careers, clients, creative, insight

How I Moved From Creative To Client-Side, With Google…#truestory!

what-i-do-at-google

“Good! Good!! I can feel your interest!!!”

In the nearly three years since I joined Google India, I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what I do.

(And no, the designation doesn’t seem to help.)

I’ve also been asked, several times, about what it’s like for a creative director to move to the client side in a brand role.

And that’s why I thought it was time for a blog post to answer these questions and satisfy the world’s curiosity. And, as is my wont, to offer $0.02 worth of gyaan that may help you if you’re contemplating a similar decision.

(At this point, I suggest you step out for a bio-break, or a cup of coffee. This is going to be a #longread.)

“How did you get into Google?”

My journey to this point began more than two years before I actually joined Google. When I was working as Creative Head at Jack In The Box Worldwide, back in 2011.

I’ve been (and remain) a longtime Google and Android fan. I was among those who wept when Google Reader was shuttered; among those who found a reason to use Google Wave and other awesome Google services; and a very vocal advocate of Android.

I also followed Google’s creative work closely. Especially the awesome interactive experiences that the folks at Google Creative Lab built – cultural experiences built atop products, which made me fall in love with the brand all over again.

One night in bed, faffing on my laptop, I started chatting with my wife about how Google would be the one client I would kill to join. And about how perhaps they could use an agency Creative Director to help build great integrated marketing campaigns for the India market. On a lark, we navigated over to google.com/jobs – and was blown away to find that there was an opening for a similar role in Singapore.

With complete excitement, I swiftly polished up my CV and uploaded it to the job listing, said a prayer and called it a night.

And completely forgot about it for the next two years.

Cut to November 2013. I’m prowling the halls of a Delhi hospital, nursing my father-in-law. And an email from a Google recruiter pops up in my inbox. It seemed they had a role open in India, and my CV had come up in their database.

My first phone call, purely for screening, happened the next day from the hospital. I was then connected with a recruiter for a more serious conversation – the ball was rolling.

Nine interviews later – nine gruelling, thought-provoking and absolutely amazing conversations later – I bid adieu to home, Bombay. And the wife and I winged our way to Gurgaon, where we’ve been ever since.

“So what exactly do you do there?”

The role I was hired to play was a new one altogether for Google. So, I don’t hesitate to admit that it took me – and my colleagues – quite some time to figure out how to make it work. I walked in expecting to work like an in-house Creative Director. With the kind of responsibilities that an agency Creative Director bears. But I was mistaken. My designation – Brand Lead – pushes the in-house Creative Director envelope quite a bit further. And goes beyond a traditional brand marketing role, too.

I head up Brand & Creative Marketing for Google India, and am hence responsible for any and all creative work for Google India. This includes, primarily, our marketing campaigns. It’s my job to work with Product Marketing Managers to tell great stories for our products and initiatives, across every medium possible. TV ads, YouTube videos, digital, social, traditional media…you name it.

Apart from being as creatively strong as possible, it’s on me to make sure that the work we do is “on-brand”. That it reflects Google’s core values; that it looks, feels and sounds Google; and that it accurately reflects our brand mission of helping make information universally accessible and useful.

I lead the thinking on our social media strategy. I lead our creative agency relationships, identifying great partners to work with and managing them end-to-end. And, lastly, I look after a bunch of special projects that fall under Brand Marketing.

A lot of this sounds like a regular Creative Director job, I know. But here’s the difference:

I haven’t been hired to write the scripts, or craft the copy. That’s the job of our agencies. My job, as I see it, is to set the parameters, create the sandbox, in which our agencies can play. To be a bridge between us and them, thus guiding and shaping the work in a fluid, fast-moving environment. And, if ever needed, to put on my copywriter hat and work side-by-side with them.

There are several aspects to this. One: I work very closely on the brief. Making sure it’s clear, contextual, single-minded and inspiring. Trying to foresee the kind of work it will lead to. Two: I bring our different agencies (brand, digital, social) together to build a campaign that’s not just 360°, but truly integrated. Three: I work to make sure our brand and products are being depicted correctly. Four: At the risk of sounding immodest, I try to keep the benchmark high, pushing our agencies to consistently deliver work that’s truly worthy of Google.

