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Guest Article: Exploiting the possibilities of ‘Digital Influence’

24-November-2011
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Guest Article: Exploiting the possibilities of ‘Digital Influence’

I entered the words ‘Digital Influence’ in Google and within .31 seconds the site threw up 81,900,000 results that linked to my search words. Two immediate thoughts raced through my mind.

One: That it has become almost instinctive and second nature for me to look for anything on the web today! It’s almost like I have come to believe that the web holds the answers to everything possible.

Two: That there’s obviously tons of stuff written about the subject already by many people in the world. What could I possibly write on Digital Influence that could be of interest to our world?

I am no digital expert. But I am a lover of the medium and have embraced it with open arms. Because I feel so strongly about the subject, I wanted to share my learnings about the medium and the potential influence it can have on the lives of our clients and consumers.

“Sometimes I think that we’re going to sophisticate ourselves to death. We get so convoluted in our embrace of techniques and technology, we forget about the basics.” I read this quote somewhere and thought it rang especially true for the topic of our essay today - Digital Influence.

Everybody’s talking about the digital world and its far-reaching impact on our cultural, economic, social, political, lives! Given the newness of this phenomenon (or is it really that new now?) it’s natural that everybody’s trying to grapple with it - and come to terms with not only what the medium can offer, but how it can be exploited from a brand building perspective!

The latest reports say that out of a world population of 6.7 billion people, 1.73 billion use the Internet. That’s 25 per cent of the population of the world.

Over the past nine years, the growth of digital has been in the area of 380 per cent. If you just take Asia, Europe and the US as the markets with the highest growth, it is seen that as compared to youngsters, it’s really the older generations that have taken to the medium far more than the younger generation. What does that tell us?

There has to be something about the digital world which is why there is higher usage of the Internet by the usually technologically averse older generations.

What makes anything new click with people? And stick with them? Simplicity. Ease. Comfort. Novelty. Power?

I teach advertising at a well-known college in Bangalore. And from my experience of interacting with students every weekend, I realised that nothing works better with them than plain-speak! If I try and get technical or overly wise with them, they glaze over! If I want them to come back for class next Saturday, then I had better leave them feeling that what they learnt today was so easy and ‘commonsensical’ that it never really felt like bookish, boring theory that they could have read about themselves! And so far, the trick has worked.

Extend the logic, and you’ll see that the same holds true for consumers too. If you preach to them, or alienate them with technicalities or verbiage, they will never embrace you. If on the other hand, you help them understand the benefits (show them the muscles not the equipment!) of your brand in an interesting manner, they will embrace you and if all goes well, stick to you for a long period of time.

And extend the logic a little more – this time, to our CEOs… If you unleash the power that the digital world can offer to them, they will open their wallets to you, complicate them with the technicalities, and they’ll get scared and settle for just, the basics – a website!

So, what is this digital world? What is the digital story? How does it impact us in our daily lives?
From just being a vehicle for carrying emails and allowing people to chat across the globe, it has now become a new mantra. A new greeting, almost!

People wake up and the first thing they do is post a status on how they are feeling this morning. No one asked them for their views. But they feel compelled to share their lives with people in their world.

People send you invites to become your friend… and you soon realise that the person who has sent you the invite is none other than a high school friend that you lost touch with years ago. You readily accept and get connected back to the days when you did more than just exchanged notes on the boring class teacher!

You get to office and want to know how your team is performing in Singapore or New York… and you get on to a web conference and chat with them almost like you were both at the same place. Technology? Convenience? Digibility? Call it whatever - but the medium has its influence on us, in every sphere of life.

You want to buy a new cell phone and while you have a couple of brands in mind, you don’t know which one to go for. You post a question and people proffer advice/ suggestions/ feedback that aid in your decision.

A new brand gets launched and you want the world to know about it. You send a tweet and you get everybody’s attention.

You want people to rally around a cause and you gather people from all over the world to sign up for it in no time. But could it have been possible without digital?

One can go on and on, but the point is that the digital has touched us in every walk of life. What we say, what we do, what we feel, what we buy, what we wear, what others are saying about us, what you think about a movie, what you think about a particular brand… everything has a digital leg to it these days!

So what is it about digital that has got so many people of the world hooked to it? And what is holding others back?

I believe the founders of this new world tapped into very basic human insights - that at the end of the day, everybody wants to belong! If given the opportunity, everybody wants a voice! Everybody wants to have a place in this world and wants to be known for themselves, their own identities. Everybody wants to feel appreciated for themselves.

Digital has the versatility of being one to one and one to all
The charm of the medium is that what you put out about yourself is what others will assess you on. You have complete control over the message!

If people don’t like you, you will not get a response… or you will get negative feedback that the world can read about. You have the opportunity of getting back to them and setting right their perceptions about you.

If people like you, they will flock to you and actively start a conversation with you.

Think about it and apply the same principles for brands in the digital space. Replace the world ‘people’ with brands… and things start falling into place.

The digital consumer gets his/ her jollies by being sought.
By being asked for an opinion.
By being made to feel like he or she is king and in control.
By being invited to communities that comprise like-minded people.
By being made to feel that they belong- to a connected world.

Let’s not forget these basic rules.
If we want a world where everybody’s voice could be heard and everybody could be connected, we can’t but come to terms with practicalities like illiteracy, poverty, technologically untouched places. So what would our goal be as human beings?

The challenge of this and the next generation would be to discover ways and means by which poverty could be eradicated in the world, literacy could become everybody’s birthright and not a privilege, and technology would find ways and means to touch every human soul in this universe. Terms like third world, backward, illiterate, poor, digitally dark, even global warming would belong to a world that no longer existed! How else could everybody be connected in this world?

Imagine a situation (who knows, some years from now?) where every one of the 7 billion living individuals on this planet have an identity. The famous Nandan Nilekani has taken on the amazing project of getting ID cards going for each and every individual in the country. Imagine doing this for the entire world! With digital, you can at least allow yourself to think differently! If that is no bigger influence I don’t know what is.

(Shenaz Bapooji, Senior Vice President & Head of Office, Management, Meridian Communications, Bangalore.)

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