Ashok Lalla has been in the field of marketing for the past 16 years. After driving digital marketing strategy for brands such as Infosys and Taj Hotel Resorts and Places, Mr Lalla is now an Independent Digital and Marketing Advisor and continues to work with some of the top brands in the country. In this interview with Techstory, Mr Lalla talks about how digital marketing has evolved over the past 16 years and how brands can mix online and offline marketing strategies to design a winning campaign.
You have been in the field of marketing since the time internet was not in widespread use. How do you think the way companies look at customers has changed from then to now?
Back in 2000, when I started out in Digital Marketing (called Internet Marketing back then), brands in India were just beginning to discover the Internet. Most focused on building websites (mousetraps they believed the world would beat a path to). Soon they discovered that traffic did not come naturally and then focused on spending on Search to drive their brand’s Internet visibility. Ecommerce wasn’t really a focus for most.
16 years on, the Internet has evolved enormously and not surprisingly, the way brands look at it has evolved too. Today, most brands look to drive their presence beyond just websites and look for more than just traffic to their websites. They seek everything from driving brand visibility to creating brand preference to driving direct and indirect sales to using digital as an important means of delivering customer service and getting consumer insights and feedback.
Marketing has evolved from a common message to all consumers to different messages to different groups of consumers to personalized messages to every consumer. Do you believe that marketing is more and more becoming a function of technology and the company with the best technology will win the branding game?
In theory, digital allows brands to deliver unique messages to their customers. In reality, there is still a lot of push of conventional messages delivered through various digital channels and content formats.
Technology is just an enabler and a means to an end. The development of appropriate brand messages to various audiences is still the task of brand custodians. Technology merely helps connect brands to consumers faster, further and in newer ways.
In times when marketing is becoming more and more personalized, what according to you is the future of mass marketing techniques such as television and print advertising?
Television and print has a role to play in the marketing mix and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The crores of rupees routinely spent by ecommerce brands in India on print, TV and outdoor advertising to drive traffic to their online stores is testiment to this.
That said, we are seeing more integration of TV and social media and even with print and social though to a smaller extent.
What is changing is how the digital footprints of print and TV channels is growing and evolving beyond just being an online version of offline content. This change is seeing brands seek to build better integrated communications strategies, and also accepting the reality that conventional linear narrative is passé. Over the next couple of years we will see this integrated space evolve further and it’s use get more sophisticated too.
Do you think review sites that allow customers to provide feedback about brands is putting a lot of pressure on companies? Do you think customer becoming the king can affect companies in a negative way? How do you think companies can best handle this situation?
Customer online reviews and their using digital to express displeasure or demand service is growing. Brands are gearing up to recognise that digital (and more so social media) is becoming the default channel for customer expression. Several have already adopted means of listening and responding to feedback in realtime. More evolved brands have even integrated their social channels with their CRM systems so they can respond appropriately to their customers.
Outraging and overly demanding customers is something brands are learning to deal with online, as outrage can spread quickly. At the same time, consumers are also learning to accept that while acknowledgement of their feedback online maybe quick, the actual resolution may take longer, and often require offline intervention and interactions.
What are some of the latest techniques that companies are using in the field of digital marketing?
Taking an integrated approach to digital marketing as part of the larger marketing and business approach is the best way for brands to leverage the true potential of digital. Unfortunately, we still see many brands take a siloed approach to digital and even treat channels and platforms within digital and social independently.
There is a huge lack of clarity about ROI of digital marketing. What do you think this is still the case? What according to you is the solution to this problem?
Most brands still look at lower order metrics from digital such as views, likes, shares, visits… As brands evolve to understand digital better and take a more integrated approach to it, they are seeking to go beyond these relatively trivial metrics to more meaningful marketing and business metrics. Achieving this requires a better integration of digital marketing with the rest of marketing, as well as investing in systems that integrate metrics across channels and roll them up into marketing metrics.
What are some of the biggest challenges that digital marketers are facing today?
The top 3 challenges for marketers in India today would include:
– Cracking the integration game effectively. This is true both at the marketeer end and the agency end. Everyone is talking integration but most are still struggling with its effective implementation.
– Understanding the real digital opportunity in India where English continues to be the major language of the Internet and data speeds and access creates challenges in reaching and influencing consumers.
– Going beyond the mindset of giving discounts and freebies as the only way of acquiring customers. This has become almost endemic in the ecommerce space with most brands unable to think beyond discounting as a marketing strategy.