The big difference that a creative person can make inside a client org is to bring creative agency knowledge into a client institution. It means that, as a team, we now have a better understanding of how a particular brief or feedback will impact the end product, with lesser room for miscommunication and misunderstanding. This leads us to sharpen our briefs, consolidate and hone our feedback, leading to better work, with fewer iterations.

I’d like to think I’ve also helped ensure that we’ve avoided the “agency v/s client” mindset that occasionally creeps into client minds, by being a bridge to and supporter of our agencies.

“Sounds great. What does it take to succeed at the role?”

Every person who takes on this kind of role is going to tackle it differently. I don’t believe one size fits all, but this is how I tried to make it work for me.

Your first priority should be to understand the organisation. Ad agency structures are pretty simple, and one always knows who one’s stakeholders are. It’s a lot more complicated at a client, especially one with the scale of Google.

Leadership isn’t about dictating a way forward; it’s about taking everyone forward together. Be a team player. Try to take your peers along. Most marketing managers don’t have the inside knowledge on how agencies and advertising work that you do. Few have been to a shoot. Few have built large-scale campaigns. Make them your friends and allies. Take the time to explain your point of view. Consult them for input on the work you’re doing, and take feedback constructively, making sure everyone’s on the same page from the start. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that it will save me time, money and heartache on every single project.

Great work depends humongously on the people doing it. One of the things I’m grateful for is having great partners to work with. They’re worth their weight in gold. The best agencies bring a great mix of humility and self-confidence to the relationship, are open to feedback, and willing to fight to see a good idea come to life. They learn from their mistakes, and are committed to helping you learn from yours. They’re keen for me and my team to learn and contribute more to the advertising process. And, most importantly, they’re not assholes.

The converse of this is that you need to really support your agencies. Be honest and transparent. Don’t shy away from glowing praise or constructive criticism. Stand up for them when I know they have a great idea, no matter what the opposition. Help them navigate the organisation. Don’t conduct business just over email and the phone. And pay them fairly – it’s the only way they’ll be able to give you the work that you want. 

Expect to stretch yourself in ways that you never have. On my first project, I handled everything, including deliveries to media. I negotiate with agencies, and draft their contracts. Not quite what an agency creative director is used to, but par for the course on the client-side.

The most important thing, though, is this: let go of your ego. Every creative person worth their salt has an ego, probably well-deserved. You have to realise that you’re surrounded by smart people who know their business better than you. And that you’re working with agencies (and creative icons) that collectively have far more wisdom than you alone. Be open-minded. Walk into office every day believing that there is someone else out there who can bring a new perspective and make your work better. It’ll help you get the best out of your agencies, and keep you from competing with them.

“Do you think I should also shift client-side?”

There isn’t a black-and-white answer to this. And there are several things to consider, notably the difference between working in an agency and on the client-side.

The first thing most people ask me is about the work-life balance. Truthfully, even though we work really hard, it’s been better for me than in my agency days. Even a 9-5 day is intense, simply because we go without the Counter-Strike breaks that agency folks take – and need to, frankly! That changes when we’re neck-deep in a launch, when my team and I work the same long hours as our agencies.

I’ve also been asked if I miss coming up with ideas and writing scripts. Well, I’m still coming up with ideas. All the time. It just happens before the brief, rather than after. I begin most projects with a mindmap full of cross-platform ideas, which we then build upon together. And I have occasionally put on my creative hat to help our agencies crack an idea or craft a script, so I do stay in touch with the trade I’ve learnt over the last 16 years.

The one slight doubt I had, which has disappeared over time, is this. Most agency creatives enjoy working on a variety of categories and brands, rather than just one. I did too. You learn a lot more than you would working on one category. And can implement successful ideas from one category for another too. You won’t get this freedom if you move client side. But, if you work for a company with as varied products and initiatives as Google, you do have a wide variety of things to work on.

