5 Simple Truths to optimize your digital marketing

Truth is ot there

Over the last few post-recession years, Digital Marketing has gained immense respect. More and more businesses, whether or not prepared, are more inclined than ever to adopt digital marketing strategies. In some these cases, it’s more common to see businesses jumping into the Digital wave, just because “others are also doing so”.

It can be argued that these businesses are more likely to be eluded in their endeavors. A quick check into their efforts often reveal that most of these businesses fail to capture the simple truths of digital marketing.

The truths are driven by common sense, yet prove to be solid foundations for doing digital business. Here we go…

Truth #1 : Marketing Methods stay constant; Means vary.

Before you embark on your “digital strategy” stop and think: What would you have done to market your goods or services, if online / digital world was not there? More likely, you’d have still mapped your customers, addressed their needs / wants in a language they listened to, and delivered through a channel which they were familiar / comfortable with (not just media, but on ground channels too).

Well, the good news is that in Digital world, Technology has made it easier to do all the above, in lesser amount of time, and greater efficiencies. The only things that have changed are:

  1. The additional blue-screen window shops – i.e. the PC, Mobile, Tablets, etc. through which customers interface with the digital “properties” – to do your selling, and
  2. Plenty of real time technologies (in hardware & software) to convince your customers or make yourself heard.

If done well, your conversion rates have more chances to improve through digital efforts. So the Marketing rules are the same; processes and technologies differ.

Truth #2 : Website needs the respect of a Showroom

Many brick & mortar businesses, esp. the ones which are new entrants in the Digital world, often are myopic about the roles a website is supposed to perform – e.g. whether it’s information dissemination, or ensuring “online presence” only, or offering product experience, prestige / reputation management, e-Commerce. or even all of these together.

A website is almost an online equivalent of your retail showroom. Therefore, similar to the development of a brick & mortar showroom, there could be thousand different ways to develop an online showroom. As such a website needs similar kind of attention, if not more. The bonus is that once done, a website could go beyond the scope of retail showrooms, by aggregating endorsements or user experiences, which improve the image of the corporate brand.

Truth #3 : Free Experience leads to free Customers

A retail showroom can’t survive if it fails to attract customers. A higher store footfall increases chances of increasing customer conversions. And an important driver of footfall, is the window dressing. Many customers love “window shopping”. They love to spend time in front of the massively decorated shop windows, get interested in the products displayed, and consider exploring them inside – in terms of variety in designs, quality, as well as affordability.

The same is true for online / digital marketing. Many seasoned brick & mortar businesses often realize very late that it’s very important to generate high traffic for a majority of the website pages, organically. And, one of the simplest methods to do so, is to have a free rewards based activity on the website which would not only engage prospects with the products / brand, but also motivate them to revisit the site a number of times.

I came across a few stationery design services, whose websites maintain high page visits by just offering a few free templates. With the tools available on the site itself, any visitor can use them to create his own design – absolutely free! The templates are changed every few months; so the interest level is kept alive.

Truth #4 : Engagement is directly proportional to Acceptance

A visit to any jewelry showroom often reveals the depth of engagement the sales officers establish with their customers. It’s expected, because of it being a high-involvement category. Interesting to note however, design choice is very subjective; and so is the price one pays for it! Knowing this, the sales officers keep the customers engaged enough to keep their interests alive, which eventually translates into a sale.

The same is true for digital marketing, even though it may or may not involve a high-involvement category. Once of the important aspects of digital strategy is to develop myriad methods to keep the prospects engaged with the brand. Even though social media plays a major role in this, the website too have immense potential to keep visitors engaged, and navigate from page to page. Simple layouts, easy navigation, bold shapes, and overall a wider canvas often attract non-prospects to take interest.

More the interest generated on these pages, more is the engagement, and more is the possibility of adoption, when a product is offered.

Truth #5: “The only thing that’s changed is everything”.

One important truth about Marketing is that over time, consumers change, the domain change, products get updated, and even brands change, to make in order to be more relevant.

