In The Hot Seat – David Barnes

David Barnes, new Associate Director of Digital Data at PHD UAE, tells us about what he feels makes a successful marketing campaign and how he can see the media landscape changing in the UAE in the coming years…

Name: David Barnes


From: Kent, England           

Current Job Title: Associate Director – Digital Data

When did you first arrive in Dubai?
February 2016

Where did you work prior?
Before arriving in Dubai, I was working as Data Director at MEC in London.

What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
Refreshingly positive! The first thing that hit me was the positivity and passion of the PHD office here. On the industry as a whole; I had been told that the Middle East was ‘behind’ or ‘less progressive’, however I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived to find that the work is on par with – if not ahead of – what I had experienced in the UK. 

Has your opinion changed much?
I am now in my eighth week at the company and am delighted that the passion and positivity I saw from the agency when I first arrived wasn’t just an illusion! It is embedded in the PHD culture. Every day I am impressed by my colleagues’ drive to make a difference and ensure that our clients are future-ready and ahead of the curve. 

What challenges do you face?
Firstly, the term data is quickly becoming overused in the media industry. People have started using ‘data’ as the answer to all of their problems, even though it is rarely that simple. Data on its own is useless; it must be collected, stored and managed in the correct manner before it is ready for any analysis, which can then in turn be acted upon. Often brands know that they have data, they just don’t know how it is stored or what they can do with it, so it’s my job to help map out a realistic data strategy for them to achieve their business goals.

Secondly, the people in charge of a brand’s data and the people in charge of the marketing do not often connect, so another challenge is educating both parties on the benefits of collaboration.

Lastly, brand metrics within digital have to be improved. I see this as one of my key challenges; as it is a problem within the media industry as a whole. It is no use measuring a campaign with a brand objective purely against reach and frequency, or even worse against clicks. We have to be able to measure the actual lift in real brand awareness metrics from our online advertising, which is a real challenge. In order to fairly attribute digital activity in justifiable metrics we need to relook at the last-click methodology as a whole as well.  The user journey is so complex nowadays that we simply cannot give all the credit to the final thing that happens before a conversion.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Unlocking that one insight that becomes the seed for the rest of the campaign to grow. Often, the most creative of campaigns have a simple idea at the heart, which has been unlocked through clever use of data. Today’s marketplace is so cluttered that one small piece of data can make all the difference.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in media in the UAE?
Be passionate, proactive and creative. Keep your finger on the pulse while pushing the boundaries. Also, don’t forget to work hard and play hard.

In your opinion, what makes a marketing campaign successful?
Relevance. To me, a marketing campaign can only be successful if it is perceived as relevant by those who see it. Data plays a huge role in enabling a campaign’s relevance from the outset of the original idea, right through to delivery and optimisation. One application of this is creative versioning. Any data source ­– from weather, location, time of day to recent online user behaviour – can be used to create tailored versions of a brand’s creative for different users to make it specifically relevant to them on a personal level. These tailored messages will increase the relevance of the campaign to the user and they will therefore be more likely to see the brand as providing a solution to their needs.

Another point I want to mention here is measurement – without correct KPI setting and measurement, we cannot deem any campaign to be a true success.

How do you see media changing in the UAE in the coming years?
Firstly, I see that the growth of ecommerce will provide us with data to become a lot smarter in how we do business, we can then build models based on propensity to purchase, cross-sell online purchasers and exclude users who have already purchased, etc. There is often a difference in the kind of people who visit a website and those who actually convert, so ecommerce will allow us to optimise our campaigns to those more likely to convert, which will directly impact sales.

Another development is CRM becoming more closely aligned to marketing. The first step in deciding who to market your campaign to is understanding your existing audience; CRM data allows us to do this. We can become really advanced with CRM data and use it for tactics such as cross-selling, upgrading and excluding etc.

I would also like to see the lines blurred between online and offline so that we can measure the impact of one on the other and stop looking at them as separate entities. This area of online to offline attribution is going to be a key focus for me and something I hope I can help crack in a region where so much purchasing happens offline. We have to be able to measure our online campaigns in a manner that reflects this habit of researching online but purchasing offline.

Lastly, artificial intelligence (AI) is also something that really excites me and that I think the media world needs to get its head around. So much of what we do in digital is based on basic historic actions (what sites did a user visit, what did they search, etc.) but the past doesn’t always dictate the future. The media world needs to take advantage of the major leaps and bounds within the AI landscape in order to better predict what users are likely to do. PHD is already experimenting in this field which is really exciting.