Doubts and questions aside, I think you should just ask yourself one thing.

If there is a brand that you’re truly passionate about; whose purpose you truly believe in; whose products you’d publicly defend to the death; for whom you’ve secretly been coming up with portfolio ads; you may have found the client-side gig you’re looking for.

I know I’ve found mine.

As always, the views expressed here are personal and not intended to reflect those of my employer.

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content, creative, industry

Creativity In Content Marketing

I was recently invited by DMAi to speak at Global Marketing & Advertising Week (#GMAW15), on creativity in content marketing. Below is an adapted version of that speech.


A few years ago, when I was working at one of India’s most well-known content marketing agencies, life was very different.

Back then we really struggled to sell the idea of content marketing to clients. The idea of engaging audiences all-year-round with words, pictures and videos, with metrics that were tough to define, was always a struggle to sell.

We failed more often than we succeeded. But we succeeded just often enough to help bring content marketing into mainstream conversation.

We’ve come a long way since then, I think. We’re all working hard to come up with content to engage audiences in a connected world. To ensure that we look at all our communication through a content lens. To make it part and parcel of our marketing communication DNA.

We now have a few years’ experience behind us; we’re learning through trial-and-error and experiments that often fail; we’re learning from markets that are ahead of us; we’re getting better at this game.

So what do today and tomorrow hold for us?

A couple of years ago, I’d begin every brief by sitting down with my pen and scribble pad and saying, “Right. Let’s lead with with a blog post. That means I’ll need some social media posts to get people to it. Ooh, a hashtag would be nice, let’s do one of those too! #IsThisHashtagTooLong”

On my worst days, I’d even write down “run a contest” on that sheet of paper.

I could then walk away feeling pretty satisfied, pretty nice about myself. Time for a coffee break.

But today, when I’d look at that sheet of ideas the night before a presentation, I’d start sweating.

Because all of these have become hygiene. Because having a blog, or creating a hashtag, or running a contest, isn’t a content marketing idea. It’s become a format, another box you just tick.

Today, brands like yours are churning out this kind of content day in and day out. The Internet is flooded with it. As are my social media feeds. We’re already churning out content calendars and figuring out how to spark brand conversations during the Cricket World Cup.

It’s come to a point where each brand sounds absolutely no different from the next…and I can’t tell which is which just by looking at the content. Which, as you’d all know, is really not a good thing.

And so I ask myself, “In this sea of infinite content, where on any normal day of the week, 8 of the top 10 trending hashtags are brand conversations, where each headline is more click-baity than the next, what the hell is going to make my brand and my content really stand out?”

I’ve always believed that content is the ‘pull’ of marketing communications, rather than the ‘push’.

I believe that good content gets people coming back because it entertains, it inspires, it touches an emotional chord, it makes them rant and rage. Or it simply provides a utility or gives them information or education that they weren’t getting before.

Good content is also immensely shareable – because of the reasons I mentioned just now.

One huge, and often ignored, role of content is to generate positive earned media for the brand. There are huge synergies emerging between content marketing and PR, not just in terms of story dissemination but also in terms of story packaging.

I also believe that one can’t restrict content to words, pictures and videos that just wash over people sitting in front of a screen. Interactivity is key. And technology is the answer to immersing audiences deeper into a brand. Apps, games, platforms, devices – they all have a role to play in creating great content.

So, with all those filters in my head, I go back to “How do I stand out?”

The answer I’ve got to over the years is this:

Actions speak louder than words.

It’s a simple human truth, right?

We judge people – our friends, our leaders, our doctors, our wedding photographers – by that yardstick. By what they do, not what they say.

It’s the same for brands.

In a parity environment, what a brand does matters more than what it claims to do.

So, at this point in my life and career, I look at it this way:

Advertising is what you say.
Content is what you do.

Now, what do you mean by ‘do’?

I could, as a content marketer, ‘do’ a video. I could ‘do’ a blog post. I could ‘do’ an influencer engagement or ‘do’ a tweetup.

