Azher Ahmed on Trends for 2017

By The Chicago Egotist / / In the first of a series, The Chicago Egotist connected with Azher Ahmed, EVP and Director of Digital at DDB Chicago to find out what big trends, ideas and challenges he sees ahead for 2017. He has a lot of interesting and inspiring thoughts. Read below: Q: When you look back at 2016, what marketing initiative most impressed you – most made you think, “I wish I did that.” And why? Ahmed: I was really impressed by BBDO’s “Evan” work for Sandy Hook Promise: They pulled off a very Sixth Sense-esque narrative, but what’s interesting is that the structure itself was so appropriate for the message. Q: What are you most excited about for 2017 in the digital space/marketing space? What technology or platform do you think will break through? AI, VR, others? Ahmed: There are many things to be excited about, but I think voice interaction will finally come of age in the next year. Alexa, Siri, Google, Microsoft…all of them are playing in the space and getting more and more usable. I feel like all the “big data” marketers have been sitting on will ignite useful ways for people to use the technology. Personally, I’d like to ask Siri where I could get some Starburst as my 4-year old seems to want one every other hour. Q: What kind of marketing opportunities do you see with the growing array of AI personal devices like Alexa and Cortana? Ahmed: Your marketing is far more than your advertising. Once companies put some emphasis around making their offering data (product data + service data) available to new interaction points (including voice, but also things like chatbots and deeper search integration with structure data ala Google), they’ll be surprised as to how much more they can sell once their “virtual” availability kicks up. Q: What platform do you think has the most challenges for marketers in 2017 and why? Ahmed: Every platform has challenges but I think participation in social continues to be a barrier for many brands. Mostly because the platforms themselves flip between treating brands like everyone else (i.e, creating “presence”) and simply inserting them in between user content (i.e. SnapAds). It will continue to be difficult for brands to build up in-house capabilities because you don’t know who’s house you’re going to be in, and I don’t expect that to be resolved anytime soon. Q: What are the biggest challenges your agency faces in keeping pace with digital evolution? Ahmed: Commoditization. We live in an era where you can nearly auto-generate a decent-looking ad and the question of “good” is so variant that I’m sure marketers, large and small, will employ these automations in some way. That leaves larger agencies going back to the core of what makes them work – creative human beings – who can cut through that clutter. And selling in that value is getting more and more difficult with the flood of cheaper content out there. Q: What are your strategies for recruiting best in class digital talent? Where do they come from? Do you provide training? What are the most important skills for incoming talent? Ahmed: I’m a firm believer that good talent is drawn to other talent. So doing what you do, and transparent management, and enabling creativity is vital to any organization – large or small. We’re really focusing on bringing in talent from all corners of the human spectrum and to quote Wendy Clark, our North America CEO, our organization must represent and employ talent as diverse as the marketplace we serve. Digitally, speaking, that means we’re hiring natives. People who are naturally curious about how people are connecting and strive to stay at the forefront of it – be it consumer device usage, third-party platforms or how to make something. Read more at