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Guest Column: Grey Areas in Digital India: Sakhhi Chhabra

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Guest Column: Grey Areas in Digital India: Sakhhi Chhabra

Digital media has taken the world by storm, upending the world of traditional marketing. This requires 21st-century marketers to become savvy about a broad range of digital marketing options writes Sakhhi Chhabra, Research Scholar, MDI, Gurgaon.

With initiatives like ‘Digital India’ led by the Modi Government and incessant meetings of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi with tech giants (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella), it is easy to conclude  that India is not left behind in the digital revolution.

As in all fields, in marketing too, the digital media has taken the world by storm, upending the world of traditional marketing. This requires 21st-century marketers to become savvy about a broad range of digital marketing options that can include anything from SEO to social media to mobile.

Digital influence...

Driven by cheaper mobile handsets and the spread of wireless data networks, the number of Internet users in India is expected to nearly triple within 5 years, i.e. 125 million in 2011 to 330 million in 2016. The differentiator about digital marketing is that unlike traditional marketing it is far more tractable. It allows marketers to determine business performance easily by compressing data in a dashboard form. The ability of marketers to gather, monitor, and measure increasingly large numbers of data points provides the ability to minutely monitor market needs and actions. But on the other side, there’s much to understand and much to keep track of as given in article below.

Contrary to the idea that the digitally influenced segment comprises young affluent city dwellers, the internet population consists of consumers who have spent greater number of years online. Thus it is the digital age which matters. Users in smaller cities (tier 2, 3 and 4 cities) report high internet usage (34%). Long time myths about online shopping related with deals or discounts stand exposed given that most online users are driven by convenience (37%) and variety (29%) rather than discount which drive 30% of online purchases. Online traffic is mainly driven by search engines (40%) and not social media (25%) as given in a report of the Boston Consulting Group.  

Indian market is significantly different in digital habits

Even though, none of the e-commerce portals is making profits right now given their huge logistics costs, the valuations of many local companies like Flipkart and Snapdeal are growing due to global investors clamoring for a pie of the booming e-commerce in India. But the obscuring fact is that although Internet’s influence on buying decisions is growing rapidly, online purchases are just a small portion of commercial activity today. People tend to go online, delve into pre-purchase research but make actual purchase offline and then post reviews and comments online - primarily on social media. Online activities such as product research and price comparisons are shaping the preferences of Indian consumers, affecting what they buy and why. Actual purchases are not happening due to lack of trust and security issues plus well entrenched behaviors that take time to change. Post-purchase online engagement has a long way to evolve.

Indian market is significantly different in digital habits mainly because of the following reasons. Mobile internet activity in India is enormous. 346 million Indian mobile users have subscribed to data packages, with more than half of all internet users in the country accessing the web via their mobile phone. With emerging 4G networks, e-commerce shall penetrate even more rapidly. Email and information seeking remain the strongest reasons for people to go online. Not all category products are sold easily in India and they differ in online popularity. Although categories such as computers, mobile phones, air travel have high levels of digital influence, other goods such as cosmetics and consumer goods have very low levels of digital influence.

Product categories that don’t require physical delivery like insurance, DTH and satellite TV subscription takes off faster online. The reason for this category dynamics is the presence of cheap unbranded local suppliers. More than 40% Indians share their negative reviews on the products that they have bought; very few share their positive reviews. As to the preferred mode of payment for online purchases, credit cardholders and non credit cardholders alike prefer to pay cash. Most importantly, due to security issues e-payments are penetrating slowly. The cash on delivery concept as well as third-party wallets are expected to grow.

Case for omnipresence....

Professional marketers, feel that marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the last five decades. Marketers are not confident in their digital marketing abilities; they learn these skills on the job and have no formal training. The evolution of the Internet, social media, and mobile devices is constantly changing the way service providers market to and engage with their audiences. Companies should vigilantly integrate digital strategies into their mainstream marketing and branding activities.

 They can use any online channel to reach consumers: corporate websites, online communities, social media, internet search, online videos and display advertising. It is for omnipresence in the ecommerce era (which combines both online and offline) as online activities drive offline behavior and is driven by offline environment too.

It is the right time for companies to have mobile apps for customizing their marketing activities and connecting with their customers more closely than ever before. Thus, listening to the consumers, creating a sense of community and building loyalty are critical. Smart marketers keep on top of the scale of change and ensure their marketing strategies and touch-points mirror where the consumer is spending their time. It is high time that marketers of every breed should fall in line and go online!

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