But that’s not what I mean. That’s just playing with words, right?

To me, ‘doing’ means refocusing on your core brand promise, and then living up to it in front of your audience. In whatever manner works best.

It means proving, every day, that you’re true to your words and promise. That you mean what you say.

It means focusing less on changing perceptions by making a claim; and more on changing perceptions by fulfilling or exceeding expectations.

It means being less of an interruption in people’s lives; it means positively impacting people’s lives through your products, services and brand.

One way brands can stand out in a cluttered, parity environment is to create content that proves – honestly, credibly and creatively – what they stand for. And thus start owning that space.

Across any screen you can think of.

Let me show you a piece of work from one of my favourite content marketing campaigns. Chrome Experiments were begun to push the limits of Web technology, to push the limits of Google’s Chrome Browser. And, to noticeably demonstrate how good the Chrome browser is.

The Chrome team didn’t just talk about being faster, or having more features, or being more developer-friendly. They just kept creating pieces of content that proved it. Over and over and over again. And today, many Chrome Experiments are being created every day by developers all over the world, who are not Googlers. Just people pushing the limits of what the technology can do.

One of my favourite content marketing brands in the world is Red Bull. Everyone knows that they stand for giving wings to athletes. But they don’t just support these athletes morally, or emotionally or financially. They create platforms for them to shine. They identify athletes, work with them and then co-create content that makes those athletes world-famous.

It’s easy for a food industry brand to stick to the conventional food industry metaphors. Blendtec has always been different. They have a core brand promise; they stick to it; and then they deliver on it in the most amazing, culturally-contextual ways possible.

India’s favourite beer is known for their baseline – The King of Good Times. Kingfisher have embraced technology to create content and experiences that offer a memorable good time to their fans.

It isn’t just B2C marketing that can benefit from this kind of an approach. Every year, around Christmas, the Publicis Groupe create a Christmas card that they put up online. Last year’s card was an interactive experiment designed to entertain – and also to subtly prove Publicis’ strengths in creative digital marketing.

I’ll end with a story that’s very close to my heart. Everybody’s talking about the great Indian e-commerce boom. Billion-dollar valuations, transactions-per-day, the payment ecosystem and an ever-increasing user base. Nobody – I repeat, nobody – was talking about the wheels that make this economy turn. Last year, during GOSF, we decided that we should do something special for people nobody cared about. To get them into the conversation and recognise their efforts. Because we believe that the web exists to improve the lives of all people.

So, the next time you brief your agency on a content marketing campaign, don’t ask them what you can say.

Ask them what you can do.

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campaigns, communication, content, creative, digital, how to

Seven Steps To Construct A Digital Campaign

Digital isn’t old enough to have theories. Or gurus.

The understanding of the medium, and how to use it to build brands, varies wildly. As a result, the planning and structure of digital campaigns is often a matter of guesswork.

The thing is, there is no single method to cracking a digital campaign. You can start with an idea, an objective, technology, data, a platform or the audience. Each method looks at the medium differently. Each method is equally correct.

Each truly great digital campaign has, however, some things in common. Let’s break those down into seven steps.

Seven steps to construct a digital campaign

The extremely complicated, ever-evolving, one-stop infographic of digital marketing.

 

Part 1: The Brief

In a medium that’s targetable, measurable and fast-evolving, writing a good brief needs to go beyond the basics.

Step 1: What do we want to say?

Nothing different from a traditional advertising brief. Have a single, clear message. If it can be differentiated from competition, excellent.

Step 2: Who is our audience and what do we know about them?

Digital allows one to segment and target by location, gender, age, browsing behaviour, interests, networks, content preferences, frequency of visits, online shopping habits, search history and much more.

Yahoo serves up over 6 billion unique versions of its home page based on this kind of segmentation and targeting.

Basically, digital allows you to put aside the bazooka and pick up a flyswatter when you have to kill a fly.

Forget the safety of numbers. Go for the effectiveness of tightly-segmented messaging.

