Digital is the future, but is that future here yet?
We are swamped with statistics and trends around digital - be it the growth in users online, access devices such as smartphones and tablets, the increasing popularity of various social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the emergence of new social platforms, the use of technology to reach people on-ground and in-store, the growth of online paid media, the shifts in content types being consumed online... everything happening and not happening online is being watched keenly and interpreted with an eye on the future.
So I will not dwell on the numbers and their trajectory, but instead capture the essence of the outlook that marketers in India have on digital marketing. Naturally, there will be exceptions to this outlook, and it is important to remember that my views are not the result of a formal survey but based on my many interactions with several CMOs in the course of my work as a digital brand builder, and my reading of their mind state with regards to digital marketing.
1. Digital is central to marketing conversations but still peripheral to marketing planning.
Everyone accepts that digital must form a part of their marketing and communication programs. However, except for a few categories and some forward-looking marketing folks, digital eventually comes into the picture after the "big idea has been cracked" and often, after most of the marketing budget has been committed to television and print.
2. Digital is seen as a channel of spreading the marketing messages and campaigns.
Rather than look at digital in a holistic manner and determine the role it can play in achieving marketing goals, most marketers see it as another channel to push out their messages. This leads to the rush to upload TV commercials on YouTube and share press campaigns on Facebook.
3. Social media is the newest flavor of digital.
And that's making marketers rush to get "social." This usually entails creating a presence and then using this to push messages, and seek that Holy Grail of social media "engagement." Again, since social media management is often outsourced to specialized social media agencies, marketers end up thinking "social is digital," and yet wondering where they are missing a trick in leveraging the full power of digital for their brands. Even when it comes to social, determining what real engagement is and how the in-media social metrics co-relate to larger brand metrics leaves most marketers flummoxed.
4. More numbers is better.
Since most marketers themselves are adoptees of the digital space, and often guided by enthusiastic entrepreneurial digital partners, they fall into the trap of seeking numbers. And deriving comfort in growth of page views, downloads, fans, followers, shares, likes, and retweets. Their idea of digital success is driven by growing numbers, till they realize that often these increasing numbers do little to support their overall marketing goals.
5. Positivity tinged with paranoia.
Hearing about the growth of the digital space and its adoption by more and more people, as well as having tasted success in building a fan base provides marketers with a sense of positivity regarding digital. However, this is mixed with paranoia. The paranoia of losing control over their brands, the paranoia of people saying bad things about their brands, and the paranoia of not being able to cope with an increasingly impatient and vocal audience.
6. Digital is the future, but is that future here yet?
This half-and-half mindset of marketers makes it that much harder for them to decide how far they will go with digital. And whether the time is right for them to commit budgets and pride of place to digital. The result is that digital is not used in the manner that delivers its full potential for brands. And this in turn leads to digital continuing to be at the periphery of marketing campaigns for most brands.
So how should marketers change their outlook to digital? What should they do to make digital work harder for their brands? I will share a perspective on this during my keynote session on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at SES New Delhi. Look forward to seeing you there!
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Ashok is an award-winning global and regional Digital, Brand and Social Media Marketing leader with nearly 20 years of client and agency-side business experience on brands that cut across the spectrum from one-cent candies to million-dollar hotels stays. He has been passionately leveraging Digital to grow brands since 2000. Ashok is also the founder and author of 'The Future of Digital for Brands', a highly regarded global online community of over 3000 marketers spanning 65+ countries. You are welcome to join the conversation around The Future of Digital for Brands. He can be found tweeting at @ashoklalla.
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