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Guest Article: The Digital Dilemma

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Guest Article: The Digital Dilemma

The digital dilemma – this is the predicament plaguing the brand managers today. In the last few months, I have met many brand and marketing managers and a majority of them confessed that this digital goblin is stuck in their throats like an albatross. Not to mention, it is also forced onto them from the top without clear goals and objectives. Because of this unclear agenda, the branding executives are wary of this monster and “at the drop of a hat” are taking the time tested digital route without experimenting too much on innovations.

We need to understand two basic premises of digital: that digital is not a logical addendum to TV and print; that it should never be used for reach and frequency. In the online space, ‘display impressions’ are quite analogous to ‘reach’ in the traditional sense. We need to stop believing that more impressions are tantamount to more reach. The abysmal CTR (0.1%), the high bounce rate should spark a thought in all of us – Let us not use digital medium as we have been using TV and Print for ages. There is a reason why we call digital as “New Age Media” – Digital enables one to have a two way communication unlike any of the other communication mediums. We should base our digital brand objectives based on this cornerstone.

Based on my interaction with many brand managers, brand executives, and marketing professionals I have attempted to put brands in India into 3 categories – Novice, Advanced Beginner and Expert.

Quite a few brands have recently taken steps to embrace digital. Unfortunately, these are brands which have joined the digital bandwagon just because everyone else is doing so. Much to my amazement, a lot of brands in this category do not even have a website of their own. Instead, they want to piggyback on the Facebook craze by creating brand pages. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some glaring facts of Facebook which all brand managers should be aware of. Firstly, 30 per cent of Facebook profiles are fake and redundant. Secondly, there is a segmented bunch of users who relentlessly keep on “liking” all and sundry Facebook pages. A brand Facebook page may have a million fans, however, only 1 per cent of that number participate in any of the contests the brand organises. This fact not only ratifies my earlier observation but also increases the Facebook user acquisition cost by a multiple of 100.Thirdly, Facebook conversations (though user generated content) are private and hence do not help the brands to increase their organic search ranking in any way.

Advanced Beginner:
Most of the brands fall in this category. In here, all the house-keeping activities are well taken care of – brand website in place, roaring Facebook and Twitter pages buzzing with conversations etc. However, a well-defined objective of digital is still missing with “catch-all” goals such as running Facebook contests and creating Facebook welcome pages/apps grabbing preponderance of the activities. I have noticed that in this category, as part of digital media planning, many brands resort to social media agencies. And, there lies the biggest problem: We consider social media as a placebo for all digital evils. Social media (a much abused word these days) agencies are “dime-a-dozen” in India and choosing the right one has always been the toughest challenge. Furthermore, spending quite some time with these agencies has made me cognizant of their diabolical approaches to social media. On the contrary, I have also met few very competent social media agencies who understand this space threadbare. Question is “How can so few credible social media agencies serve a cauldron of brands?”

A handful of brands fall in this category; brands which understand the digital landscape well and have done the right things. While researching about these brands one common theme stood out – These brands are using digital to engage meaningfully with consumers in a true crowdsourcing style. Their motto is to “Remain in close proximity to the users through digital” by not forcing redundant information down their throats but by using the concepts of engagement advertising, appointment advertising and incentivised brand engagement.

PS: Though I have followed Internet and digital for the last 10 years in USA, Europe and in India, I am not an expert in this field and this article is primarily a summary of my observations of this space.

(Surjendu Kuila is the Co-founder of He has spent most of his professional life in the US, working for startups. Kuila holds a B.Tech degree from IIT, Roorkee and an MBA from IIM, Calcutta.)

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