Digital Summit: Is Digital a monster for brands?

19 Jan,2012

By Shruti Pushkarna


The 6th India Digital Summit 2012, organized by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) opened to a packed hall in the capital on Wednesday. This year the theme being, ‘Preparing for 300 Million Internet Users’, the conference was launched with the objective of looking at two critical aspects, first, the need to develop the infrastructure for increasing the user base; the second, to plan businesses in a way to be able to deal with the 300 million user market.


A series of exciting sessions kept the Delhi audience busy on Day 1 of the IAMAI Digital Summit, which was later followed by the 2nd India Digital Awards ceremony at the India Habitat Centre.


Digital Media: The Big Picture

The session moderator, Rajan Anandan, Managing Director, Google India, divided the discussion into the following areas, a discussion on where digital media stands today, the need to explore digital medium as a branding medium, mobile, videos & social media and vernacular on the web. What followed was an enriching exchange of views between all panelists on each of the areas stemming from the overall topic, digital media.


The panelists included, Ms Mariam Mathew, COO, Manorama Online, Mr Upen Rai, Director, Times Internet, Mr Natesh Mani, President- Commercial & Consumer Business, Sify, and Dippak Khurama, Founder & CEO, Vserv Digital.


Mr Anandan started with an interesting observation that although “online advertising has crossed 1500 cr but it’s still only 5 percent of the entire advertising pie.” Sharing a similar view, Mr Upen Rai, Director, Times Internet also agreed that the story so far in terms of how digital has surfaced in all these years upto 2011 is although a good story but not as exciting as it should have been. He attributed over -excitement in the industry over building this medium, the hype around the words ‘interactive’ and ‘RoI’, as the main reasons for digital not taking off in a manner it should have. He said, “In the excitement of building this medium, we’ve actually built a monster- a monster for brands.”


While all panelists agreed with Google’s Managing Director, Mr Rajan Anandan when he noted that digital has well been established as a performance medium, they all agreed with how important it is at this stage to explore how can the medium be established as a brand building medium. Ms Mariam Mathew of Manorama Online said, “…the answer to whether you can use internet for brand building is a definite yes, but the consumer group will have to be treated as a totally different TG who needs to be engaged in a peculiar way. ”


Talking about mobile, Dippak Khurana of Vserv Digital said that the pace at which the mobile space has grown in India is five times more than the pace at which the internet space grew in India. The numbers are promising but again the flipside remains the fact that how many people, how many agencies within the industry have a mobile head? There are not enough people talking about it, not enough people who are convincing the rest of them of the benefits of mobile advertising. Adding on to Mr Khurana’s view, Mr Upen Rai of Times Internet said, “…still the brands don’t know what to expect and what to do with mobile. A step forward needs to be taken where one needs to demonstrate the benefits of mobile.”


Adding on, Mr. Natesh Mani of Sify offered solutions like transaction based ads, local search based ads etc for popularizing mobile advertising.


Talking about video and social Mr Mani asserted that going forward there will hardly be any brands without social media strategies integrated within. Social media, he said, “…allows you to engage with the consumers much more as compared to an offline medium.”


Ms Mathew termed social media as a “marketer’s dream” but she also noted, “unfortunately advertisers have not fully realised the worth of this medium.” Mr Rai also agreed with other panelists on how well social media works for ‘engagement’ but as for an ‘advertising destination’, no certain answers emerged from the discussion.


Video again is an emerging medium, but the problem of streaming and bandwidth will have to be addressed before taking it to the next level.


Next series of views were exchanged on ‘vernacular in web’ and how most internet really is ‘english internet’. Ms Mariam Mathew of Manormala Online asserted that regional audience is a far more dedicated audience and works much more in terms of engagement levels than compared to a more generic English audience. Mr Upen Rai supported her view but had to admit that the exact opposite was true in terms of commercials. He said, “…these sites (vernacular) have the highest engagement but pathetic monetization.”


The session concluded with each panelist sharing their respective forecasts for the domain, and Mr Rajan Anandan of Google India concluding with a hope that ” …we’ve have an open and free internet.”


Broadband for Masses

This session was chaired by Mr Sanjeev Bhikchandani, Founder & Executive Chairman, Info Edge who invited Mr Ajit Balakrishnan, Founder, Chairman & CEO, to share his views on the topic. The discussion focused on how to take broadband to the masses, considering the fact that only 8 to 10 million people have unconstrained access to internet in India.


Mr. Balakrishnan said, “A small westernized group of around 10 million people is creating all the dialogue and everyone else is listening. This is what worries me.” The few reasons he cited were posing as hindrances in the reach of broadband to the masses included, high pricing and the problem of perception. He also added that the broadband model needs to be treated differently from the mobile model in terms of RoI. He said, “Broadband investment is exactly the opposite of how cellular investment works- it is not as speedy and quick in terms of results.”


Mr. Sanjeev Bhikchandani echoed Mr. Balakrishnan’s views on the need to build an infractructure to take broadband to the masses. But he also expressed a worry in terms of generating ample locally relevant content for these users. But Mr. Balakrishnan seemed rather unmoved by the concern, as he believed, ” the problem of content will be side-stepped in India, as the focus will shift to video.”


Plenary Session: Mobile Internet

The session had a keynote address by Mr Dilip Modi, Managing Director, Spice Global, and was chaired by Mr Dhruv Shringi, Vice Chairman- IAMAI & Cofounder,


Mr Dilip Modi spoke about the success story of mobile telephony and how and why has it grown the way it has over the years. The main point to note in his presentation was, as and when the tariff per minute (in mobile usage) was reduced, it led to dramatic growth in terms of usage. So what the industry needs to look at for increasing the consumer base, is to regulate the cost of access and the cost of device. He urged the businesses to, “look for innovation models to bring down the cost of device without compromising on the quality of the user experience.”


Mr Dhruv Shringi made an interesting point, that there is enough critical mass in the market to start looking at, but there is a need to look at it as a separate model from the existing ones. He concluded the session by agreeing with the point made by Mr Modi, ” …for the number of users to go up, the three components have to be looked at collectively- cost of device, cost of accessibilty and the cost of services.”


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