Step 3: What do we know about their digital media habits that might help us crack this brief?

It’s time to drill down and slice-and-dice the data available to you. And it isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Figure out where your audience is spending most of their time online. Which devices they’re using. Which browsers. What they are talking about. When. What time of day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it one well-inferred nugget can lead to a brilliant campaign.

Knowing that mums are the biggest online shoppers in India helped us plan an entire campaign for a baby brand. Knowing that most of our aspirational audience surfs the Internet on tablets helped us build a website designed for touch. Knowing the frequency of visits helped us optimise messaging on a website.

The more you know about them, the better your solutions.

Step 4: What do we want them to say, feel or do as a result of this campaign?

Traditional advertising teaches that perception influences behaviour. In digital, behaviour can influence perception.

Case in point: Many people I know perceived Twitter as a waste of time. They thought it was confusing, and wouldn’t touch it. But when pushed by friends to use it, they got hooked. They now think Twitter’s the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Behaviour influences perception.

So think smaller. Break down a large objective into more everyday tasks. For example, replace build expertise for our skincare brand with get people to visit our website every time they have a skin-related query. You’ll find a smarter, more effective solution.

Part 2: The Creative

It isn’t as simple as writing a TVC and crafting the print, poster and outdoor. Our campaigns need to be viral, and that needs a different approach.

Step 1: The Story

Digital is a multi-screen platform. Each screen is different in terms of size, content and usage. It isn’t enough anymore to adapt the same message for each screen. Instead, it helps to think of your idea as a story. And use each screen differently, to tell different chapters of it.

There are three kinds of media we can use to tell our brand’s story; unabridged, unaltered, under our control.

Owned media — the website, the mobile app, any other platforms the brand may have created.

Paid media — banner ads, search ads, emailers, SMS.

And social media — which is, in my opinion, more leased media than owned.

Take the example of a fashion brand. One can use the website to showcase products; the blog to drive imagery; the mobile app to combine a loyalty programme, a virtual dressing room and personalised, location-aware content; targeted, contextual, paid media to tell people what the brand has to offer and drive them back to the website; and social media to help begin conversations around the product range and image.

One story, different screens.

Step 2: The Virality

There’s no point in having a great story if nobody’s hearing it.

Remember: the average user visits 89 websites a month. And has Liked 80 brand Pages on Facebook. And has 229 other friends filling his or her News Feed.

The only way your story will be heard above all this clutter is if you can find enough of the right people to help you broadcast it.

Social Influence Marketing refers to leveraging people’s influence on social media to broadcast and amplify your message.

However, they’re not going to tweet out your body copy. You have to give them something malleable that they can reshape to create their own unique content, while still staying true to your story. Their mashup of your story then goes out to their own followers, which exponentially increases your reach.

Earned media, of course, generally refers to news coverage. While a smart PR agency will naturally tap news media online and offline, there is merit in seeding your story among bloggers and smaller, perhaps category-specific, online channels. It’s a quick way to ensure more and more people know about your story.

Make sure your story has something in it that’ll help you get talked about. Then find the people who’ll amplify it for you.

Step 3: The Reward

Here’s the thing.

People are overloaded with information. It’s easy to miss something. It’s even easier to close a browser tab in irritation or absent-mindedness.

So, when someone clicks through to your campaign, be grateful. Very grateful.

I always like to give my audience a reward to show how grateful I am. The obvious way is through a contest, or gifts to loyal fans. However, I believe we can do more.

People come online to socialise, search for information, find a utility or just for entertainment. Make sure your campaign ticks one or more of those boxes, and you’ll have a reward worth coming back for.

The brand must have its reward as well. It could be crowdsourced content, new fans, time spent, leads generated, shares received, hashtags trended, what have you. Identify the rewards the brand will earn. And match them up against your objectives. If they don’t match, maybe you need to rework your campaign. For example, 100,000 new fans may not be a sensible reward if your objective is to get people to spend more with you than they already do, right?

These seven steps aren’t the alpha and omega of digital marketing. But, properly executed, they could help you develop better, brighter campaigns going forward.