In many instances small businesses that keenly adopt digital marketing, considering it as a passport to higher business growth, fall short in their endeavors. They fail to recognize that every aspect of Digital Marketing is on a constant roller coaster ride to Change – esp. since technology changes every 3-6 months. Therefore, it’s important to take note of changing trends routinely, and plan in advance for the next 12-24 months.

This is perhaps where an offline retail showroom differs from an online one! While it’s okay to continue with the look-n-feel and presentation of offline retail for even 2 years, an online showcase may become obsolete in just 1-2 months! Therefore one needs to routinely keep on changing the looks, content, presentation, products, pages, etc. Each and every element of digital marketing is on a beta – always!

Keep Fresh! Keep Relevant! Keep changing… everything! And follow these five simple truths in your digital marketing.

Does your Design deliver?

Spectrum Eye B&W Macro

Does your Design deliver

In the marketing world, very often “graphic design” and “Design” are used interchangeably. The reason is quite simple – “graphic design” is one of the most visible faces of marketing, thru packaging, online, offline, etc. As a result, anyone driving his marketing operations from the commercial hub of any city, would come across numerous “Design” houses, offering everything in the name of “Design” solutions. What they actually deliver is just “graphic design” solution.

A few days ago, I was looking for a Design house to develop a new packaging for a cosmetics client. I met at least three “Design Boutiques”. My initial discussions revealed that they are just graphic design houses, offering Mac iterations / experimentations on some forms of random concepts. They pitched in by adding how their solutions “would attract various age groups, be easy to produce” etc. The whole rigueur of concept development behind Design was completely missing!

The core problem lies in our basic understanding of Design as a function, which continues to be limited. In our society, perhaps the word “Design” has been commoditized to a large extent. Design has become more of hype, and less of an enabler. It has also become an easy vehicle for newbie practitioners to make a quick buck early in career. And if those early rewards are handsome too, we have yet another bright talent losing an opportunity to carry forward the responsibility of Design.

Majority of the creative practitioners perhaps ignore the “accountability” part of Design. Hence while we have an explosion of “Designs” in our daily lives, we fail to see how yet another Design helps us more – even in terms of art or aesthetics. How many times we see “Design” playing a key / driving role in the creation of or aiding to the brand / product concept – esp. among smaller local brands?

At its core, Design is supposed to solve a problem, set in motion a certain feeling about the product or brand among its users, and be overall, simple in its every manifestation. Some good examples are Ikea, Ideo, Apple, etc. (in products) and Amazon, Google, etc. (in user experiences).

And in its ability to solve a problem, the practice “Design” has evolved into an independent faculty of “Design Thinking” – which, simply put, is the application of Designers’ orientation and approach to management processes. More and more societies and economies are utilizing this faculty to solve behavioral problems – be it on social, academic or even commercial levels.

Considering the deluge of designs and designers alike, I feel it’s the right opportunity for communication practitioners to re-look at our craft through the eyes of Design thinkers and solve the “perception” problems associated with our brands. Doing so would eventually develop newer attitudes and behaviors, which would in turn help our brands to be more meaningful to their adopters. It would also do well to liberate our static and limited consciousness associated with Design, into something more divergent and powerful.

Design can differentiate, not by creating yet another set of graphic elements or visual identity or even a new campaign, but perhaps by giving a solution to the needs and wants of consumers.

Six Lessons from my life in Advertising

6 lessonsDuring the last decade, if there has been any industry which has completely metamorphosed into a new avatar, it’s advertising! The first wave of change saw the 80′s agencies breaking away into specialist agencies – media, creative, design, direct marketing, events, etc. The second wave saw the agencies transforming themselves to adapt for the new media / digital marketing environments. As a result the whole focus, of how an agency operates, how creativity is encouraged, how clients are serviced and how the campaigns are planned, has moved towards a new domain.

However, there has been some agency truths, which still apply in the current state of things. These truths, or personal lessons, are not just silent suggestions, but seem to be as much true and effective today, as it was, during the early 90′s.

Lesson 1 – Hire Skills and Talent; Not People!

