and not just IT

Artificial Intelligence

Everything seems to have some suggestion or element of AI these days. Is it really AI? Do we even care what it’s called? If we’re talking about a circular exchange among machines, data and other machines with no human interference, this is probably AI. (There’s also a rare three toed sloth called an Ai.)

Product placement

A very slow burner but perhaps now is the time when companies who can help brands align with content in a non-intrusive manner either via vloggers, bloggers or good old fashioned telly.

Content

Not just fake news but all manner of digitally delivered content is set to grow in 2018. We like native and other content that can ‘learn’ from user habits. Personalisation is also hot and has been for some time. The whole area really hovers around the swing towards customer experience.

Managing the messaging mire

WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram – we’re watching companies that are helping to create order and invitational style promotions across the messaging market.

Driving offline and online together

It’s not just about attribution. That’s what the CFO is focused on. We’re interested in businesses that can demonstrate greater customer and brand experience through clever integration of the two worlds. We’ve all seen the ad on YouTube mysteriously popping up while we see the same ad on the TV...but it goes much further than media. Being able to link mobile with location, and preferences and customer history and instantly tailor this to in-store and online experience is surely inevitable.

Offering consumers the opportunity to engage directly either via live chat or old fashioned telephone can go a long way. Sometimes I think retailers have taken call avoidance to a senseless extreme. Show your address, invite contact – authenticity is key and all of this is at the point of transaction. Delivery is a whole other ball game!

Quality content

I think this should really be called ‘quality experience’ but, as brands and media owners fight to generate cut-through, they owe it to the valuable customer to present news and content in a far more engaging and immersive manner (irrespective of device). This does not mean a new shape of banner ad! Here we could be talking about haptics, video, instant engagement and sharable experiences. Brands are realising that it’s not just about value for money...it’s about value for time too.

Blockchain

Companies that can help consumers understand and monetise the value of their data. If I have to slip blockchain in anywhere it is here. Whether or not the web will ever be trusted as the right channel for this opportunity remains to be seen. The decentralised nature of blockchain is certainly a step in right direction, but to guarantee real adoption from consumers I believe this has to be through channels which are insulated from the web.

Summary

Trust in media is at an all-time low. Online shoppers are becoming increasingly wary of merchants, advertising and content. I used to think this plays naturally into the hands of established brands and retailers through quality content but now I’m not so sure. Personalisation is key to creating authentic engagement with consumers and martech will enable advertisers and brands to do just that. With this in mind, the opportunities for startups are there, and I expect 2018 to be another exciting year of growth, activity and innovation.

Damian Ryan, partner with the corporate finance team, Moore Stephen
Image Credit: Ditty_about_summer