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Back To The Basics

The digital marketing bubble has burst. It’s time to return to the real brand story says Prateek Chatterjee, Senior VP, Corporate Communications & Marketing, NIIT Limited.

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Remember the Liril girl ad with the then-unknown Priety Zinta dancing under the waterfall? Or the Rasna girl’s ‘I love You Rasna’, Zakir Hussain’s ‘Wah Taj’ and ‘Hamara Bajaj’ ads that we lip synced to? These weren’t advertisements – these were stories that carried the legacy of the brand on its shoulders. So entwined were the message, the tagline and brand that they not only hit a nerve but they even stood the test of time. Sad, they don’t make them like these anymore.

Unfortunately so, in a world of Marketing Technology (MarTech), brand communication often takes a back seat. Everything now is about profiling the right audience and reaching them with customized messaging. However, in the last few months we’ve seen how the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is protecting consumers’ privacy and giving them greater control over how their data is collected. When India’s Personal Data Protection Bill will be passed as a law, we too will see the enforcement of new set of regulations that will change the face of digital marketing entirely. Think of it, these laws are actually going against the grain of Artificial Intelligence, whose very premise is Data driven analytics. When behavioral data collection through web, email cookies, location beacons, cross-device tracking, etc. will be curbed, what will happen to Martech?  How will digital Marketing communications channel their messages to the right audience? The answer is, with the constraints on unregulated data-collection practices, marketers will have to find newer ways to target digital ads, independent of accumulating large quantities of behavioral data. And this would mean bigger changes for the digital ecosystem in the years to come.

How did we get here?

I think we got here in the first place by merely cutting corners. Marketing has long been based on the principals of brand building, until recently when digital gave us a shortcut to everything. When the economy imploded ten years ago, Digital steadily came to the rescue and impacted a lot of industries. All of us, especially marketing and media got comfortable with the digital decadence of ‘publish-learn-react’ a bit too fast. Now we’ve been living in a content bull market and before we realised it, digital marketing became the buzzword that everyone kept swooning over. Someone out there kept promoting ‘more the footprint, more the conversions’ and so we kept running after quantity over quality. Then there were budget cuts – so we had to ‘do more with less’ without realizing that digital marketing is in fact riddled with problems. It makes us conditioned and limits our brilliance to think up something, throwing it out there, and waiting to see what happens without considering the consequence. When something goes wrong, most give a knee-jerk reaction – not realizing that the Internet never forgets.

Look at the recent marketing faux pas. Some of the best brands came across as ethnically and culturally insensitive, hurting customer emotions along the way. Most of these ads lacked self-awareness and an understanding of the market and its people. Doing so often make you misjudge the purpose of your brand in the eyes of the larger community – in the process, you end up losing both customers and money.

Let’s press the reset button.

and go back to recalling the full plan. Understand that digital advertising is not just a cheaper version of print or TV advertising and since customer and not data is still the king, he gets to decide to keep or banish the brand or the platform. In a race for reach, most brands are missing the opportunity of creating meaningful, possibly long-term relationships with the right customers, because everyone is targeting a large number of people over a good conversation. Though likes and shares are one indicator, they can't tell us what lies beneath the engagement. Instead of running after the numbers, work on creating a brand ethos that creates brand evangelists and loyalists; these will never be swayed away by competitors. Brands today need to go beyond positioning and become purposive because branding is about the sentiment you create around your product or service. It is about who you are and what you stand for. Its value is both incalculable and priceless. A brand’s equity is established over every customer interaction and every piece of content ever published. So with publish-learn-react, you’re gambling with your reputation. 

Tell your story

GDPR may just be that manna that frees us from the shackles of Data slavery. Sentiments and brand salience can once again occupy centrestage, meeting the unmet need, rather than giving people more of what we think they need. Now, the science of storytelling and brand performance will be an important one to learn. People want a meaningful connection with a brand. 

Think of the deep relationships Apple or a Harley Davidson has with their customers. For them, it is all about Return on Experience (ROE), the true essence that makes a brand human for humans. In the long term, it results in a stronger brand allegiance and deeper emotional connection to a brand. 

More recently, Nike showcased a powerful example of how PR and content marketing came together to make a compelling difference. Its campaign with Colin Kaepernik, the controversial quarter back from NFL – “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, resulted in an almost 50 percent increase in sales! 

To be effective, brands must tap into the emotions of the consumer and do it with honesty. Go beyond showcasing products or services, to tell stories that make your brand more human. It doesn’t have to be an exorbitant tale – just a simple thought or story is enough. Start with the ‘why’ and work back through the ‘How’ and ‘What’. Use technology to your advantage and try to make it interactive, immersive experience that connects them with the history, purpose, and vision of a brand. Make consumers eager to become part of your success story. 

Observe, ask questions, form hypothesis and create a long term brand plan that links sentiment to strategy and execution. The foundation of any good marketing, content, or communication plan is to be in relevant places, with relevant content and strategy to usher new waves of innovation. In situations like these, it is best to then learn the art of branding and digital marketing from the best institutes of the learning industry – ones who don’t just offer run-off-the-mill digital marketing training that would be irrelevant in the next wave in technology. 

Let’s look at it this way then, in the absence of the luxury of data profiling under the data protection laws across the globe, marketing will experience a whiff of fresh air, where the focus shifts back to storytelling, content and creativity, rather than overt reliance on tools. We could see a resurgence of campaigns like the – Hutch Pug, Mc Donald’s - “I’m lovin’ it” or for that matter Fosters - Australian for Beer? Someone once said that a brand story is something that you feel between the ears. I for one am hoping that GDPR lets the fresh air in, so that we can breathe a little more deeply and freely.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Prateek Chatterjee

The author is the Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications & Marketing, NIIT Limited.

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