Unlike now, advertising profession used to be more mysterious back in the days when I started. Not many people really knew much about the profession, and the people who really understood it well, could be counted throughout the country. So the people who joined advertising, did not do it as their first choice – unless they failed in one or the other profession or vocation, or were perhaps unable to pursue further higher studies, due to multitude of reasons. These people didn’t have a clue on how to make advertising, or the way it was supposed to be made. Hence they self-learned or improvised ways – to communicate, seduce, persuade, engage, to make a stunning piece of film or a compelling copy. The results often didn’t look much like advertising; but they really broke grounds of communication, stretched imaginations and possibilities. Advertising still needs such sets of talents – not some “advertising people” who have loads of case studies to generate off-the-shelf solutions.

Lesson 2 – Great Crops yield by Leveling the Field

It’s very easy and common for any agency, any day, to give more importance to clients who are ready to spend more. Or to teams which draw in more awards. Or to allocate the best teams to work only on a particular type of account. However, experience teaches us that this is just not a good idea most of the time! It creates polarities and unhealthy competition. It encourages people to leave the company early, either because of more opportunities and monies, or because of fear of stagnation. Instead of this rather, rotating teams on accounts increases capabilities, expands horizons, and gives out-of-the-box results to clients. Rotation also levels the playing field for all, including clients – who start respecting agency for quality of the final product, not just for the quality of the teams producing it.

Lesson 3 – Dedication and Diligence defines a Genius

Time and again we have come across so many campaigns which we label as just Great! These campaigns usually are based on such simple insights and ideas that it looks impossible to label them as “Big Ideas”. But I have come to repeatedly see that the real people behind these campaigns are often the most hard-working lot than anyone else! They put in extra hours, go that extra depth, pay more attention and care more than others. They also often work more effectively, in such a way that people around them are unable to see their hard work – till the fruits of their labor are ready to be savored!

Lesson 4 – Medium and Message are like Siamese twins!

Before the arrival of “specialized” agencies, advertising planning had always been “wholistic”. Media and Creative teams worked together in tandem. And often the media insight changed the creative thought processes – leading to innovations of not only what and how to say, but also where to say the message. Arguably, media were one of the smartest of all people around! As a result, ideas were not restricted to a 30 second ad or a full-page print or a giant billboard. And when the medium itself became the message, the results were just disruptive! Therefore, one needs to have the media team closer to create great communication; a comeback we’re experiencing these days, as more digital marketing takes place!

Lesson 5 – Money and Good Work are not complementary

One of the oft-repeated advice from established admen used to be “Do good work; money will follow”. It’s more an attitude! Yet so many promising talents, instead of being impatient to learn or produce good work, are more impatient to bloat their price tags early. Result? Shorter shelf life and their affinity to switch towards client’s side early, adding to the mediocrity of communication. On the other hand, more of client’s money doesn’t necessarily mean great creative delivery! Neither does it mean that a “more than average” paid talent would deliver likewise! When monies decide value of either people or agency, quality of work and innovation suffers. Therefore, first ensure a commitment toward good work; then money will certainly follow in abundance for everyone.

Lesson 6 – Great Work gets recognized by the Spirit it carries

When the work place is bubbling with energy, people are always absorbing it, and as such enjoy their journeys of that extra mile, delivering great work in the process! Advertising is a creative profession, and the last place the client gets value for his bucks is from a place which looks lacklustre, miserable and drowsy. Depressing people and work processes create flat work, while an exuberant team and work area creates work that not only looks good, but connects too! Some young technology companies are perhaps the best examples of this.

The profession of advertising is heavily dependent upon deep introspection, creativity and relationships. Innovation is an area which never was, and never can’t be overlooked by any agency. In retrospect, these 6 lessons seem to have been the philosophy of so many agencies of yesteryear – the agencies which survived the digital wave, are known for their out-of-the-box approach and their ability to gain respect from client as well as their own teams.

One thing to definitely avoid when pitching!

There’s a dilemma everyone faces, I suppose, when pitching for a new business, or doing new business development… i.e. whether or not to rewrite the rules while recommending solutions for client’s marketing / advertising situation.

