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'Smart Social Media Is Evolving'

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Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital is vastly more experienced about the digital world than the average person. He co-founded Organic, arguably the world's first interactive agency, in 1993 and has, since then, been tracking the digital world from close quarters. BW's Dibyajyoti Chatterjee and Prasad Sangameshwaran met up with him. Excerpts from the interview:

What have been the biggest missed opportunities in the digital world since 1993?
There are missed opportunities in a number of sectors. Companies like MySpace and Friendster did not capitalise on social space the way Facebook did. In the search space it is Lycos. In almost every sector of the Internet there was a pioneer who never became the biggest player. Lycos, Friendster and others failed to capitalise. Everybody focuses on Google. But what they do not see that before this,  there was which was successful and ended up being sold to Yahoo!. You know how Yahoo! got started... they had the search box on Netscape. And Google got started by having its search box on Yahoo! So, Netscape gave it to Yahoo! and Yahoo! gave it to Google. 

Who, according to you, are the greatest thinkers in the digital space?
I think the classic one is Steve Jobs. His ability to see technology and synthesise it in a simple form was incredible. I have huge respect for Eric Schmidt at Google. Eric is very smart and insightful; and shrewd at the same time. And Jeff Bezos at, who I really respect. Now, they have moved to tablets  with vertical integration of hardware and software — Kindle Fire. He has done a brilliant job starting from scratch.

Which are the best kept secrets in marketing in the digital space?
I think smart analytics is the future of digital marketing. Amazon and Google do great analytics. The second which is just emerging is advertising exchanges and auction-based media buying. Auctions, along with behavioural targeting, is really the future of digital marketing. Smart social media is next, which is evolving quickly, which is paid, owned and earned, and where great content spreads virally. It will be big as mobile penetration is going to be huge.  

Which are the nicest digital ideas that you have come across?
I am particularly interested in targeting and optimisation around ad serving. Targeting and optimisation is huge and is making media work better; and so is the automated map process. It is interesting to see how journalism is starting to pan out. You put an article out there with a social component, maybe a video, and you link it to various platforms and that will make it move around and have people talk about it.

Omnicom Group (Holding company of Omnicom Digital)

Launched: 1986

Headquarters: New York, USA
Businesses: Interactive/digital media, advertising, marketing services, specialty communications, and media buying services
Net income: $827.7 million (2010)
Network: Services more than 5,000 clients spread across 100 countries

Which are the three coolest brands that have made the biggest splash in the digital world?
I think Red Bull and Nike do some cool work. Fiat has also done some good work. Besides, I have not seen a piece of marketing that has struck me in a while. The stuff that I like is where the line starts to blur between marketing and utility. Great examples are telecommunications and Netflix.

Which are the three things that marketers should not do in the digital media space?
Marketers always look at digital through the lens of other mediums. They are constantly comparing: why is this like print; why is this like television. However digital can do different things as well and is real time in nature where you can measure almost everything. You do not have to spend a lot of money to figure out if something works or not. Both Google and Amazon are constantly trying different things. If one thing does not work they are on to the next thing, and if that works — they keep it. Digital has a great opportunity for innovation and many marketers do not think that way.

The third thing is that marketers, very often, have a campaign mentality — there is a start and a stop — and then they ask what is next. But digital is always on.

What are the common mistakes brands make while advertising on the Internet?
I have seen brands which get incredibly successful on the Internet and do not continue their work because they think it was a campaign. In social media, companies want to control everything. You can try to guide it in certain directions. But we have clients who insist on absolute control over everything, but you cannot do that on digital. People are going to talk about you whether you like it or not. You should participate in the conversation, particularly, if it is about your brand. You should monitor, contribute, manage it and understand that there is no way to control it.

Give us three reasons why marketers cannot ignore social media in India?
Social media will take off disproportionately in India. The reasons are that mobile phone penetration is extremely high. The second is India is a very young country. Social media and youth tend to go together. The third thing is communities; Indian society is based on the fabric of community, which is what social is all about.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 20-02-2012)