Unlocking the Future of Customer Engagement in a Digital-First World

Moderated by: Kunal Badiani, Sr Director & Head – Expansion – META at MoEngage
Speaker: Jad Hindy, SVP of Marketing at EXPO 2020

1:59 — Strategy of The Expo Marketing Team Post Covid

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): In a normal period, 20 to 25 million visitors sound audacious. However, when you throw in the curve balls, the big ones like Covid – the expectations stayed the same. Somehow, through managing safety and bringing people from all parts of the world, you guys handled it, which is impressive. How did the marketing team react to the daily pivots, the struggles, and the opportunities you took advantage of to make that happen?

Jad Hindy: If we take a step back and start when Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020, part of that bid was a commitment to deliver 23 to 25 million visits to Expo 2020. Back then, in 2013, nobody thought about what would happen. As the team started putting their strategies in place, putting everything as planned – nobody expected the Covid-19 pandemic would happen and everything would change. When that happened, nobody had the heart to change the objective. The mantra or the entire belief we had while running through the Expo was that no matter what happens, we’ll take every challenge as it comes, and then we’ll deal with it. This was perhaps the biggest startup running across the last six months and behaved extremely agilely. Although it was a big organization, if you have the fundamentals in place and think that you will face every day as it comes, you’ll be able to do that. You put processes and structures in place and have the most important thing – people believing they can do everything as it comes.

We wake up in the morning, go through what we need to do today, and put our strategies in place. Then we start acting on them. The good thing is that we built our infrastructure correctly initially, which is very important. Without it, you will fail. Another beneficial thing is that we knew not everything would work, and then we didn’t have a fear of it not working. If it doesn’t work, we’ll need to make it work and put something in place. We will address it, and all those things we’ve had as a foundation for running the Expo helped us face everything daily. We had a marketing team that was one of the biggest, at least in my career, that I managed. Every day, one of them would have something that will happen. We’re all human beings in the end. We’re all people, and not every day do we wake up feeling healthy. Still, with all that happening, someone will pick it up whenever someone is not in their place. You don’t need to ask. This spirit made us all run until the end and deliver this masterpiece of an event.

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): I love that! It’s about the spirit at the end. That’s awesome. It was spectacular. Sometimes you think achieving those lofty goals compromises quality, there’s a trade-off, and I can say from someone who enjoyed my many visits.

Jad Hindy: I’m going to ask you how many visits?

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): I think there were six, but one of them was my favorite. It’s a proud parent moment. My daughter, who’s eight, participated in a story writing competition in her school, and three kids would get picked to visit the closing ceremony of the Expo. They said you could bring one parent and she said “Dad, will you come with me?” and I’m always going to remember the Expo, as this moment, when she took me to something at the age of eight that I would have never been able to take her to. When you think about growth, you think about the memories you guys have left. It’s been phenomenal.

6:21 — Scaling Customer Experience to a Global Audience

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): Changing parent stories aside and thinking about the experience — Expo is great. I love that you called it a startup that quickly went from zero to 100. You’ve consulted several brands, you’ve worked across multiple verticals, and you’ve also done it over time. So, you’ve seen things change traditional ATL/BTL as it was, now digital-first data-driven. How are you finding this change, and if you consult brands today, how do you take them on the journey to the future?

Jad Hindy: I have had several opportunities to be in the world whereby an entity was restructuring and wanted to embrace change – back then, digital. Whether it’s an agency, a creative house, or media – it was interesting to dabble with those problems.

