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Glen Ireland

CEO | 11 Oct 2013

Social media seems to be the new kid on the block. Every marketer sees the need to have a social media presence – given the penetration of Facebook and YouTube in the Indian market. However, the role and the objectives for getting onto these channels are not always clearly defined. The other issue that often remains unanswered is about measuring success and failure. A fundamental question often raised is how to monetise social media.

Leading Dentsu’s digital practice in India, Glen Ireland’s key priority as CEO of Dentsu Digital is to build a strong digital competence that includes creative, technical, strategy, account management and media capabilities.

An entrepreneur and digital specialist, Ireland joined Team Dentsu from Gurgaon-based digital marketing solutions company 8020, where he was Managing Partner. Ireland is also Founder-Director at IDMI, a digital marketing training institute he founded in 2009 to evangelise digital media and marketing. Ireland has over 19 years of experience in the area of marketing communications over which he has worked in India, Australia, Singapore and the Middle-East.

In conversation with Priyanka Nair, Ireland speaks at length about how marketers are leveraging digital and social media, how to build a healthy social conversation, the Indian digital ecosystem and more...

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

Change in this industry is constant. What worked yesterday could be history tomorrow. So, being able to continuously adapt and reinvent a business model is fundamental to this industry. In addition to the pace of change, the volume of demand for digital marketing services as a whole has gone up exponentially. Virtually, every brand needs to have an online presence today. For some, it could be a website and a Facebook page, for others, it’s a complete digital ecosystem. These changes are largely reflective of consumer behaviour and mirror the same adoption and change – and, therefore, made marketers shuffle and rearrange marketing plans and investments accordingly.

For mature online verticals such as travel, banking, education, etc., it’s now more about fine tuning performance strategies, staying ahead of the curve and using technology and best practice to improve on ROI. Additionally, there is a need to develop deeper, more meaningful conversations with the consumer via social media.

Demand for digital marketing will continue to grow in the months and years to come. Of course, we still lag behind mature markets such as the UK, the US and some Asian countries, where digital spends outweigh mass media in many categories, but with increased internet penetration and better connectivity in India, I’m sure the gap will narrow soon.

Q. How is social media gaining importance in a marketer’s communication plans?

Social media seems to be the new kid on the block. Every marketer sees the need to have a social media presence – given the penetration of Facebook and YouTube in the Indian market, platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter continue to expand and grow, therefore, it makes complete sense to integrate social (media) into the overall communication plan.

However, the role and the objectives for getting onto these channels are not always clearly defined. The other issue that often remains unanswered is about measuring success and failure. A fundamental question often raised is how to monetise social media.

Consumers are open to engaging with brands, provided there’s a relevant, meaningful conversation happening. Brands that can find interesting ways to tell a story and continuously add value will benefit from social media.

Social media is evolving; much of these changes reflect changing consumer behaviour and interest. Facebook continues to fine tune its algorithm to create features and functionality to balance both platform usage and the level of advertising. It is also integrating other plug-ins such as gifting, photo enhancement tools, sharing and buying to enhance user experience.

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

The first thing that brands should think about and invest time in is a well thought through content strategy. That’s the most important step in developing a good conversation – it must start with a deep understanding of consumer interests, their relationship with the brand and the role the brand can play in enriching their lives – all of this should help brands develop and deploy meaningful conversations with their consumers.

Relevance is of course key – consumers will engage and interact with content if it adds some value to their lives, be it knowledge or entertainment. For the consumer, it’s a fairly simple equation – ‘if you want my time and attention, make it worth my while’. After all, there are a million brands vying for the same head space and wallet – so think about creating a customised experience and wherever possible, try and personalise the conversation.

Q. How do you think the Indian digital ecosystem will shape up in the coming years?

More science than art, maybe. More strategy than tactics, hopefully.

I think India will evolve just like other international market. As more investments flow into digital marketing, the pressure to deliver better results will lead to more accountability, maybe better creative work as well. Brands will need to have a unified strategy that will include digital as a core medium and not just a good-to-have.

To deliver better results or to maximise every rupee spent, digital marketing service providers will look at using more sophisticated technologies to improve outcomes.

On the media side, Real Time Bidding (RTB) and trading desks will become mainstay. Data in general will have to be used a lot more to help analyse campaigns and future investments. We can hope to see a lot more innovation as budgets increase. Typically, the general perception is that digital doesn’t cost much – even though the effort and time is possibly the same, if not more than offline advertising. That should hopefully change in the years ahead.

Q. We are yet to see extremely creative work in the digital space in India. Do you think the digital marketing space is yet to get the best of best talent?

I don’t think it’s really the lack of good ideas, but often investments that are needed to execute them are missing. There’s always money on the table for large offline campaigns – both from a production and media stand point. So, what might be needed is a shift in thinking. Also, television and print have been around for decades and hence, benchmarks are available. There’s a huge level of familiarity and comfort with these channels, which is not so in the case of digital. So, hopefully with time things will change.

Having said that, there’s certainly is a talent shortage in the market. It’s hard to find people adept in both creative and technology. A combination very often required to execute big digital ideas. I think as the market matures, the shift will automatically happen; a lot of people with offline creative expertise will acquire the technical skills needed to integrate both offline and online brand experience.

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

Many factors have contributed to the slow adoption of mobile as an advertising medium. One of the most important reasons for this is that India is basically a voice-enabled market dominated by low cost handsets. Hence, providing a good mobile experience is limited to a small population.

Secondly, user experience is limited to the size of the handset screen, which is often a challenge when trying to create a good customer experience.

Thirdly, 3G connectivity remains a large gap.

Having said that, mobile is definitely showing a shift. This shift is largely happening on account of smart phone availability at cheaper prices, more data plans being purchased and new devices such as tablets are becoming more accessible. An ever expanding app world is also making brands relook the customer experience by creating branded content that’s packaged for easier consumption and sharing.

All of this should create a very exciting way ahead for mobile.

Q. Could you elaborate on the recent campaigns initiated by Dentsu Digital?

We recently concluded a campaign for Hitachi Home and Life Solutions using a mix of search and display ads along with social media – Facebook and Twitter. The execution was in sync with the brand’s new campaign, ‘Life Uninterrupted’. The results were very promising, leading to an increase in footfall at the retail point as well as new leads and conversions on the brand’s e-shop.

Dentsu Digital was also recently instrumental in launching an online magazine for Antara, one of India’s first community living projects for senior citizens and part of the Max India Group.

Other than digital media campaigns, we have also been involved in several ORM projects, that is, monitoring and reporting online brand sentiment to augment our overall social media capability and service offering.

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