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BW Businessworld

In Digital World, Content Is Everything

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What exactly do you mean by a digital agency today? You seem to be offering e-commerce capability and other services — not just advertising.
A lot of people call themselves digital agencies when the only thing they do is digital advertising. A fundamental change that digital has brought about today is a change in the marketing paradigm. In today’s digital world, media is worth nothing and content is everything. In the analog world, people were buying eyeballs and paying a fortune for media as people were sitting at one place watching TV or reading magazines, but now, digital has broken all this down. People today choose where they want to be, and when they want to be there, thanks to Internet and mobile, they access information or entertainment through different channels. You just cannot track where people are. Therefore, you need to provide content to them wherever they are and not provide advertising. You need to change from a business model in which you paid a fortune for media, to putting a lot of money into intelligence, into content creation, into content distribution, into technology systems and so on. Your money is going in different places. Not a lot of people recognise this. A lot of agencies are still built around creating campaigns for digital. But digital is not about campaigns anymore, and agencies have to change.
In this fragmented ecosystem, where do you reach consumers?
You reach them where they are. On social media, on video media, everywhere. You need to reach them in many different places throughout the day.  There is no longer a value for one place. It has got more complicated. The media planning today is measured not in terms of what I am buying, but how I distribute my content, where I put it and how I get people to consume it. Brands become publishers; they are in the publishing industry, publishing content to get people interested in their brand. It’s no longer about pushing messages. It’s about delivering utility, delivering value through applications, services inside an e-commerce platform, inside social media, inside a news portal… wherever people are.
Which is the channel of brand building for you that is getting a lot of returns?
In China, for instance, the backbone of brand building is social commerce. It is no longer advertising or campaigns. You need to communicate to people on social commerce platforms, whether you have your own or through Weibo, Weixin, etc. You need to engage with consumers inside the social media in which they are. On top of that you need to link your own e-commerce platform to social media. So you need more consumer-generated content on your e-commerce platforms. This is how you build brands in China. E-commerce is more than a transactional platform. People go to an e-commerce site for brand experience and they buy on top of that.
Do they really buy — or just use the platform for checking out products before going to the nearest offline store?
They totally buy on e-commerce. The big difference between the US and China is that the US has a lot of shopping malls and store experience in every neighbourhood, so e-commerce is built more for convenience. In China it is different. Apart from the top-tier cities where you have access to shopping malls, and branded stores, a lot of places in the country do not have access to shops. So e-commerce is not just convenience, but is the only place where you can get in touch with brands and have some brand experience. E-commerce platforms are more than saving time. I say, Westerners buy online to save time, Chinese buy online to kill time. 
In the 60s, brands provided a lot of information in their campaigns. Today it’s more about aspirations and what the brand stands for. Do you think in digital we will go back to utility-oriented advertising?
Product information is available on the Net to everybody all the time. Therefore, the need which was there in the 60s for product information is not really there now. In digital, focusing on the role of the brand will still be important, but a newer focus will be the brand as a service. Consumers want a deeper engagement with brands. People want brands to go beyond talking about environment and sustainability. For instance, we handle Nike in China. We developed an application on Weixin (WeChat) on how to learn to play basketball. There were different tutorials, and live chats with athletes. What we created for Nike was an e-learning course on basketball. Through that course, you can buy online as well. That’s what I call utility. You don’t tell people: “Buy my shoes,” you tell them “I am teaching you how to play basketball.”
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 09-02-2015)