Now, when we look back, we see what we’ve done in that line of field and how we’ve tackled what’s digital, what’s not digital, and what’s traditional. Today we realize that, ultimately, it’s all about customer experience. It’s about those touchpoints, and with the tech we have, we’re able to play the role that we’ve all wanted to play back then but couldn’t. We didn’t know why we couldn’t because nobody would see the future and say I am missing a piece of technology. Today we know that what we’re capable of is something we’ve all wanted ten years, 20 years, and 30 years ago. I look at what we’ve done at the Expo; we call it transformation at scale. We say transformation at scale because we didn’t only transform one business, the Expo business. However, we changed every industry that helped service that business so we could deliver the transformation we wanted, and that’s something massive. That’s why it becomes at scale – if you put at core how you provide a good visitor experience across all channels and deliver your messages to all your customers worldwide. We were catering to more than just Dubai or UAE. We reached out to India, Russia, Germany, the US, and Japan. How you ensure every individual who sees a message in a specific country in their language is extremely important. They pick up the message and go to the website to book a ticket. What’s their experience across our website? 

How it ends with them purchasing a ticket, how they move from that point to book an airplane ticket, and how that experience is for them. We have our messaging across Emirates, Flydubai, and Etihad — all the partner airlines we’ve worked with. So that the people will know what’s Expo as they’re boarding the plane landing at the airport. 

What happens in the airport, be it in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Sharjah, when you pick up your cab or go in an Uber or Careem? Since Careem was here before me, what’s in the car? What do you hear on the radio? Mapping all this until you come to the door is extremely important. We’ve all thought of as marketers before, but today we can do that – thanks to technology.

Today we know that if someone posts something about the Expo on Facebook, who is that person, when did he engage with us, how was their experience, and what was missing? How can we enhance it? Ultimately every day, something is missing, something is broken, and we need to fix it.

The biggest thing we set within that short time was the app. We had an app running at launch. Few know that that app was rebuilt three months later and launched again because we analyzed how users are using that app and what are the main functions in the app that they’re going through. When we launched it, we wanted to thin it down and make it faster, and there were lots of things in it that people needed to use. So we eliminated everything. We kept it to what is essential to everyone, and if we can do that, if it is six months in duration, everybody can do it for their app every day. so this is how we should all approach digital marketing today and tomorrow. There is no fear of how people will behave on your platforms. You shouldn’t be afraid, and you should expect everything. You should always be willing to change it; listen to them, see what they’re doing and how they’re interacting with you, and then fix it.

Six months of iterative approach daily — this is what this entire industry requires. We talk traditional, and we talk digital; that’s wrong. It isn’t any more traditional or digital. They’re all integrated, so you can follow someone across all channels. If an event like the Expo managed to do it in such a short time, businesses that have been doing what they do for the last century could do it better than us.

11:37 — Using Data & AI/ML Tools across Multiple Channels to Analyze Consumer Data

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): Well said! All channels, all aligned against the customers’ experience, and of course, iterate as you go because you get data back. That’s spot on. We’ve heard today in many sessions that there have been some common themes. Data is one, and single platforms using it to drive that customer experience is another. However, there’s been many conversations around AI/ML using data to be contextual across modern-day channels.

What are your thoughts on these concepts and their applicability? Is there a need for this region to embrace some of that quickly?

Jad Hindy: This region embraces quickly. It’s a good region, so that’s not an obstacle. What we want is more additional help in everything that we do. Applying a layer of AI or ML to anything I have been doing would have made my job much easier across any business I’ve been in.

Today, we can do that in any business if we know what we are doing for our customers. You can collect data across all touch points where you engage with customers. All you need to do is see what you want from those touch points, how you analyze that data, and how it helps you improve the experience. Selling your products more and increasing your bottom line. Where do AI and ML fit within that equation? It isn’t a massive investment, and people think it is scary, and they try to escape from it. That’s how you get efficiencies of scale and make decisions faster and correct what’s not working quicker. Then the result ultimately is a better customer experience and more sales. So it’s simple, and in Dubai, you have many companies experimenting with that. We have many companies within that field applying things that you think people are still taking a step back on in Europe and the US today. Dubai is an excellent playground for future technology. Any business can apply it because the market is well-educated and well-connected, and everyone who lands knows they’re landing in the city of the future. So they expect the best service and product; hence we’re all here to make it happen. Dubai has no fear of adopting ML and AI.

