2012: The year Digital will drive brand marketing & not just support it

30 Mar,2012

Ashok Lalla,
Leader – Digital, South Asia, Mindshare

 

Digital as a constituent of brand marketing has certainly come a long way. From being a mere means of communication (via websites), to enabling two-way interactions with consumers and amongst consumers (via social media) and following consumers where they are (via mobile, and online-offline integrations), Digital is clearly today a must-do activity for marketers, and no longer the after thought after the rest of the Marketing programme was determined.

 

The numbers themselves tell a story. Over 100 million internet users in India, 900 million mobile connections, 500+ million mobile subscribers, over 100 million mobile internet users, 10+million 3G users. 35+ million Facebook users. Wide spread and fast growing eCommerce usage, encouraging early adoption of location-based services like Foursquare,, enthusiastic uptake by consumers of tablets, dropping prices of smart phones….

 

That said, spends on Digital in 2011 stayed largely in single digits for most brands, and Digital continues to be seen as a means of Marketing support by marketers, rather than a key means of Marketing impetus that it can well be. Categories like Travel, Financial services and eCommerce of course continued to be the exception to this, with Digital playing a more central role in Marketing for these categories, with spend levels bearing this out.

 

The key themes that according to me will together help underline the importance of Digital for brands, and will put Digital at the centre of Marketing planning will be:

1.Big picture, holistic Media management
Digital to truly come into its own, requires to be integrated into the overall Media mix, rather than addressed in a silo. Smart marketers will look upon their Media and digital partners to be able to provide this view. Wherein, the roles of various media are well defined, and Digital is deployed in a manner that amplifies the impact of not just the Digital spends, but energizes the rest of the Marketing plan and media outlays.

 

2.Web on Demand
The days of broadcast communications are over. And smart brands will recognize that it’s important to build a connect with consumers wherever they are. Whenever they want. And in the manner they choose to have that connection. The ‘app-site’ will be the new website for brands. But not just an app developed by an agency and marketer. But an app that allows the consumer to choose and customize their brand experience. And change it as their needs from the brand change. A million ‘websites’ for a million consumers. Well, done right, the app-site can well deliver that.

 

3. Divergence of web experiences
At a time when smart mobile and web devices allow one to converge interactive experiences (voice, web, social, commerce), the marketer ahead of the curve will prepare to provide consumers a suite of optimized web experiences. Built around the reality of new devices, new screens, new reasons to adopt various devices. It will be challenging to go beyond the one experience fits all attitude, but the dividends of doing this right will justify the efforts.

 

4. Mobility strategies will make mobile marketing work harder
Mobile marketing usually sees a check-box approach, where marketers tick-off the elements of outreach that mobile offers. 2012 will see smart marketers pulling back to plot a larger Mobility strategy first, and then using the various elements of Mobile as a means to a larger end, rather than an end in themselves. It may seem a subtle semantic shift, but in reality it’s something that can help brands get ahead in a consumer world that’s literally on-the-go all the time., and therefore ripe for Mobility thinking and planning.

 

5. Brand-curated content hubs
The fact of the matter is that people look out for content and programming that interests them, and not for brands. While some brands have tried to create content that’s interesting for their consumers, and at the same time relevant to the brand, they have discovered it’s a losing battle. As content streams keep growing, brands will find it impossible to keep up, unless they get into the content generation space themselves. A simpler and more meaningful method will be for brands to curate content streams, but with a cut that’s at the sweet spot of their consumers and brand world. And thereby enmesh their brands better with their audiences.

 

6. Socialness to drive Media
All media (and not just Digital) to be truly effective will need to be social at its core. Social in a way that builds interconnectedness between brands and their audience. And enables consumers to not just interact with the brand, but with each other. The reason is not hard to find: there’s a clear shift in power from brands to influence consumers to consumers themselves to influence their peers. This new reality calls for brands to integrate ‘Socialness’ into all their communications and brand activation activities – TV, print, retail, promotions, and of course Digital.

 

7. People as Media

Conventional media plans have a channel strategy, and reach and influence objectives. In 2012, the most important media channel that smart marketers will increasingly focus on will not be specific Social websites, TV channels, print publications or radio stations. But it will be People. And all the rest of the media mix will be oriented around activating a brand’s audience (People) to be the key driver and proponent of a brand’s communications. While all media plans are created to reach people, a People as Media approach makes one’s audience the starting point rather than the end point of brand marketing. An exciting shift in orientation that can help shape the future of brands.
To me, 2012 will be Digital’s most exciting year for brands in India yet. An inflection point for the way it’s seen and deployed by Marketers. I am waiting for the day when Marketing = Digital. And believe me, that day is closer than most people would like to believe. Stay tuned…

 

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