The key to adopting the right marketing strategy in a digital world
India has seen an exceptional growth in adoption of the digital world, and its emerging paradigms. Despite the oft-cited lacunae of poor infrastructure, last mile connectivity, cost of data and mobile telephony, the Indian consumer is changing and is connecting to a new digital reality. A lot of this has to do with large investments by telecom companies and network solutions providers and their emerging business models, which have been able to create low cost solutions, facilitating online connectivity. Mobile data connectivity is becoming ubiquitous and online connectivity is no longer a preserve of the rich and the upper middle class.
More than half of the world’s population now uses the internet, with more than 3.75 million people online today. Over the last few years, organisations have made serious changes to their media budgets and marketing strategies to expand their presence to where their audience now is: online.
With the emergence of digital and online media, companies have significantly changed the scope of their marketing strategies. A strong focus is now on managing online brand presence; and no marketing team today is complete without having a strong talent base and expertise in the digital medium. The advantage of the digital medium is that it comes with the innate ability of influencing a purchase decision, managing customer experience, enhancing service delivery, creating sustained engagement, all the while providing superior effectiveness measurement metrics, which is so critical for any marketer. As the online world moves increasingly into the mobile phone, customer stickiness becomes all the more pertinent. It becomes increasing difficult to have a new adoption for a similar service, for example, when the customer is already highly engaged with an app.
As with the entire digital space, digital marketing, too, has been moving at an incredible pace. New and innovative methods keep emerging as to how brands convert fans to customers, and how it transitions customers to endorsers and influencers. As in any marketing journey, the process of discovering what works best is driven by research; and then to a large extent, by a structured process of iteration. The smallest of things, such as the colour of your creative, the tone of your advertisement, how online responses are worded on an online query, etc., goes a long way in establishing a strong brand identity online.
We have become dependent on the internet in both our personal and professional lives. This evolutionary change that has fostered the development of an entire industry that did not exist prior to the internet. Some marketers still continue to grapple with this rapidly changing world. At the end of the day, digital marketing is nothing but the means of promoting business objectives online. The message remains the same, but the medium and how the message is conveyed changes significantly. Technology therefore becomes a means of reaching a target audience.
Digital terms, simplified
At the forefront of internet integration in everyday life are search engines. Not only have they become the driving force in internet innovations, but also in digital marketing. The terms Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are the original foundations of digital marketing. Typically, the higher a business ranks on search results and the more frequently it appears in searches, the more traffic that site will receive. Driving ranking on search engines is both an art and a science, and clever deployment of investments towards this is critical.
Social media is an integral part of digital marketing. It is, however, critical to have a judicious mix of social media, and this involves having a well thought through social media strategy. Content marketing is another strategic marketing approach, focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action and behaviour. Design, navigation and layout of a website is extremely critical and ensuring compatibility on mobile devices, to provide the user with a seamless experience, is key. While this may sound simplistic, examples still abound of sites which are poor on navigation, or which have not yet adapted to mobile compatibility.
We are seeing a series of emerging trends in the digital space. In recent times virtual reality is a growing trend seen in the video gaming industry. Live streaming allows you to engage with your audience instantaneously. Product placement in these areas is creating new marketing opportunities. Influencer marketing has become digital marketing’s “word of mouth” strategy. In real life, if a friend raves about an incredible restaurant she recently visited, her opinion would have an influence on you your next restaurant visit. In the digital world, if a popular travel blogger eulogises and recommends a travel destination, that would significantly influence the purchase behaviour of the readers. This provides, for example, a travel company an opportunity to leverage off the influencer and create packages and market them accordingly.
Digital Marketing has changed the marketing landscape simply because it’s the one means of communicating with consumers that is always “right there;” on smartphones and tablets that go with consumers literally everywhere.
In order to sustain growth in any business, you will need to focus on building your brand. While this may seem like an impossible task, with the right digital marketing strategies you will be able to enhance the recognition and reputation your brand has to offer.
The work that you put in regarding the building of your brand is worth it considering just how beneficial it can be when trying to retain loyal customers.
Creating and managing content online is essential to promoting a brand and having a content strategy is vital for the astute marketer. The key is to create content that is interesting and different. Smart marketers are able to take (at times!) mundane information and turn it into an interesting narrative, gripping for the consumer and culminating in a desired call-to-action. Almost everyone loves a good story. A well-constructed digital story manages to connect and engage the audience by using a message that is empowering and inspiring.
Creative content can be used to chat, connect and answer questions. This is not only a great way to understand client needs and concerns, but also promotes an image of a caring organisation, which is willing to listen.
Some things never change. The good old time-tested practice of taking feedback from salespeople and understanding from them as to what customers are thinking, remains as critical today: What do they talk about? How can you help them? Research will help, but sometimes it’s the salespeople who feel the real pulse from the field. Companies that put their customers first when creating content are bound to win, because they will produce something of real value. And that’s the secret behind content marketing.
A few thoughts that could be of use while devising your digital communication strategy which feeds into your marketing plan:
Diversify: It is unlikely that your entire customer base and target audience are all on the same social network. Age as a simple variable can sometimes segregate social media platform adoption. Diversify your company’s engagement efforts by participating in multiple platforms. Aside from your blog, Twitter and Facebook, connect via Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn and other platforms. Not only will these different platforms allow you to reach out to a larger audience, your brand can experiment with different types of content for each platform. Remember, one size does not fit all when it comes to social channels. It is critical to be nimble and fleet footed to adapt to content consumption patterns and tastes.
Creativity of content is key: If your brand is already well established and is already considered a thought leader in the industry, it isn’t necessary for every tweet, post and article to be about your company. General interest content works well for creating and sustaining brand interest and patronage. Share connected stories or news related to your business, or even ask your customers what they think the next blog post should be about! Customer-focused content will sometimes work much better than tom-tomming your products directly.
The digital medium provides for an end to end delivery, from a customer life-cycle perspective. Right from igniting customer interest to the influence on the purchase decision through to servicing and renewal/ replacement decisions, the digital media can be used to drive customer preference and engagement. The role of the marketer starts blurring in a digital world. A digital marketer plays an important role not just in influencing the purchase decision but in the entire lifecycle. How customers interact with the brand, the digital tonality, the look and feel of the digital engagement screens, the digital engagement devices, driving influencer behaviour, etc., all come in within the marketer’s purview.
Even in a fast-moving digital age, some things have remained the same. An obsessive focus on the customer, and keeping the customer in the forefront is still the key to a successful marketing and business strategy.
The medium may have changed. The messages remain the same, though communicated in a different manner and, perhaps, more effectively!
(Anil Ramachandran is Head of Marketing and Corporate Communication at IndusInd Bank.)