In 2015, social and digital media agency Social Wavelength joined the J. Walter Thompson network as Mirum, in India. Its chief marketing officer John Baker speaks with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about the indispensable role of technology in marketing, why growing digital spends is not bad news for TV, rethinking digital and more. Excerpts:
How has the first year in India been?
Since the India launch, we have seen continued growth and maintenance of excellent management. We are seeing clients, from other geographies even, asking for services. We are happy with how the last year has gone financially, in terms of delivery and reputation.
India is similar to what we see in Mexico, Indonesia and Vietnam. In some of the markets like the US, Singapore and London, there is a big appetite for high price point business transformation. That means bringing technology to revisit all digital touchpoints in the entire marketing spectrum. This is why we have partnerships with Adobe, Sales Force, etc. That type of business transformation is not as frequent in the Indian market at present. What we want to see is that in markets with core businesses — social content and digital marketing — we bring in our business transformation and experience mindset. This depends on the operating landscape.
One can do social, but one knows that Facebook now charges for it. What we also know is that what works really well on Facebook is custom audiences, and when you have that, you start asking yourself what is the full experience you want to achieve? Someone searches, visits a website, remind her on Facebook, bring her back to the website, trigger an email — that’s the experience. When you do that, you are approaching your client to say that we understand that you want an editorial calendar or you are trying to do three campaigns a year but we would like to talk to you about a different way of marketing.
Does this hold true across markets?
That’s the irony. There’s a compression happening. The same challenge exists in the US and the UK. Our target is investing not only in triggering email communication but being able to create content elements on websites, mobile sites, Facebook posts or Tweets. It’s not like they have sold it to everyone in the US and now they have come to India. They are selling it at the same pace in other markets.
Reports suggest that by 2020 digital spends will overtake that of TV. How do you see that impacting the US business?
I have worked in the UK market for 10 years and we have seen times where people went, “Hey, digital surpassed cinema!”, “Hey, digital surpassed coupons! Or radio!” TV, though, continues to be a very important medium. Personally, I feel, and to some extent Mirum as well, that it is not so much that digital will surpass TV but that TV will become a digital medium. This is when you have to ask, when people go from print to tablet, what is the model that goes with that change? Well, you still think about CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) and increasing creative advertising alongside content. But when you are on the tablet you get personalisation, targeting, animation, click-through and ad tech.
What happens when video goes from a broadcast stream to a smart set-top box (delivered by cable, digital TV or OTT)? You still need to land a message that needs to have an emotional impact and create a video. But you also need more variance, and must think of how to target people. And then comes the technology that you will need to execute all this.
Which services are getting traction?
From Mirum’s standpoint, we are seeing a lot of interest in technology that allows access to a lot of multiple touchpoints. The interest in social and content remains strong. Social is going through a change. There’s a bit of fatigue with the media metrics where publishers are thinking whether they are only about publishing content and are trying to shift to be more direct. And on the other hand, you see banners trying to raise awareness about something rather than direct selling. This is really evident in New Mexico, India, South Africa — markets which are turning out to be mobile-first or mobile-only.
Did entering the Indian market require tweaking your business strategy?
We don’t enter markets with an American mindset. In each of the markets we are in, there is real depth. That is because we have brought in entrepreneurs that have been building agencies in Brazil, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Helsinki. The Mirum team is changing its offering here a bit as it moves from being Social Wavelength to being Mirum.
The growth potential in India is really high in terms of sheer size and the mobile-first shift. Globally, we believe that technology and creativity can do wonderful things together. We are sitting in a market with the deepest trained technical capabilities. That human capital has been trained by Wipro, Accenture or Infosys so we need slightly different teams but the technical talent is there. Agencies need to face the fact that marketing is getting more technical. We believe that 30% of our staff should be technical. All these factors are reasons for estimating a huge potential in India.
Is the awards fraternity adapting to the kind of digital work that’s coming in, given the increasing use of technology?
In the awards world, there is a bit of agency name and category blindness happening. There is no straight-jacketing on the awards front. Clients are still wrestling by asking agencies — what are you really good at, what technology do you use for social, how do you structure your creative team etc. That is when you have to bring facts to the table. We are seeing clients that are very sophisticated about buying digital. Clients who understand what it means when you say you have a UX team or you don’t. Fifteen years ago, nobody would ask whether you have a Scrum-certified project manager. The sophistication of clients is constantly rising and so is their ability to see behind the curtains.