Advertising Interviews

Jonathan Nelson

CEO, Omnicom Digital | 02 Apr 2010

The framework of traditional media is based on interruption, like a commercial on TV. Social media is about amplification. It’s also an incredible form of listening. People are engaged in millions of conversation and they are leaving the records of the conversation. If you are marketing a product, the idea is not to insert yourself in the middle of a conversation. Correcting untrue information and disseminating knowledge of your product that is relevant to a conversation is where one can interrupt. It’s just interesting to watch what people have to say about your brand.

Jonathan Nelson, CEO, Omnicom Digital, and Jason Kuperman, Vice President, Asia Pacific Digital Development, Omnicom Group, are people involved in driving the digital media for the group. Nelson has been a digital evangelist. He sold his company Organic, an interactive agency to Omnicom Group in 1998 and over the years got involved in working with Group. Kuperman has earlier been with agency.com as its MD in China and Director, Interactive and Content Practice for Tequila thus bringing in rich experience of the domain and region.

In conversation with exchage4media’s Tuhina Anand, Nelson and Kuperman speak at length about the evolution of digital media in India and how Omincom plans to tap this media.

Q. Where do you see digital media placed in India today?

Jonathan: Clearly, the Indian market is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic markets in the world. We have a number of businesses out here, and increasingly clients are saying we need to do more digital and to do it in the emerging markets. We are here looking into the assets we have from buyers side as services companies, agencies as well as the sell side that is media.

Q. Are you also looking at any kind of partnerships in India?

Jonathan: We are looking at all kinds of assets. We are looking at a very dynamic market, but our priority is to expand on behalf of our clients in need of their businesses.

Jason: We are pretty well aligned, especially if you compare us with other holding companies. Our digital businesses are pretty well aligned with our overall business. We have three large international creative groups – DDB, TBWA and BBDO – and they all have their digital arms. We have our media agencies and diversified services agencies, so we have pretty much everything under our umbrella.

Q. Do you think that there is a lot of talk about digital media, but when it comes to application these just remain as talks?

Jonathan: It’s a step on the evolutionary path. First of all, one needs to have the capability to be online, and India seems to be an interesting market in that sense. There are some broadband, fixed lines, but it looks like a market which would jump over and get straight to Wi-fi, Wimax, cellular or 3G, where primary access object would be a handset for majority of the market. Some of the fundamental issues need to be solved, like the number of people one is targeting. There is also the need to create an ecosystem of both seller and buyer side to support this medium by joining hands. One way to achieve this is to train our workforce to work with the clients and apply the digital thinking. We are working with our clients to grow their businesses, educate them, experiment with new ideas to capture new opportunities such as the ones that mobile is providing. That’s natural evolution of the market.

Q. Would this change in mindset take long?

Jason: There are a lot of triggers even in markets that are seen as sophisticated digital marketing landscapes. People still complain that there is not enough spends. They still feel they are growing and evolving despite being more than a billion dollar market.

Q. How does Omnicom use digital as an intrinsic part of its offering?

Jason: We look at digital very strategically. One of the easiest places to look at digital is in the automotive category. It’s a high consideration purchase and a lot of money is invested in creating conversion. There is a purchase funnel and digital plays a role in many different areas of it. Digital in helping to market and sell cars is a great area where one could do site capture, email, SMS, banners, but at the end of the day, the real digital strategy is to try to build a relationship with an individual, understand them and move them down the purchase funnel. If one buys a car, then digital can help to maintain a relationship with CRM, thus coming full circle.

Jonathan: One of the interesting things about this medium is that it doesn’t adhere to boundaries. Boundaries were formed by media that preceded it, so if you look at lead generation, CRM or DM as a discipline, then online is all of that and evolves into things like PR and unpaid media or social media.

Q. Are you happy with the kind of budgets being allocated to digital right now and compare this to the scene internationally?

Jason: That’s a common story, especially in this region. But you see change and certain clients are beginning to look at it differently. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the enthusiasm of some of the clients within Omnicom and their interest to invest in digital in just one day that we have been here. But when you have a country of billion plus people and digital reaches less than 10 per cent of them, there may be certain instances where it should be the first place you put the monies and in some place to understand and work with and experiment as it grows. In other countries, too, where the penetration is below 15 per cent, it’s very similar. Between 15-20 per cent things begin to change. People look at it as more of a strategic initiative. India is growing in that respect of having more digital population, especially with the high level of penetration of mobile phones.

Q. Is there a different way to reach people on mobile?

Jason: You have to respect them as it’s not a device which they use to get advertising on. There is also an opportunity where one could be at a point of purchase like a store or restaurant. This means there is the need to keep the message contextual to their location.

Jonathan: Be relevant, respect them and stay focused.

Q. In social media the biggest dilemma is where to interrupt the customer. Have you figured this out?

Jonathan: The framework of traditional media is based on interruption, like a commercial on TV. In my opinion, that’s not the way to do in social media. Social media is about amplification. It’s also an incredible form of listening. People are engaged in millions of conversation and they are leaving the records of the conversation. If you are marketing a product, the idea is not to insert yourself in the middle of a conversation. You have a right when a couple of people are talking about your product and the information is not correct or you have a product that can help them. Correcting untrue information and disseminating knowledge of your product that is relevant to a conversation is where one can interrupt. It’s just interesting to watch what people have to say about your brand. The reality is that people have been talking forever, but it’s on the net where one can see what people are saying and as a result, you don’t need to be an active participant. Listen and then respond.

Q. How do you control what is written about your brand?

Jason: As social media has grown, people expect brands to be at the table. They expect the brand to go on social media and give the right info if it’s lacking. Brands are not silent anymore, they may not be interrupting, but they have a place online where people can go and get the real story.

Q. Exciting times ahead. Do you think these changes will also reflect on the way communication will happen five years down the line?

Jason: Absolutely, and the encouraging thing about the Indian market is that there are brands willing to be part of such conversation.

Q. What is the biggest hindrance in your plan of getting people to adopt digital?

Jonathan: We run peoples business. Finding, attracting and retaining great talent is something we are best at, but that also is a challenge. Finding people who can think multi-direction and not just in a particular format or medium is a challenge.

Jason: While digital might have changed a lot of rules, it hasn’t replaced the fundamentals of marketing and branding. To get someone who can balance both is a challenge.

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