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BW Businessworld

"We Lag, But Not For Long"

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Today, India lags behind the West and China in digital marketing for a whole host of reasons. Most Indian client companies are still complacent about the change that is brewing since outside of a few categories the Internet has not impacted their business as yet. They have not been "Amazoned", "Googled" or "Appled" yet! With a thriving media, large increases in sales and no threat, they have no reason to embrace the Web.

Marketers in China and the west were of the same mindset as recently as five or six years back. But then change came fast and furious to remake industries, change mindsets and drive new behaviours. For a variety of reasons, the same changes will happen to India and we expect India to be not just third in scale to the US and China in Internet usage, but also third in digital marketing spend.

The reasons are not too hard to see. India is a young country and it is the youth who first embrace digital tools in large ways and then change the status quo. Internet penetration and smartphone usage is far higher among the young and, as they age over the next few years, they will be the "pig in the python" that will stretch the fabric of how marketing is done.

Also, the cost of technology, from storage to phones, is falling at rates that are hard to conceive. The cost of smartphones will soon be the same as what regular phones were three years ago. Storage will be free. Tablets will soon be very affordable for the masses. Reliance and other companies are investing in 4G networks, which make high speeds possible. As technology becomes more and more affordable, there will be two reinforcing trends in not only more users but also in new economic models that will be available to new companies if they go all digital and this will start hurting a lot of traditional businesses which will have to react.

India already has the second largest user base for Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn and the third largest for Facebook. Social media, which allow for scalable word of mouth, will be a huge phenomenon in marketing. It will be critical for marketers to address their advocates and mollify detractors or they will have a storm on their hands.

The future of marketing is not analog and digital but paid media (advertisements bought in newspapers, TV and websites), owned media (things that brands own like stores as well as content distributed on the Web across social media or their websites) and earned media (the tweets, likes, comments and shares of people about the brand and its content). Marketers who do not leverage owned and earned, which are primarily digital, will find themselves disadvantaged against their competitors.

The next wave of digital marketing will be increasingly mobile since tablets and phones will be with us all the time, connected to 4G or wireless networks and increasingly powerful and affordable at the same time. We expect India will repeat the leapfrog act, which it performed when it went from being a laggard landline country to a leading mobile country, in digital mobile marketing.

India is increasingly the home of some of the most sophisticated talent in creating mobile, social and Internet marketing programmes. Today, they do most of the work for western marketers who use their skills in marketing in the US and Europe. We have the development and marketing talent in India and as soon as the other changes take hold, we will see world-beating digital marketing in India.

The reasons why India lags in digital marketing will all be gone in the next 3-5 years and this will be a leading digital marketing country. So every marketer should be prepared! 

Tobaccowala is the chief strategy and innovation officer at communications group VivaKi

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 18-06-2012)