14:20 — Is it Possible to host The Expo in the Metaverse?

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): That’s good. A lot of the conversation today has been around “Does it make sense to use AI and ML as a business?”. You put it extremely wisely and try to make it happen because it’s all available now. We aren’t dispersed from the rest of the world. We’re doing things sometimes faster than the rest of the world. The other thing that’s come up, and I want to ask you this. You might have a view on this concept of the metaverse — the future of potential human interaction. You ever see a Dubai Expo happening in the metaverse? Is that something that could ever happen, and if yes, what would that look like?

Jad Hindy: Why not? This was the first Expo that went virtually. We had more than 230 million visitors to the virtual Expo and 24 million to the physical. So that’s 10x. Since it’s the first time an Expo has done that, this will continue, and it makes sense. If you build something as significant as what happened in Dubai, you would want the maximum number of people to be able to take advantage of it and experience it, which is what we’ve managed to do.

If we had the time, if we could add a layer of virtual to it, in the sense of a metaverse, why not? Today I think about another Expo having that ability I say people will enjoy it more.

I had experience with the Second Life. I used to sell real estate on the Second Life, so that’s my personal story. Now think of your experience on Quest 2 and imagine being able to walk across the entire Expo and interact with people on the ground to experience Al Wasl in 360 degrees by turning around and looking around. This is Expo’s next stage, whether fully virtual or immersive. It is just a metaverse experience; it’s up to the next Expo to take that on board.

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): That’s phenomenal, and it also then opens up so many different avenues because I’m sure virtual then gives you more data around what people are doing. You can then personalize that experience further and have them enjoy the product.

Jad Hindy: You can move the experience from one space to another.

17:29 — Frameworks and Mental Models that Made The Expo Possible 

Kunal Badiani (Moderator): Yeah, absolutely. I don’t want you to leave this stage without sharing with us some frameworks, mental models, and things that you may have through your journey either incorporated in your work or you see should be incorporated today. As we end this, I’d love for you to share because this is a growth summit. There isn’t any bigger growth story right now than what Expo has been able to do in adversity through the challenges, and going at it without saying, you know we’ll compromise on either quality of goals. I’m sure there must have been frameworks or mental models. I’d love for you to share that with the audience.

Jad Hindy: I think I started with that. We’ve lived across the journey of the Expo with the mantra “have no fear”. Expect things to fall apart, expect things not to work but be ready to see that problem. Face it head-on, put the right resources in place to manage it, and work around it. What’s the solution that you want to get to? This is the model that today isn’t something that only if you’re running a startup or doing an Expo.

Fear is an obstacle, and the minute you fear some piece of technology not working, you will not end up using it or adopting it. Then you’re limiting that future experience your customers didn’t get, so this was a learning for everyone at the Expo. We’ve all faced things daily and come up with new ways of solving problems we’ve never had before. It helped us a lot. One big thing that we’ve done, and it is an innovation on its own, was the ability to face Covid and how airports close and open, facing how flight tunnels become bigger and smaller in real-time.

So our campaigns and programmatic media buying will work as all those changes happen. Whenever you look at a problem and take it head-on, you end up winning, and you don’t lose. You might not win 100, but you would be in a better place than where you were. That makes everything move forward, and this is what Dubai as a city is built on. We call it the city where the impossible is possible for the fact that everything here is happening because people, companies, and organizations – all face every problem with a problem-solving mindset. So this is extremely important for all of us moving forward – no fear of technology. We’ve had to work with people of all ages at the Expo. Some people had no idea what we were doing in the marketing function because we were talking about strange things. We told them we could buy an ad in Russia and change it five minutes later to another ad. They would ask us questions, but everyone of all ages embraced what we were doing. People of all ages can embrace everything as they remove their fear of adopting new technology. So I think these are the most important things that I’ve taken as a lesson from my experience here be agile, be nimble, be flexible don’t be afraid again.

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