campaigns, digital, how to, technology, trend

Remarketing: From Stalking To Smart

If you haven’t been through the experience of searching for a product or service and then being served ads all over the web for the same product or service, then this is probably your first day online. Welcome to the Internet. There’s a lot more than porn here.

Jokes apart. The way marketers currently use cookie- or sign-in-based ad remarketing makes most users feel like they’re being shadowed. Like their every move is being tracked. Like Big Brother is watching.

For those who came in late, remarketing is the act of targeting users who have already visited your website, or clicked on an ad, or searched for a particular product or category, or interacted with you on social media, or downloaded your app.

It initially began as a really smart idea. Someone who’s interacted with you or your business’ category is more likely to be persuaded if you are able to identify them and serve them an ad based on their earlier interaction with you. It sounded like a beautiful blend of digital marketing and CRM.

And then all hell broke loose.

Here’s the greatest prank I ever heard of.

Remarketing Prank

This is exactly how remarketers work. If the user’s shown interest in spoons, let’s give him spoons. Big spoons, little spoons, silver spoons, gold spoons, plastic spoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons…

Here are some reasons why this kind of remarketing doesn’t work.

  1. It’s as close to online stalking as you can legally get.
  2. The user might have actually already bought the spoons, in which case the ad impression was wasted.
  3. The user may have had only a fleeting interest in the product or category.

So how do you make remarketing more effective?

By making it useful to your users.

Here’s one way to do that.

Suppose you let your user pick what they’re interested in. You store that information – either through a signed-in profile or a cookie or both – on that user’s browser. And then target them with ads focused on those interest categories.

At any point of time, the user can update their interest categories, making sure they’re always being served fresh, relevant ads. They can also – in the interest of privacy – choose to opt-out of this programme.

In a sense, you’re getting your users to optimise your advertising for you. And increasing your relevance to them; and, hopefully, brand equity.

Thoughts?

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digital, industry, opportunities, trend

Predicting 2014, aka What I Want To Do In 2014

The tough part about leading an agency creative team is that you have to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

The great part about leading an agency creative team is that you get to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

Digital marketing in India has come a long way since I defected from traditional advertising in 2009. Fewer marketers are talking about digital being the future; they’re beginning to see it as a de facto way of life. I, for one, believe we’ve entered a post-digital age, and that all marketing efforts going forward need to accept and leverage that reality.

I think we need to go beyond looking at digital as Internet and mobile. I think we have to look at digital marketing as an intersection of three worlds; and that intersection doesn’t always need to reside in the virtual world.

What Is Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is an intersection of three previously distinct worlds.

Forgive me, but I’m going to repeat three buzz-phrases you’ve been hearing for a while. They’re the absolute truth.

  • Content is the new communication. You can’t be a marketer and believe that you’ll achieve brand engagement with a 30-second TVC.
  • Data is the new oil. Because digital allows us to capture what people are actually doing, versus the focus groups that capture what people claim they’re doing.
  • Mobile is the new TV. It’s belittling to call the first screen you look at every morning, the only screen you carry wherever you go, and the last screen you look at every night a “second screen”.

The other thing we need to practice is data-driven marketing. If you’ve managed to get past information overload and get someone to actually click through to your content, you aren’t doing yourself justice if you aren’t setting up to reach that person again. Every piece of engagement that you run needs to help you understand something more about your audience.

The Marketing Circle Of Life

Marketing today isn’t scientific unless it’s driven by data.

If one understands these shifts, it’s not difficult to see where digital creativity is going in 2014. Here’s my bucket list for the year to come.

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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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design, digital, industry, insight, trend

Digital Thinking. Design Thinking. #SameThing, I’m Thinking.

The real insight that came out of Kyoorius DesignYatra 2013 was, simply, this:

Digital and Design have a common goal – to solve human problems.

The notion occurred to me sometime on day one, during DigiYatra. It could’ve been sparked by the conversation that I had with a colleague on the flight to Goa. Or by the conference theme itself – Create Change. Or by something one of the speakers on the first day – Sanky, Joao Cardoso Fernandes, Laura Jordan Bambach – said.

You’ll find the proof in any products, digital or design, created by a brand or otherwise. As illustrated briefly below.

Granted, the scale of the problem may vary wildly, from personal to societal. But the essence is the same.

Identify a problem. Then build something to solve it.

The theme was hammered home on day 3, when Raj Kurup forcefully put a message across.

Everybody is a designer.

It’s true. In our world, you don’t need Photoshop and Illustrator to be called a designer. It’s not about what you do, it’s about the problem you solve.

In fact, tomorrow’s creativity may be all about identifying the crux of the problem, for the solution is often obvious.

The best digital and design agencies do exactly this. Identify a problem, design something to solve it. As do the millions of startups that churn out product after product, hardware and software, to address problems they think are worth the effort.

If those solutions can also solve a brand’s needs, then you have truly great marketing solutions.

It’s all about a human-centric approach rather than a brand-centric one.

Not a bad way to attack your next brief, no?

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challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

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design, digital, insight, trend, ui, ux

The Future Of Web Design

On 26 October 2012, the digital world changed forever.

That day, Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 to the world. A revolutionary reimagining of the world’s bestselling OS, one which blurred the lines between the computer and the tablet.


We’ve known for some months now that it was coming. And I’ve believed for some months now that Windows 8 heralds a complete reimagining of web design principles.


More and more, people are accessing the web using their mobile and tablets. Most of which are touchscreen devices. We’ve seen the stats for other websites we’ve built and maintain, and the ComScore reports too.


Microsoft realises this. That’s why they’ve built an OS that supports touch gestures on laptop and tablet screens as well as laptop trackpads.


