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A quick primer on how to ride the digital wave to success

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AUDIENCE: Audience dispersion will increase and so will the challenge of reaching them in the digital space. More and more audiences will lock into specific interest streams and social groups, thereby necessitating the need to map and create audience interest-based outreach initiatives.

BRAND BANTER: Social media channels provide brands with opportunities to engage with customers. It helps to give the brands a more human face and also an opportunity to gain visibility. But too much of brand banter is sometimes, just too much. A brand must stay true to its personality and not overdo the banter bit.

CONTENT: The chaff will overwhelmingly dominate the wheat as brands continue to seek to win the “content marketing” war. The result will be dramatic content blindness as users shut out content by muting streams and brands. Smart businesses will focus on winning share of context rather than simply chasing a share of (content) voice.

DATA ANALYSIS AND PARALYSIS: The biggest boon of digital, its measurability is also a bane. Smart marketers need to know what is important to measure, the critical data points to track and improve and also what to ignore. Data is a great thing, but too much of it can become overwhelming too.

ECOMMERCE: The Amazonization of ecommerce is here, with the big players getting bigger, and the smaller ones either getting swallowed by the dominant players or simply fading into oblivion. For businesses looking to exploit ecommerce, it would mean building stronger brand preferences and using the big ecommerce players as a distribution and sales partner, through a newer symbiotic ecommerce play.

FOLLOWERS: Numbers alone — fans, followers, likes, engagement — will mean less and less. Reach without relevance will lose even more relevance. Less will be more — with a better focus on the less making up for the numbers. Quality will be the holy grail to win fandom.

GOOGLE: While it will remain the elephant in the room and hard to ignore, it will start feeling the heat from Facebook in the absence of a strong social play as businesses will go wherever consumers congregate. The nature of search will continue to move from the search bar to wherever users are, and smarter content delivery will further blur the lines between editorial and advertiser content

HYPERLOCALIZATION: Will lead to better hyperlocal sales and marketing programmes. Smart businesses will define and pursue zipcode cluster-based marketing rather than regional or state-level initiatives.

IDEAS, INTEGRATION AND INFLUENCER MARKETING: Digital is not an island unto itself. The glue that will make it work will remain strong ideas and their smart and seamless integration across channels. On-ground digital activation will trump pure play online digital. Influencer marketing is another favourite flavour of marketers. While reaching audiences through influential users or experts is important, identifying influencers with real influence and high credibility rather than merely lots of followers on social media will make the difference between a successful and mediocre influencer marketing campaign.

JIO-FICATION: Growing access to data-driven mobile devices thanks to the widespread adoption of Jio will increase the potential reach of digital marketing beyond the top metros and towns and take it into the vast hinterlands of India. Mobile-first internet access also means brands will have to consider a mobile-centred rather than a website-centric approach to digital marketing.

KNOWLEDGE: While it is important to have knowledge of the various digital channels and how to use them effectively, it is even more important to start with knowledge of one’s audience and understand what makes them tick. This outside-in understanding coupled with the knowledge of digital channels and digital consumption trends is what can help a brand turn a mere campaign into a real business value driver.

LEAD GENERATION AND NURTURING: Lest one believes that digital marketing is only good for B2C brands, nothing is further from the truth. Used well, digital marketing can be a crucial sales and marketing lever for B2B brands, both in generating leads and in nurturing them through the longer buying cycles such businesses have.

MONEYS: Businesses will realize the importance of focused spends that deliver a digital escape velocity to their campaigns and brands, rather than simply spreading their eggs across many baskets. Greater spends on dynamic outreach rather than creating and maintaining digital presences will separate the smart from the rest.

MOMENT MARKETING: It has become trendy for brands to jump onto what is trending or in the news and try and ride the buzz around the event. Done well and in a manner relevant to what the brand stands for and its personality, it can help. Otherwise, it merely would descend into being about cute puns and clichés.

