Look at China to see the future: Jonny Stark, Razorfish

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Published: May 5, 2015 1:03:42 AM

Jonny Stark is senior vice president, Asia Pacific – head of brand and real time marketing at interactive agency Razorfish.

Jonny Stark is senior vice president, Asia Pacific – head of brand and real time marketing at interactive agency Razorfish. He has more than a decade’s worth of experience specialising in digital and social media and has developed strategies for brands such as Samsung, eBay, Emirates and McDonalds. In this interview with Anushree Chandran of FE BrandWagon, Stark talks about how brands can transform themselves into curators and producers of engaging content. Edited excerpts:

Would you define yourself as an experiential agency?

We are actually working at the moment on a new positioning for ourselves and are looking at re-branding and re-designing the products and services and the way in which we talk about ourselves as a business. We are definitely thinking about what we are as a business. I was reading an article recently on whether we should get rid of the term “digital agency”. All agencies are essentially digital now. The more important question is which way do you cut digitally? Are you centered on the post purchase and the customer engagement side of it? Or are you about innovation and user focused design? Everyone is talking about digital transformation. But really, you can take the digital out of it and just keep it as transformation.

To what extent does Razorfish’s mandate overlap with sibling digital firms within the group such as Sapient or DigitasLBi?

There is a holding structure called VivaKi within the Publicis Group, which incorporates Starcom and Zenith and digital companies DigitasLBi and Razorfish. That is really an entity in its own right, selling products and services for media specifically. But with the acquisition of Sapient, there was discussion around creating a new organisational structure where you can have DigitasLBi, Sapient and Razorfish. It is in the spirit of communicating that we have all these different brands in our portfolio and the strengths of each. I can’t really say much on this because that is a conversation is happening at the top of the organisation. I am however excited about what we can achieve collaboratively. Looking at Sapient and having competed with them over the years, I can say that they come from the technology side of the business; Razorfish is about creating interesting experiences while DigitasLBi specialises in customer relationship management (CRM). With those three businesses, we have the potential to own a very large part of the digital market globally.

Are you happy with your India operations ?

We acquired Neev in Bangalore. India has always been a great technology driven centre. But I do think that India is dismissed as an outsourcing hub. We would like to build more revenue around our creative offering as well, rather than this just being a technology driven business. To an outsider’s point of view, India’s always been a place where we can build stuff, as opposed to the idea that India is a place where we find innovation and new ideas. That place is taken by China. But the good news is that within India, we are seeing a steady increase in people coming back from outside the market. They are experiencing the evolution of digital in other markets and bringing back the thinking here.

You’ve said that brands need to think more like publishers. Why do you think so?

I do have a journalism and public relations background. The fact is that brands do need to think on their feet like publishers. In the last few years, quite a few people have said that brands should be publishers. So you see brands rushing off, trying to desperately publish realms and realms of content, but the problem is they are always going to publish brand content. It is always —“Let me tell you a story about my product.” But people don’t want to read stories about a particular brand. You have to relate the content to their interests. My problem with brands being publishers is that they go about it the wrong way. They bore you. They spam you with loads of content that you don’t want to read. As a publisher, you tend to think that week to week, what are the different items that you as a brand can facilitate or potentially co-create. I actually provide something genuinely useful to a consumer. A great example is of Farm State Nation, an American insurance company, which produces a lot of content on how insurance can make people’s lives easier.

Could you talk about Razorfish’s work on Unilever?

Unilever launched a YouTube channel filled with hair-styling tutorials and segments, marking the first time that the company has promoted multiple brands in a single campaign. But it talks about individual brands; its communication is all much segmented and silo-based. It all started with the many searches consumers had undertaken on hair care. We were talking to Unilever and Google on how we can create content that answers those questions. As the programme evolves, what Unilever is trying to do is to combine the three C’s —content, community and commerce.

What are the learnings from China?

Our chief growth and transformation officer Vincent Digonnet has always maintained that one must look towards China in order to see the future. China has what I call the second mover advantage. It has its own version of Pinterest where people can pin what they like, chat and also shop, all on one platform. Facebook is trying to do exactly its payments feature for the messenger application. Platforms like the Chinese Pinterest best demonstrate where the West needs to go. The Chinese counterparts look at what everyone else is doing and they build on what’s built already.

How is retail transforming itself?

An e-commerce giant like Alibaba has unbelievable delivery systems and infrastructure. They can deliver all over China within 24 hours. The reason why Amazon is trying to launch its drone delivery service is because people want the products immediately. But again, we witness a blurring of lines .There are some markets where people want to

physically touch the product. We did some interesting work with Audi which straddled both the virtual and the real. We built a virtual showroom in places; you can’t have a showroom because of the cluttered environment which doesn’t enable test drives.

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