Yet, websites continue to be designed for the point-and-click generation. They’re “optimised” for the mobile, and display on a tablet as they would on a PC.


But is that the same as “designed for touch”?


I would think that if a site were designed for touch, it wouldn’t have tiny hyperlinks you can’t put your finger on.


It wouldn’t force you to pinch-zoom to select text or a link.


It wouldn’t have plugins that don’t work on tablets and mobile phones.


It wouldn’t make you touch-and-drag the site around so you could see what’s hidden in the margins.


There’s clearly a big difference between “works for touch” and “designed for touch”. 


The strange part is, the same publishers design mobile and tablet apps that are absolutely gorgeous and work the way a touchscreen user would want them too.


So why should the touchscreen experience on a website be anything less than gorgeous? Or different from the experience on a computer?

I believe that it’s up to publishers and digital marketers to drive a change. A new language of web design for the touchscreen generation.


A few days ago, we at Jack In The Box Worldwide took a small step towards that change. With the launch of the all-new Louis Philippe website, designed using HTML5, jQuery, JavaScript and CSS. A site born from the belief that web design needs to keep up with changing technology and user behaviour.



When we were designing the site, we threw all standard website references out of the window. And immersed ourselves in the world of mobile and tablet apps. 


Every element on the page, the way the wireframe has been planned, has been adopted, from tablet apps. As have all the little usability cues.


The site is responsive. It smartly resizes to fit any screen. Or any orientation.


There are no tiny text hyperlinks. Only buttons you can press comfortably with a finger or a thumb. 


On a touchscreen device – tablets, mobile phones, Windows 8 hybrids – you navigate with swipes. Swiping horizontally lets you navigate between sections; swiping vertically lets you explore a section further.


We wanted to keep the user experience consistent across devices. So you can also swipe through the site using the trackpad on your Win8 and Apple laptops, which support multitouch gestures. An aspect that should build familiarity through consistency and sheer novelty.


We haven’t sacrificed basic usability, however. You can also navigate by clicking through the links. Or using the arrow keys.

We learnt a lot about touch UI while working on the site. Every few days, we’d have to get together to solve a design or usability issue that popped up while developing. There are still features we need to add and problems we need to solve. That’s why we’re still iterating, and will be constantly trying new ways to solve old problems.

It’d be interesting to apply this thinking to other websites – like news media, for example, or e-commerce. Each of those will have their own problems, and we’ll have to find new, interesting ways to solve them.

A first step…and in my mind, a necessary one.

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influencer marketing, insight, reputation, social media, trend

#TomatoGate: How Twitter Got A Restaurant To Change Their Business Practices

The Story
It all began on Saturday, 5th May, when my wife, a friend and I decided to drop in at Burgs, a gourmet burger restaurant in Bandra. 


In a nutshell, they refused to remove the tomato slice from my burger, stating that it was against their company policy. 


Feeling rather angry, I wrote a blog post about my experience on Sunday, 6th May, and put it up here for all the world to see. I urge you to read that story before continuing to read this post.


How It Spread
I was so angry that I didn’t want to just vent through a blog post. I wanted to make sure that everybody who googled up Burgs saw my review of the place. I spent an hour posting my review to websites like MumbaiBoss, Zomato and Burrp, as well as foodie blogs like The Big Bhookad.


Around the same time, I picked up on Burgs’ Twitter account, and reached out to them as well. My wife, sitting next to me, started scrolling through @BurgsIndia – and was shocked to see that their attitude existed on their Twitter account as well. Here’s a selection of their tweets.

That’s about when some folks on Twitter picked up on my story, and started tweeting back. Here’s how it unfolded.


A glance at their Twitter profiles will tell you that these guys are popular, influential on (and off) Twitter, and have possibly been rubbed the wrong way by Burgs. The reply from Burgs was the last straw.


Within the hour, most of Twitter had started chucking virtual tomatoes at Burgs. They flayed Burgs alive for not customising my burger and for their couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude. And  also started cracking tomato jokes all around. The Tomato Tweeters included stand-up comics like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi, journos like Ashish Shakya, foodies like Adarsh Munjal, Sahil K and Aneesh Bhasin, fashionistas like Latha Sunadh, and the ones who’d started it all off – Nik, Rahul Chawra, Mithun K, Roopak Saluja, Roycin D’Souza, RanjitOne Black Coffee, et al.

Soon enough, ‘tomato’ was trending on Trendsmap Mumbai. And if Satyameva Jayate hadn’t hogged the Trending Topics pane on Twitter, ‘tomato’ would’ve been up there for sure. It got better. Somebody went and created the official Twitter account of the tomato in the burger. Finally, Burgs India responded. Announced that tomatoes were now  optional. Put it up on their Twitter bio even.

But even then, the attitude persisted. And the Tomato Tweeple picked up on it.


Finally, around evening, the story died down. And Burgs could breathe a sigh of relief.


Why #TomatoGate Went Viral
Two reasons, in my opinion.


One: Who hasn’t been at the receiving end of poor service from restaurants (and other service businesses)? We hear stories from friends and acquaintances about their experiences every day. My story was no different – but it was completely relatable. It became all about sticking it to ‘the Man’.


Two: Burgs India shot themselves in the proverbial foot. They were rude to guys like Adarsh and Roycin. And too proud and insensitive on Twitter overall. Their reply to me was the icing on the cake. And they still haven’t apologised to me. Nobody trolls someone who’s made one mistake and shows that they want to rectify it. But if you’re going to persist in being a smartass…be prepared to have your ass handed to you.


Lessons learnt, I hope.



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