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Sidharth Rao

Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder | 26 Feb 2013

Engagement is no longer the only tool of evaluation for marketers. Technology has caught up with marketers’ need for a sharper way to gauge RoI, and many companies are beginning to evolve from measuring more superficial social media metrics like clicks, retweets, and likes to tracking metrics that are tied more closely to a company’s bottomline. Social search has made its way into the minds of the marketers as well.

Sidharth Rao co-founded WebChutney in 1999 as a creative shop, which now offers a range of internet marketing solutions to a large portfolio of globally recognised brands and companies. Unable to agree with his B-School’s idea of management education, he dropped out and began his career as a copywriter before launching Webchutney. Some of its clients include Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Airtel, Unilever and Mastercard. With presence in India, Singapore and Malaysia, Rao is now keen to establish Webchutney in Asia and beyond.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Nair, Rao speaks at length about the various aspects of Indian digital marketing and more...

Q. How has marketers’ demand from social changed in recent years?

In a span of a few years, social in India has changed from a minor phenomenon to a very strong marketing and communication tool. Of course, marketers’ demands from social are constantly increasing. Rather than just being used for marketing, social is increasingly being incorporated into the sales process – whether it’s monitoring and participating in relevant conversations, responding to questions or even sharing helpful content.

Engagement is no longer the only tool of evaluation for marketers. Technology has caught up with marketers’ need for a sharper way to gauge RoI, and many companies are beginning to evolve from measuring more superficial social media metrics like clicks, retweets, and likes to tracking metrics that are tied more closely to a company’s bottomline.

Social search has made its way into the minds of the marketers as well. Though still an evolving term for the way search engines are factoring content from a user’s social network into the results they get for their search queries. Marketers started taking note of social search with the development of Google+ and the launch of Bing’s social search engine last summer. But the social search trend has continued to get more and more attention from search engines. Facebook joined the ranks by announcing Graph Search.

Q. With new engagement forms such as videos and apps coming up, what are your thoughts on visual brand building exercises via the internet in India?

Brands today want to create an experience for their customers. Visual engagement is one of the best ways to build your brand. India is among the top five countries in terms of video generation, and apps are gaining equal popularity with 52 minutes a day being spent on mobile apps. So, brands must definitely exploit these patterns to ensure greater visibility.

Even if it is just in terms of images; Pinterest buyers spend more money, more often, and on more items than any of the other top five social media sites. While visual content got a headstart in e-commerce and B2C companies, its effects are now spanning across industries. And this also extends to social sites such as Facebook and Google+, which are also displaying images more prominently than ever before. In fact, a recent HubSpot Study showed that photos on Facebook generate 53 per cent more ‘likes than the average post.

Q. What are the key things that brands should keep in mind to build a healthy social conversation?

The first and foremost thing that needs to be taken into consideration is to protect and strengthen the brand with social. For instance, building the right kind of relationships with 500 targeted people is always more beneficial than meaningless, un-targeted relationships with 500,000. Having a clear view on why brands are using social, on the audience that it wants to engage, and on how to turn them from being passive to having an active relationship with brands in social media is another thing that needs to be focused.

Brands should communicate through leadership. They shouldn’t simply spam social space with reasons to buy their product. Teach, entertain and discuss are three things that social media strategy should be leveraging. Be transparent, be accountable, be quick and be responsive.

Q. Mobile is still not leveraged to its best capabilities by Indian brands. What is your observation on this?

According to Nielsen, time spent on mobile apps and the mobile web account for 63 per cent of the year-over-year growth in overall time spent using social media. Mobile is rapidly becoming the primary way we consume and interact with social (and nearly all) content.

As a result, companies need to regard mobile as a primary communication channel. While tactical media like search, SMS, location-based rewards, etc., are great for short term spikes, they don’t deliver strategic benefits. For that we need to look at the mobile web ecosystem and own content that drives engagement within that. We believe brands understand the role of content well now, and given that they are investing in it on mediums like TV (for example, Coke Studio) they will also start seeing the benefits of owned content on mobile.

Q. What are the five elements that make a digital campaign a hit?

According to me, an idea should be created that is super easy to engage with. It should be worth sharing and worth talking about to the relevant audience. It should be easy to access and should be capable enough to be shared on the mobile. A comprehensive mixed media plan, which includes search, display and social, should be executed.

Constant optimisation of both the creative and media during the life of the campaign is a must.

Q. It is observed that there are many Indian brands that don’t keep their website updated regularly or change their look and feel for a long period of time. What is your comment on this?

Your website is your own representation on the web and the web is all about staying active and providing your users with fresh content. If you don’t constantly update your website, you run the risk of getting overlooked by people and search engines. If your website looks outdated, people will come to your site and immediately move on because it seems like you aren’t keeping up with the world. If your website has the same exact content every time Google re-indexes your page, you will fall in the rankings eventually.

Q. What are key things that brands should keep in mind while designing their websites?

A website should have a unique visual identity that is both appealing and intuitive. Make the navigation and structure of the content simple. Platform compatibility should be kept in mind depending on the kind of consumer the website is intended for; the decision of mobile or browser compatibility needs to be decided at the planning stage.

Q. When it comes to awards Indian digital work has still not reached at international forum such as Cannes Lion. Why do you think this still exists?

We need to push clients to take risks and bet big. At the same time, as agencies we need to build capabilities and resources in-house that encourage innovation. Whether that means finding and attracting the best technology talent from the startup sector or investing in our ideas to build proof of concepts before we present them to brands.

Q. How was the year 2012 been for Webchutney?

2012 was a great year for Webchutney. A lot of work was recognised both nationally and internationally, we made our first independent foray into the mobile space and created some of the most innovative campaigns of the year (All About Rajni, Harmonium Love, Buddy Stamp). It was also a great year in terms of talent. The digital industry in India is growing at a very fast pace.

Q. What is at top of your wish list for 2013?

Making a big dent in the mobile marketing space is what I wish for in 2013.

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