Conventional wisdom goes somewhat like this… Client has been doing his business – particularly marketing communications – in a way he felt the best possible, based on his knowledge, expertise and resources. Of late, client has been feeling some need to ask for some external help, or a different perspective from the current partners. That’s why he is looking for a new consultant / partner / agency. Therefore it becomes imperative for you – the new agency, consultant or specialist – to look back, analyze and see what has been the problem. And then recommend solutions that could redefine the existing marketing approaches, right?

I can recall at least 2 stories (among many others) which proved this approach should be taken with a pinch of salt!

The Airlines Case

There was a time while I was in the MiddleEast, when we were pitching for an airlines business. The opportunity came in through one of our senior colleagues, who through his excellent networking skills, had come closer to one of the top decision makers on the board – the CMO – who was kind enough to give a very detailed list of requirements from the agencies on pitch. One of these was “demonstrate abilities to understand the business environment, and draw strategies suited to the region”.

We analyzed the problems rightly, and found that many of these cropped up over many years due to faulty marketing practices. So we developed 2 approaches to address the issues and propose a new positioning.

The next challenge was – how to present these approaches – especially since these were founded upon ongoing faulty practice. Many of us opined that we should develop the pitch building upon their successes from ongoing practices, and recommend our solutions as a way to take them to higher levels.

However, being closer to knowing the CMO, our senior colleague chose to be bold, and started the pitch by challenging the ongoing practices. It opened up the hornet’s nest! Too many questions, e.g. on what basis the approaches were thought to be wrong, who’s the analyst, what kind of airlines experience we had, how many years the team has put in doing its job, etc. etc.

Though the questions were politely tackled, must we ask how the pitch went further? Fault finding at every stage! We were waiting to finish the pitch and return!

The Cement Brand Case

This happened very recently when I met an outgoing CMO of a Cement Co. He was looking for retainer based consultants to provide marketing services to support the growth of the brand – esp. in light of a new plant on the horizon. After the usual niceties about our category and services knowledge and expertise, came in the question of how we see the Cement brands communicating in the market.

Any industry professional would know that in the Cement industry, the buyer is most often not the end consumer – masons using the cement are! And there’s a vast difference in the demographics and psychographics between the two of them! Therefore in communication terms, it poses a challenge to create visual communication that talks to the buyer, while develops stronger assurances to the end-user.

Nevertheless, we rightly analyzed the competition, identifying the ones which stood out, developed common connections and gave assurances to both sets of customers. And then we were also blatant about our prospect’s brand not being able to connect much to the buyer.

Needless to say the CMO didn’t like this very much. We did not go past the screening round! The feedback gained later indicated that the CMO had internally expressed shock! How could anyone – who is not into the day-to-day operations of his million dollar business – could ever know what the customers want and how to talk to them! Or how could he even be more knowledgeable than his sales team!

Lessons Learnt

There’s one big lesson we learn from the 2 stories:

Never challenge client’s wisdom or his practices – regardless of whether they are doing bad for the company or the brands. You don’t wish to start off your journey with an ego issue!

Rather sugar-coat, honey-coat, cream-coat their past actions / fallacies while presenting your own ideas.

However, it also poses one big question! As a professional, mustn’t you aim for bettering client’s marketing efforts, generously infusing fresh blood & vigour, while proposing to safeguard and expand his market share?

Yes, you should, but with extreme caution, as it could challenge one’s core attitude of Complacency – whether it’s a Co. or an individual running the show! Curing Complacency is not easy, when one sticks to traditional ways of thinking. It needs a shift towards more innovative ways of thinking.

The Simple Art of Solving Problems

The famed inventor and the head of research for GM, Charles Kettering, once said “a problem well-stated is half-solved.” How many of us in the marketing / media / communications industry really care to heed this simple observation?Question words

We often come across many professionals, who are quite kind and quick enough to suggest solutions first. These could be as simple as from generating awareness, to as complex as kick-starting a growth for the brand through revenue generation. Most probably, the simple logic is that unless you’re able to offer solutions, nobody listens or respects you. Or sometimes, it could even be motivated by a wish to explore free-of-cost ideas from media / advertising / creative professionals.