This post originally appeared on afaqs! Campus.

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careers, creative, industry

Note To Self

Over the course of my eleven-odd years in advertising and digital marketing, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest bosses one could ask for. They’ve taught me not just how to do better ads, but also about how to be a great boss. So, every now and then, I find myself recollecting – and scribbling down – their words and deeds, trying to constantly teach myself how to be a better leader. Here are some of the notes I’ve written over the years – from my bosses to myself.

First: don’t worry about the boots you’re stepping into. You’ve been hired for a reason. Either you’ll continue where your predecessor left off. Or bring a new, much-needed perspective to things.

Be happy with what you’ve inherited. Change comes later.

Not every role needs you to change things around.

Give yourself time to judge the people you’re working with. Understand them first, form opinions later.

Spend time with each of your team members in your first couple of weeks. Have several meetings – with the whole team; art; copy; ACDs; ACDs + teams. Understand how they work and what work they do. Allow them to decide how they work, so long as it isn’t too out-of-sync with the way you work.

Get to know your team at a personal level. Have those non-work conversations. Every day.

Remember your own ambition: to build India’s best digital creative team.

Lead by example. Don’t waste a minute of your day. Work harder, think smarter.

Remember your principles:

  • Every brief is an opportunity to do great work for a brand. Aim for a great idea in every piece of work that crosses your desk.
  • Chase perfection in execution. Every word of copy, every element of art.
  • Every post, every tweet, needs to be perfect. Be ready to pick fights about this.
  • Aim to crack a beautiful idea every time. Something that people have never seen before. Something that’ll blow their minds.
  • Corollary: Sometimes the simplest ideas work best.

Compromising with yourself kills greatness. If there’s even the slightest hesitation in your mind, speak up. Take work to the client only when you’re thoroughly convinced by it. You aren’t here to win a popularity contest – you’re here to do great work.

When you’re assessing work, be frank. Be honest. Be brutal. But be constructive. Your team looks to you for the solution. Provide it.

You’re in digital marketing. And more often than not, you will need to move the client along to where you are. Be ready for fights, heartbreak, disappointment and long hours. You’re getting paid to deal with that kind of shit.

Don’t get trapped in your cubicle. Get up. Move around.

Shut the lid of your computer when you’re working on something. Twitter won’t do your thinking for you.

Get out of office to brainstorm more often.

Follow your own creative process. (Below is mine.)

  • Re-read the brief.
  • Do some research online. Soak in the world of the brief.
  • Make the words collide. Don’t stop making the words collide.
  • Refer to the Wall Of Tech.
  • Think visually.
  • Your idea needs to make people laugh or cry or whoop or feel ashamed – basically, evoke an emotional response.

Find inspiration around you. Open your mind to people, culture, design, technology, art.

The quickest solution isn’t necessarily the best. Wherever possible, take the time to think through your actions.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes when working on a brief. But don’t keep those shoes on for too long.

Drink lots of green tea at work. It calms you down. And reduces your cholesterol 🙂

Keep the focus on the work. But remember it’s talented, motivated people who can give you that. Focus on the people and the work will take care of itself.

Stay calm. Don’t yell. Unless you absolutely have to.

Praise in public. Criticise in private.

Don’t overdo the praise. Avoid the superlatives. Because when you then use a superlative, it’ll mean so much more.

When you’re interviewing a candidate, interview them like Google would. It’s easier to wait three months to find the right candidate than to hire the wrong one in a month.

Try to get people to work during office hours. Rather than before and after them. Creative people get inspired by the life outside the agency doors. And deserve to enjoy their personal lives too.

Be strict. Don’t be rigid and inflexible.

Your door always needs to be open.

You succeed when your team succeeds.

You need to protect your team.

Trust your team to get the job done. But be ready to step in at any point if things go wrong.

Collaborate. Get to know tech, media, search and everyone else. They’re just as special as you think you are.

Delegate. But always know what’s going on.

Run a weekly job stat meeting with the team. And daily ones with the ACDs.

