In the second in our interview series, I asked my usual questions to my friend and former colleague Nasser Sahlool, Vice President of Client Strategy at Toronto digital agency DAC Group. A pure play digital strategist, Nasser is dedicated to unpacking the why that drives human behaviour online, en route to developing integrated performance and brand campaigns. Read on for our conversation about everything from the future of digital marketing, to education, empathy and artificial intelligence.
What drives you?
Doing good work. Working with people I like and respect. Solving problems. Keeping my promises. Setting an example to my two sons.
One word or one short sentence to describe our era
Change driven anxiety.
What has changed the most for marketers in the last decade?
Obviously the shift to digital. We are now at the point where digital is the channel consumers turn to in the greatest numbers and marketers have finally caught up to that realization. The last two years in particular have seen the emergence of multi-touch attribution and the ability to create personalization of experiences. But make no mistake, you cannot personalize without first localizing, and a lot of marketers have not realized this. They are trying to jump from the macro right down to the one-to-one marketing, and it isn’t working out well for them.
What do you foresee for the next 10 years?
Increases in automation of the delivery of content experiences. This will be highly personalized and powered by AI. We will see the deep integration of experiences and the increased use of predictive analytics that help the consumer find what they need even before they know they want it. This will also be coupled with redundancy in our industry for those who are highly specialized in tasks that are repetitive or time consuming in nature. To thrive, marketers need to become more strategic in their thinking and their work.
What is your preferred tool in your toolbox?
Right now? The podcast. A mechanism that allows us to tell real, emotional and meaningful human stories.
What are your thoughts about email marketing?
Email is overlooked because it has been around for so long. But given the move to integrated marketing all through the journey to purchase and CRM driven activities, email is becoming more important. For email to really be regarded as valuable, it needs to be seen as an integral part of the user experience. The content in the emails needs to be aligned in a strategic way with all the other content experiences being delivered, whether through search, social, or media content. But without email, you cannot have truly integrated campaigns. We found that when we built content experiences inside segmented email streams that aligned with the broader content strategy, it dramatically impacted open rates, clickthrough rates and subsequent revenue.
If you had to explain digital marketing to an eight-year-old, how would you do it?
My work is about understanding human behaviour and what drives it, anticipating how it is going to change, and using digital devices to tell them stories that will inform, amuse or inspire them to see that the brand I represent is the answer they were looking for in that moment.
What angers you about your industry?
Posturing. There. Is. So. Much. Bullshit. I wish we could just have some simple grown-up conversations, but we have to cut through so much noise to do so.
Your favorite book, song and movie?
Book: On The Road by Jack Kerouac – poetic, nostalgic and wistful
Song: Favourite album right now – The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson – as vital today as it was when recorded in the 1930’s
Movie: There Will Be Blood – an acting masterclass by Daniel Day Lewis
Your favorite blog and/or must follow Twitter?
My favourite blog doesn’t exist anymore – The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan – brave, beautiful and heartfelt writing.
Must follow Twitter? @Nihilist_Arbys – a reminder to stop taking ourselves so seriously.
If you could chose your final meal, what would it be?
Magret de canard.
What trends should we be watching?
Automation and artificial intelligence. This is coming faster than anyone realizes, and will have profound impacts on us. If any part of your job is repetitive in nature, prepare yourself to have that automated first.
For email to really be regarded as valuable, it needs to be seen as an integral part of the user experience.
If you were all mighty, what would you change in the world?
Two words: Education and Empathy. We live in a time of incredible change and upheaval, much of which is driven by globalization and technology. Large parts of our population are being left behind because they are ill-equipped to thrive in this new economy, largely because of lack of investment in education. This is creating anxiety and resentment, which in turn are being manipulated by those seeking power. Again, this is possible due to the lack of education.
I see a necessity in three types of education: hard skills that are necessary to thrive in the new economy; critical thinking skills that help you cut through the noise and understand when you are being lied to; and cultural education, because only through direct contact with the other can we can be empathetic and understand that we are all fundamentally the same.
Without this, things are going to get much more anxious. Progress is inexorable, but it is bumpy and liable to face periods of setback. We need education and empathy now more than ever to help people thrive within this environment.
What advice would you give to a 20-year-old old student today?
Two things: gain diversity of experience, and spend time on a passion project. Diversity of experience will give you the broad perspective necessary to make yourself valuable as specialist functions automate, and a passion project will give you the ability to fundamentally understand how and why things work in this space.
What does your business do and why?
DAC Group is a full service digital agency, based in Toronto and with offices in the US, Canada and Europe. Our focus is on the strategy and execution of local content, campaigns and creative for enterprise brands. Our goal is to move consumers through the journey to purchase by delivering highly relevant localized experiences that drive performance. We do this through the use of strategic insight, which drives our performance marketing practice, scaled out through our technology platforms, and analyzed and optimized by our digital intelligence team. What makes us different is not just the fact that we do this all in-house in an integrated way, but that we do so from the brand right down to the hyper-local level.
If you do not already follow Nasser’s work, go straight to his Blog & weekly Podcast. Every week, you’ll find gems about the profession of Digital Marketer with fantastic insights from the trenches and smart ideas about how to improve your career: Octopus Digital Strategy