The solutions in most of these cases, arguably, are driven by new business development objectives of the idea proposer, which justifies his time costs. While all this may continue, the whole process itself is a bit flawed! It fails to heed the rigour and vigour that characterize the Art of Defining the Problem.

A typical Case…

One of my prospective clients – then the national marketing head of a famous insurance brand – once called in the senior team members for a briefing. The one line brief was to launch an image campaign on TV within 3 months.

Naturally, asked about the need for such a campaign, and why TV only! What was the business / marketing problem he was facing? It turned out that his half-yearly accounts closing was round the corner, yet he was still far off from the target, in generating new buyers.

So far so good! But why did he think an image campaign on TV would accelerate sales? Because, he felt that a top of mind recall on a mass media like satellite TV will help in driving sales.

Now, insurance is a high involvement category. It’s usually is a matter of solicitation, and for this to happen, one really needs to work deeper, develop “assurance” values of the brand. It cannot (and should not) be treated like a toothpaste or a snacks brand, where top-of-mind recall at the shop level gains high priority.

Therefore we tried probing further, asking questions about its hero products, competitive advantages / disadvantages, the process of selling / mobilizing them through various channels, the core values of the brand and and above all its differentiator in the market. As expected, the director did not have the time (or most probably the necessary patience) for delving deeper into this.

Back in our office, on careful in-depth analysis, we discovered that in the past, the brand had experimented with every type of approach, to develop assurances of dependability. However, one or the other competitor was able to neutralize each of these approaches! As a result there was no specific differentiator available for the brand!

So the communication problem was clearly defined as a case of gradual loss of Identity within insurance category!

Once defined, the solution approach was very easy – i.e. developing a strong differentiator founded upon the core values of the brand, which would transcend competition, time, market forces, and would be very unique for the brand. Needless to add, when we presented our strategy, our esteemed client could not find any way to challenge our direction.

The Take Out

It’s a fact that while every advertising problem starts as a business problem, not every business problem ends up with an advertising solution. Therefore for any marketing or advertising to be truly doing its job, it’s very important to dedicate some time and energies into the first step of Strategy Development – i.e. Defining the Business Problem.

This problem is not just restricted to an “attitudinal” or an “image” issue – but there’s a commercial reason associated with it. While working on it, one needs to be a detective – i.e. sequentially following the analytical rigour – as well as be a doctor – i.e. utilizing the value of experience while marrying the analytical with the imaginative skills.

One needs to be assertive, asking probing questions on all fronts, to cross analyse, extrapolate and then synthesize data. Only then one would be able to truly identify the problem. Needless to say solutions follow fast! This is what I call “Art of defining a Solution”

How to make a good creative idea, GREAT!

As advertising professionals we love to claim that “we are in the communication business” – regardless of whether we are setting guidelines for fresh recruits, or making an impression with our clients or even when we are casually chatting to our co-travellers on a flight. However whenever it comes to making our presentations – long or short, pitch or regular, ideas or facts, creative or strategy, etc. – we often tend to forget this simple reality!

While there have been many suggestions / tips available online on how to make a “powerpoint” or “key-note” presentation more interesting, we rarely come across practical, workable tips to help our young, fiery creative professionals demonstrate their creative ideas.

Long ago, one of our very senior creative heads used to highlight the point that regardless of whether it’s a print, radio, or TV idea, every creative person must master the art of story-telling while presenting their ideas. Story telling helps to build up interest, creates suspense and makes the audience realize the true potential of an idea.

For example, while presenting the idea for a print ad, he used to take off from the communication strategy, outlining the approach for message strategy, and then introduce the visible clue that captured the central idea. The clue could be a typo treatment, or a sketch, or the main visual of the ad. And then talking about how it would lead to the main message (verbal / non verbal) he would reveal the full creative idea in its totality. By this time the client was already sold to the idea.

