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John Kerr

Managing Director | 19 Jul 2014

Social media is dependent upon social networks, and those networks are made up of people who are uniquely attuned to the other people in their social networks. We intentionally look at the Facebook activity feed, and we follow people on Twitter who give us the sort of information we want. Here, social surveys play a key role in understanding what your consumers like and do not like. Unfortunately, many brands do not care for these surveys, and are content with just building a fan base or follower base.

As the leader for Zeno across Asia, John Kerr, Managing Director, Zeno Asia is responsible for setting business direction, driving innovation and delivering exceptional client service to grow the brand across the region. Today, he oversees nine offices and over 100 employees across India, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Zeno is a new age social digital agency, with a strong PR DNA.

Kerr’s 20-year career has spanned seven countries, four continents, in-house to agency – spread across communications, interactive and brand marketing. Before taking on the role of MD at Zeno, he grew Edelman Digital into one of the largest and most awarded social media marketing networks in the region.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Ankur Singh, Kerr talks about Zeno Group’s vision, his belief in consumer relationships, emerging market trends, social platforms and more...

Q. What, according to you, is marketing in today’s world?

Big disruptive forces in the marketing world today – mobile, social, big data, cloud. Each one of these has a fundamental shift in terms of how marketers need to build relationships with stakeholders, consumers and communities. But, all four of them are happening at the same time. So, we see it as a global shift around marketing and communications. That’s what we set up Zeno to be, under the belief that because social means there is a greater need for authenticity, a greater need for narratives and stories that have an emotional impact.

Q. Do you mean to say that hard sell isn’t working anymore?

With changing times, you need to think about content in a completely different way – from two-minute video to six-second bit; big data means you need to be customised and personal; cloud means you need to have the ability to be able to clock a consumer’s journey, catch them in different ways and have a story unfold, as opposed to the old way of marketing one big hit gives you everything you need. The key is how you get people to care about what you market, and then try to sell.

Content comes first. I am a firm believer in relationships. You need to unfold and unveil over time. So that when you launch, most of the information is already out. The traditional way was to hold everything back and launch big. Whereas now, people want to find out more, know what others are saying, exchange notes.

Q. Digital advertising/ marketing spends are still miniscule when compared with other communication mediums. Do you expect the scenario to change?

The Asia-Pacific social media marketing budgets are just about 2 per cent. This has doubled in the past 12 months. But, we are looking at a 98 per cent possibility. It’s only just started. Digital across the region is about 24 per cent, up from 8 per cent two years ago. But, most will still agree that a vast majority of that 24 per cent is going into banner ads. Who clicks on a banner ad? People just skip them. There remains a massive difference between consumption of media from a consumer’s perspective, and investment in the right types of media from a marketing perspective. And, I think this will change. Now, clients are asking the right questions from their media agencies, like ROI. But it’s still a long way to go. We are doing a lot of work around amplification – media amplification.

Q. How well is digital/ social media placed against traditional media today?

Earned media will lead owned or paid media. When one puts paid media in the upfront in a media campaign, people really don’t buy it. The consumer knows much more than what you and I are trying to tell him. Knowing the intelligent customers, brands are looking for agencies that care, and are creative in their approaches.

Even more than earned traditional media, the increasing return of earned social media is supercharged due to the exponential viral potential of that piece of content. Call it word-of-mouth, going viral, or engagement, it all means the same thing: content gets shared with one’s social network, and the payoff is earned social media.

Q. With a plethora of content being pushed at the consumer at each click of the mouse, how do you ensure long-term consumer engagement in digital marketing?

We need to take the lead in terms of changing the way marketers think about content. Most media companies in India are yet to understand the true potential of media amplification. We are aiming at from creating innovative content and using it as a social amplification opportunity.

Q. How well is influencer marketing working in India?

Influencer marketing will always work. But, the trust factor is becoming questionable by the day. True influence requires two things – audience and advocacy. Advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or company than are actual customer advocates. Finding influencers is the first step in any good brand advocacy program; engaging them enough to be advocates so to grab the brass ring of earned social media is the second step.

Q. How relevant are social platforms in digital marketing?

Social media is dependent upon social networks, and those networks are made up of people who are uniquely attuned to the other people in their social networks. That attunement is what makes the social share so powerful. The people, who share, comment and otherwise engage their online communities personally, are the advocates whose endorsement of your brand has the power to take your content viral, to millions of people much more attuned to pay attention to it than they are to notice a billboard on the freeway. We intentionally look at the Facebook activity feed, and we follow people on Twitter who give us the sort of information we want. Here, social surveys play a key role in understanding what your consumers like and do not like. Unfortunately, many brands do not care for these surveys, and are content with just building a fan base or follower base, without tapping the huge database of consumers in that base. This is an area where, I believe, a lot of work still needs to be done.

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