NOISE: The cacophony created by growing content streams and user participation and growing residual digital deadwood will have the effect of consumers tuning out more and more. And businesses who will win the digital ears of these consumers will be those that add smart sounds, not louder noise to the cacophony.

ON-THE-GO: Undoubtedly, mobile digital will continue to rule the digital highways. This will be driven by a combination of the urge of people to interact with others and to get what they want wherever they are, and the immense possibilities of hyper-localization for targeting and transactions.

PARTNERS: The smarter way to manage one’s digital programmes will be by putting together and leveraging an on-demand agile digital partners’ ecosystem rather than building one internally. This will ensure the digital initiatives benefit from the best of the best and evolve as opportunities do. Better synergies across channels and even businesses in a group will only improve efficiencies and outcomes all around.

QUICK RESOLUTION: Yes, quick responses alone to customers is passé. The expectations of users have risen and will keep rising. Serving this need will mean that businesses will have to realign the fundamental ways they are designed to deliver solutions to customers. Customer resolution management will influence customer relationship metrics for businesses.

REFERRAL AND RETENTION: Will soon become the ‘R’ in CRM programmes as smart businesses will seek to grow their influence via the influence of their customers, through their extended social and real networks. Early indications in this direction are already evident from how businesses in e-payments and hyperlocal delivery are going about customer acquisition through referrals.

SOCIAL: A viewpoint on digital marketing without explicitly naming social would be deemed incomplete! We are seeing social media convergence, where the best features and functionalities will be offered by virtually everyone. Already, the lines between Snapchat and Instagram are blurring, as are those between Facebook and LinkedIn. Consumers will start becoming platform- agnostic but choose to go wherever their social networks of friends and acquaintances reside.

TRANSFORMATION: Another popular buzzword in digital, we will see smart businesses transforming mindsets and breaking down the walls of legacy. Rather than hoping that a set of digitally enabled initiatives can transform their businesses alone, a more agile, multipronged effort will show real results, quicker. Investments will shift from building stuff to plug-and-solutions with a heightened customer-oriented outreach-based focus.

U-TALS: These refer to personalized portals, which are customized by consumers based on their preferences. Done right, these will take apps to the next level and start to address the malaise of dropping usage level and abandonment that plagues most apps after the initial installation euphoria. Think Amazon, where every customer virtually has a web experience that is uniquely theirs.

VOICE: In a digital world filled with increasing levels of bots, fake content and abuse, the quality of the voice that a business and its brands use are increasingly important. Quality refers to the authenticity, consistency and availability to interact and respond. The bedrock of what a brand stands for must form the core of its voice, even in the digital and social space. Else, businesses risk brand voice schizophrenia.

WEBSITES: Websites should no longer be seen as a singular shrine to a brand but should be the seamless and dynamic amalgam between its owned, earned, paid and shared presences. The lines between these are fading and that is a new reality that businesses must accept to stay relevant.

X: The X factor in how a business uses digital will differentiate the leaders from the herd. A focus on creating next practices — not simply emulating best practices or past benchmarks — will keep brands ahead of the digital curve. To put it another way, the X factor will be the jhakaas element that businesses will seek.
(Credit to Anand Mahindra, who recently spoke of the role of jhakaas for businesses, saying the Jhakaas mindset is about thinking outside the box to 'create' something truly unique and awe-inspiring.)

YOUTH: Yes, the millennials. While they may not be the consumers for all businesses in, they certainly form the most important influence group for most purchases. And will be consumers of the future. Make millennial focus a special focus. And keep Gen Z in mind too, especially for brands where pester power rules.

Z: It is impossible to write the last word on Digital Marketing. But what is clear, is that if businesses ignore the key digital markers and trends taking shape, they will miss out on the golden opportunity to turn digital to their advantage and make a key lever of their business success.

Contributed by Ashok Lalla, an independent Digital Business advisor to Mahindra Partners