I came across so many young and bright creative professionals, who lose out while presenting their print creative. And more often, I have come across people who present their TVC script / idea in “Audio”-“Video” format, reading out each section as if it’s a chore! By the time the script is over, the audience starts wondering: “what was the big idea?”

TVC is almost like a 3D presentation – in the sense that apart from visual and aural inputs one also starts getting a 3rd dimension – that of a vibration, feeling or empathy with the characters or elements used in it. This 3rd dimension is absent in a TVC script, which needs to be re-created while presenting the idea. Otherwise the idea gets canned!

How many creative professionals know, or more importantly practice, these principles? Once, a senior creative professional demonstrated the power of his creative idea, by enacting his whole 30 second TVC live, by performing the role and action of the central character of the film, all by himself!!!

This TVC was about a phone with a theft-tracking feature. To demonstrate the TVC, first he spoke about how the scene opens, and who’s the central character. Next started the story, by started enacting all the things the character was supposed to be doing in the film – i.e. snatching the phone, jumping out of a bus, running through myriad obstacles / situations to get away as far as possible with the stolen phone, etc. And then he stopped, talking about the reveal, or how the film ends, highlighting the USP of the phone.

Now who wouldn’t get sold to this kind of demonstration? And how many of our young creative people take the pains to do this?

All ideas are, in a way, good ideas! However, it requires the passion, storytelling ability and demonstration to make some of the ideas come alive, and be one great idea!

Do you have it in you to innovate?

While I was commuting to office today, listening to Radio One’s morning drive show, I came to know that “Innovation” is the buzzword that has survived many decades now. The program section I was listening to had Sandeep Menon – the country marketing director of Google – talking about how innovation is a culture and environment in his company. He also added that perhaps due to its innovation culture, Google receives almost 10,000 resumes on daily basis!

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Google’s innovation is not something new… I have been hearing about it since the start of this millennium, through many of the news reports. However the subject gained momentum when people started talking more of it every day through the web 2.0 – which started making a bang in 2005-06. Perhaps the industry in which Google operates, gave it a head start in doing what it does best… i.e. innovating in every aspect of its business – not just in its searches.

However, the point I wanted to talk about is “Innovation” in general. What is it after all? Is it creativity? Is it “being different”? Is it thinking “out of the box”? Let’s explore a few definitions…

  • The introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device (Merriam Webster)
  • A new method, idea, product, etc. (Oxford)
  • The application of new solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs. (Wikipedia)

What we have here is that as long there’s a new idea, method or a product, we have something called “Innovation”. By definition, it opens up immense possibilities, among all of us – not just restricted to people whose job-description is “innovation” – e.g. Director Global Innovation, Creative Technologist, Creative Director, etc. Anybody can innovate. Anybody can train himself/ herself to think innovatively, as long as there’s a new idea or method or a product / service is created, in doing so.

Many of us however do not accept this. Recently I fell into an awkward situation of expressing the above thought to a creative director. And lo! The person became extremely defensive… “I strongly feel that the idea of teaching/ training creativity is crap”… “creativity is natural…” “How can you teach a person to draw if he cannot hold the brush…” “Creativity is God Gifted… one can’t teach someone to sing…” etc. etc.

Frankly, while his arguments may sound to have some amount of truth, the same can be counter-argued smoothly. What’s important to understand and accept is that “Innovation” or “Creativity” is something which builds upon / comes as a result of something that’s natural. One cannot train someone to create a voice or hold a brush or tap a foot, unless he / she does it naturally. This comes from basic ability or competence of the individual.

However, one can definitely help shape things up, based upon his / her level of acquired competence. One can really teach an individual how to use his brain or limbs in a certain way so that he’s able to innovate… isn’t it?

At least I’d like to believe so… what about you?

UPDATE – The Global Innovation Index ranks India the 66th in terms of scale of innovation – much lower than even Hong Kong or Singapore. The rank has gone down by 2 points since 2012. However, India features among top 5 in innovation efficiency.  Are we very slowly running out of our creativity and innovation?

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