Continue to give credit where it’s due. You don’t need to be seen as the writer on every job. And remember, your name appears on the credits by default – so make sure the work is brilliant.

And, lastly: if you’re not having fun, then you’re not doing it right.

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creative, digital, industry, trend

What’s Dead, And What’s Not

It’s become fairly fashionable in digital circles to pick on trends and describe them as ‘dead’.

And if you were to listen to every doomsayer out there, you’d probably believe that the digital marketing world was populated by brain-eating zombies.

Fortunately, to misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of certain deaths have been greatly exaggerated. So here is my take on what’s dead and what’s not.

The Digital Dead

The Digital Agency Is Dead

Doomsayers here, here and here.

Well, there’s no question digital agencies are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, not every digital shop has the ability to really think from a brand and business point-of-view. Most are still in the ‘engagement’ business, and spend their time coming up with different ways to give away iPads on Twitter.

The challenge is that the independent digital agencies in India have become acquisition targets for mainline agencies. Given time, mainline agencies will probably begin to truly integrate digital thinking into their mainline processes. Which means that digital shops may end up becoming nothing more than digital production houses.

The big “Unless…” here is that integration may happen the other way around. Where the digital shop may integrate video production, PR and event capabilities. They may start thinking from a brand and business perspective. And suddenly, they’ll be eating into the mainline pie.

Verdict: The digital agency isn’t dead…but unless they change their medication quick, they will pass on peacefully in their sleep.

The Full-Service Agency Is Dead

Obituaries here and here.

Sure, they’re coming under pressure from digital shops right now. But see above. Eventually, integration – whether driven by traditional agencies or digital agencies – will win out – from a creative, brand, business and economy point-of-view.

Verdict: The full-service agency is visiting the doctor regularly, and the pills are bitter, but the long-term prognosis is still good.

Email Marketing Is Dead

Eulogies here, here and here.

Yeah, look. As much as I choose to send most emails I receive straight to the bin, I have to admit that email marketing is far from dead. Gmail tabs notwithstanding.

Yes, open rates have dropped. But here’s another way to look at it. I was recently tracking Open Rates and Click Rates across a bunch of brands, and sure enough, they’d all declined to some level after Gmail tabs. However, Clicks Per Unique Open were up. Which showed me that I was engaging with my most meaningful customers.

Across all our brands, email marketing continues to drive conversions, cross-sell and up-sell. Based on smart analysis, segmenting and targeting. And it’s working for our clients.

Verdict: Alive and kicking. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Real-Time Marketing Is Dead

Evidence here, here, here and here.

Oreo screwed us all. What started as a single, beautiful (if opportunistic) tweet has snowballed into a flood of desperate attempts to capitalise on news. What Amul did in India on hoardings decades ago, brands are doing now on Twitter and Facebook.

And, let’s face it, 99.95% of all real-time marketing tweets are crap.

They’re a force-fit. A desperate attempt by a brand to sound cool and ‘with it’ by jumping on to an event that the brand might have absolutely no connect with. An event that may not even gel with the brand’s personality. And with creative that will most likely suck.

Verdict: It’s alive, but I wish it were dead so that brands could focus on what’s relevant to them and their audience.

Social Media Marketing Is Dead

Opinions here, here and here.

My take here is really simple. The last great innovation I saw on social media was Skyrec (Google it). Right now, I see brands busy spamming News Feeds and Timelines with “engagement posts” and, worse, contests. (More about that here.) It’s still driving clicks to e-commerce, but…

It’s become a numbers game instead of a quality game. Instead of following a funnel from broadcasting to narrowcasting, brands and agencies are sticking to broadcasting. 5 million fans? I have 10 million. And 30,000 Twitter followers to boot. Fuck you too.

Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg has proved thrice in the last two years what I’ve been saying for a while longer – that social media cannot be owned media. Because you, as a brand, don’t set the rules. First, Zuck reduced the reach of Posts and made advertisers spend money to reach an audience they’d already spent money to acquire. Second, he introduced Timeline, and put paid to all those Facebook apps brands had spent crores creating. Thirdly, he gave image posts the maximum reach last year – and, this April, chopped that down, sending social media managers into a tizzy.

