In a time when smartphones have become ubiquitous and social media a necessity, new additions to the traditional digital platforms of Facebook and Twitter were inevitable. A clutch of new-age platforms now dot the digital landscape, and are gaining patronage from users rather rapidly. And why not? According to a recent report by IAMAI and KPMG, the country will see a growth from 200 million internet users in 2013 to over 500 million internet users by 2017. This sharp growth suggests a rising tech savvy audience, which has to be wooed through different platforms.
Brands, no doubt, are excited. The growing number of internet users and the fact that many of them are spending much more time on the internet has caused a lot of brands to refocus their strategies on digital advertising — an area that has been woefully neglected. As V Narayanan, chief growth officer, Motivator, points out: “India has around 28% online penetration, while ad spends share for digital is only 9.5%. This shows that spends can definitely be increased.”
Apart from increased spending, brands must bear in mind that context and timing are crucial on this medium. For this, they need to increasingly be aware of current events and tailor their strategies accordingly. For example, Ola cabs recently deployed boats, along with professional rowers, to rescue flood-affected people in Chennai. This was in response to a meme that was posted on Twitter. Needless to say, the gesture did wonders for the brand’s image that
perhaps more conventional promotions may not have provided.
The other advantage with the digital space is the plethora of data available to brands today to mould their strategies accordingly. As Kartikeya Tiwari, head of business development at Social Kinnect, says: “Data will always be the business driver. The kind of verified data and statistics one can get from the (digital) medium is light years ahead of all other mediums which are mostly projections, surveys or disputed data sources.”
A world beyond Facebook
The attraction of the digital medium is the variety that it offers. Each platform, be it Facebook or Twitter, offers a unique advantage to the brand. Facebook provides an opportunity to target desired customers by optimising creative messaging coupled with a call to action feature, while Twitter — the conversation platform — is more adept in shaping the brand’s personality. It is also a great platform to leverage conversations around TV shows and live events like cricket matches.
The other thing to note is that digital mediums can also be deployed simultaneously to create a multiplier effect. Instagram, for instance, lets a brand take pictures and videos, which can be shared on a variety of other social networking platforms. Other mediums like Pinterest encourage micro-targeting, as this enables brands to target consumers based on their likes and interests, expressed through their ‘pin’ boards. This ensures that brands could have a virtual store on this platform with their catalog.
While these mediums are no doubt exciting tools, Facebook and Twitter still remain the best way for brands to target today’s youth. The reason to opt for these platforms is simple: they have been around the longest and are constantly evolving to enhance user experience. Also, one cannot ignore the numbers. Facebook boasts of the biggest user base in India (118 million), leading the digital race by quite a distance. It is also one of the most advertising friendly platforms as well, because of its targeting options, sales support and analytics. This is why most brands have a Facebook page in addition to their websites.
Having said that, one cannot ignore other visual marketing platforms. Brands that have moved on to the Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat platforms have a higher level of engagement and visibility. For instance, Vista Rooms, a start-up for budget hotel accommodations in the Tier-II, Tier-III markets, recently created an app on Instagram to leverage on its unique tagging feature.
“It’s important to stay relevant with your target audience with appealing imagery and correct hashtag usage. What we do better than the others is that we focus not only on social value but also on the functional value of Instagram,” says Ankita Sheth, co-founder & head of partnerships, Vista Rooms.
If a brand is leaning towards targeting a younger audience, Instagram and Pinterest are the best social media platforms. They not only grab the consumer’s attention, but also get them to engage with the brand on a larger scale. With new product launches, strategic digital marketing plans, brand messaging shifts and emerging partnerships, these social media networks are well positioned to act as the new-age gateway for content discovery.
Take Maybelline India, which is a recent convert to Instagram. After establishing its presence on Facebook and Twitter, Maybelline saw a huge potential for growth on the photo-upload platform. “Instagram, with its 100% reach, is a key medium for a beauty brand such as ours since we want to drive trials and build brand imagery,” says Pooja Sahgal, general manager — marketing, Maybelline New York India. Through a campaign on the platform aimed to build anticipation for the upcoming Colossal range by Maybelline New York India and an exclusive e-commerce launch, called the Colossal Eye Kit, the brand believes it reached its target audience much more effectively.
Similarly, Chumbak, a quirky lifestyle brand, wants to keep its image personal and relatable, an image social media has promoted. The brand which initially focused on Facebook and Instagram has now managed to create buzz through its Twitter handle and Pinterest boards.
Despite the increase in activity, analysts believe that many brands are still not using the social media platform as effectively as they could. As Vivek Prabhakar, co-founder & CEO, Chumbak, says, “A lot of the younger brands have figured out the digital mediums but are not using it enough to talk about who they are.” In other words, many brands seem to use the mediums to sell products and not necessarily tell stories of who they are and what they love, which they need to do because that is what social media is about.
Living Foodz (earlier Zee Khana Khazana) seems to have learnt that lesson. The brand which hopes to capture its audience (both men and women across all age groups in the urban digital household) through social media, has launched specific content for its target group telling them who they are. “Instagram is a highly visual platform and so we have aimed at creating content specific for it through our InstaCookBook and InstaFlip innovations. These appeal to the audience on that platform,” says Amit Nair, business head, Living Foodz.
However, not all endeavours have been success stories. Though brands like Zomato, Anthrapologie, Red Bull and many more have managed to create content which is engaging, sometimes the digital campaigns have failed. Take the case of DBS Bank. In 2014, the brand launched an online campaign called Chilli Paneer. The campaign told the story of a young man from Singapore and a young Indian woman who met by chance at a DBS ATM in Mumbai. The woman, who recognised the man from his food blog, confessed that she was a fan of his and struck up a conversation. The couple ended up spending time together, with the woman harbouring dreams of running her own restaurant one day, while he needed to join the family business.
Experts believe that the campaign, though heartwarming and entertaining, failed to link back to the product — the bank. Though the brand (through the ads) wanted to showcase how banking and the courage to take financial decisions was at one’s finger tips, this message was completely lost on the digital audience. The reasons for this failure showed the dangers of over-complicating the message, a lesson some brands still need to learn.
Are we there yet?
Over the past decade, there has been a paradigm shift in the way brands and marketers communicate with online users, thus altering the way in which consumers consume such communication. Thus, there is a lot of scope for improvement in terms of the way agencies adapt to the new technologies and link them to the brand. So, today while we are trying to utilise the online medium in the best way possible, we still need to find out a way to effectively bring together creativity, media and technology and leverage them for brands.
As Sanjay Shetty, senior VP, brand platform, Asymmetrique says, “Digital strategies are getting more complex with more platforms being added on. Brands need to respond in real time on these channels and most of them aren’t geared up for that. So that’s the challenge; it requires a considerable investment to do that.”
The other challenge for brands is that with more and more companies jumping onto the digital bandwagon, brand recall and attention span has decreased. Also, although ad spends have increased, creativity across social media platforms hasn’t. Many Indian brands still consider digital strategy as just an extension of their traditional advertising.
But whether one likes it or not, digital marketing is not a luxury but a reality, if a brand wants to stay relevant in today’s hyper-crowded Indian market. The question is: how many of them are willing to make that transition?