Over time, Facebook will become a brand’s RSS feed. And Twitter will become a brand’s influence marketing platform, once (if) agencies realise that contests are doing sweet fuck-all for a brand’s image and bottomline.

Also, from an agency standpoint, social media management is pretty much a loss-making proposition. Lots of man-hours, piss-poor retainers, ultra-easy to screw up. So yeah, it’s not exactly a bed of roses.

Verdict: Yeah, social media is dead, and I’m kicking the corpse on the way out.

Content Marketing Is Dead

Tears shed here and here.

Again. It’s a question of creativity. Most of the content going up on brand blogs and websites is repetitive, redundant and boring. There’s no newness, no novelty, no differentiator. Often, there’s no focus on a brand’s tone of voice. Most content is just clutter.

But, that said, we’ve just begun to explore content marketing. And, every now and then, brands like Red Bull will come along and do a space jump and content marketing will once again be the new darling of the crowds.

Verdict: Content marketing is alive, but just a toddler, and needs some hand-holding to grow up.

Banner Ads Are Dead

The shortest take yet. Yes they are. When was the last time you clicked on one, eh? Or failed to get annoyed by a pop-up, a pop-under or (that new darling of publishers) auto-play video?

Verdict: Save yer money, cut the life support, let banners die. And look for more organic ways to engage.

This kind of a topic sort of demands a poll, so I’d love to know what you think.

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creative, digital, insight, mobile

From Big Ideas To Little Ones

We’ve grown extremely used to clients – and indeed, Creative Directors – asking for the Big Idea.

The Big Idea is the sacred cow of advertising. The rock around which campaigns – and agencies – are built. Businesses are won and lost, brands are built and torn down, careers are made or unmade, by that elusive Big Idea.

These are the kind of words we bandy about to describe the Big Idea:

What is a Big Idea?

How we describe a big idea.

Jaago Re, What An Idea Sirji, Daag Achhe Hain, Open Happiness, Real Beauty…these are the kind of ideas that we identify with as Big Ideas. The kind of ideas we’re benchmarked against, the kind of ideas we’d kill to come up with.

They’re gargantuan. They go viral. They’re loved, they’re hated, but they’re universally spoken about. The media picks them up. Celebs tweet about them. Inevitably, they become part of popular culture and lingo. (And the agency’s showreel.)

But when it comes to digital, the world of software-driven marketing, there may be a different approach.

When it comes to agencies trying to develop a great app for their brands, they might want to start by identifying a small niche. A small problem, left unresolved.  A small opportunity to do something better than someone else has. A small gap in a market that nobody may have noticed.

Little ideas which may not sound earth-shattering, but which turn into brilliant, useful, engaging, entertaining apps.

We’re seeing app developers take this approach, and churn out apps that fill small gaps and suddenly become the de facto solution. And brands need to follow.

Some already have.

Pampers’ Hello Baby Pregnancy Calendar took away the need to visit a baby website to track your unborn child’s progress.

Walgreens, the local pharmacy, removed the need to manually set prescription reminders by automating them and allowing users to order through the app.

ColorSmart, by paint company BEHR, allowed you to choose paint colours to compliment an existing colour in your room, and held interior design angst at bay.

A really brilliant one was Chase Bank’s Quick Deposit feature on their mobile app. Which eliminated the need for a user to go to a bank to deposit a cheque. All the user had to do was scan the cheque number and details, verify the amount, and VOILA! (A great example of digital transformation as well.)

All of these are based on real human truths, and sound like little ideas, almost not worth doing.

Yet, they stand head and shoulders above the ruins of failed branded apps.

So the next time you’re trying to crack a branded app, put away the pressure of the Big Idea, and focus on the little one. Try and solve for the real problems, the ones we moan about in the privacy of our minds.

You might find truth in the old adage, “Less is more.”

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