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The Digital Divide - Finding a bridge over troubled waters...
The Digital Divide - Finding a bridge over troubled waters...
By: Krishnan Chatterjee

I brought back the absolutely unique goan sausage last week from Goa. This, however, was not the purpose of my visit. I was attending the first iMedia Brand Summit in India. I must confess, I was not familiar with this event platform - but my interest was piqued to discover that it was bringing together 60 marketers with 60 members of digital agencies. For HCL Technologies - operating as we are in 30 countries - economics limits media choices; the high relevance of digital on the media menu card allowed me to take time out to attend.

I definitely do not regret attending. The learning was valuable - though I still need to process it to convert it to value for my business. The following note is my attempt to distil what I heard and saw during the summit into actionable learnings.

1. Digital is brilliant below the line : This is both the mediums greatest strength - as well as it's greatest weakness (as I will demonstrate going ahead). For the moment, lets focus on the strength. There are many brilliant examples of how digital has been tactically used to promote a product or a launch. Watch this video for a fine example - How Volkswagen launched the Fox in Brazil  using twitter. The trick ? - Handing out tickets for Sao Paulo's biggest rock festival through twitter participation. This can be a brilliant idea for youth platform initiatives (like HCL's to create enormous buzz and participation in such platforms.

2. But can brands be built digitally? : and in this lies the massive weakness. I heard numerous examples of promotions, as well as some examples of brand building (for digital brands - india's as one fine example). I could not find a single example of an off-line brand which has successfully used digital media for brand building. I am still looking for one..... I have some ideas for how one could be built (which may or may not hold - and I will talk about this ahead) but I have no examples to offer.

3. Everyone's an evangelist. Yes, even you ! : My big lesson in creative strategy. Traditional advertising delivers a message through mass media and depends on reach and frequency (the two most used words during the summit - and the most telling testament to the traditionality of mindset ). This means that as long as the brand can ensure you see the message - the job is done. This, incidentally, is where the digital job just begins. If you cannot see yourself in the message - you will not engage. In digital, thats as good as no reach. It doesn't stop there. If when you engage - you do not find something remarkable (pl check Seth Godin's purple cow theory) you will not pass it on. That's digital death. Content is absolutely king in digital - not reach and frequency. If the message is relevant and remarkable - it will generate it's own reach and frequency. If you don't believe me - check this video .

4. Sweet and Sad : So lets push this a little bit more. What kind of content has the best chance of being universally relevant (the reach challenge) as well as remarkable (the frequency challenge). That's the crux of the Rational vs Emotional debate. The minute the human being becomes the source of reach and frequency (and not a television channel) unfortunate side effects kick in. People must WANT to consumer the content. People must NEED to share the content etc. Its a no brainer - the girl effect video itself would have shown that the answer MUST lie in the zone of emotion. And this goes back to great advertising - just watch the greatest advertising pitch ever made. Click here to see video.

5. Social Networking is tautology : It should actually be called Content Networking (or Social Tools). A big learning from me was that real engagement and conversations happen on Content Platforms - and not social tools like facebook or twitter. When I thought about this - it suddenly became clear that Facebook itself is actually a content platform for photographs ! And its on photos that the maximum conversations happen. Social Tools are very effective at pointing towards the content. The real engagement happens where the content is housed. When I looked at the HCL context - Vineet Nayar tweets, has a Facebook page as well as a page on our internal social network (called the "Meme"). Yet the maximum conversations his thinking generates happens on his Harvard Business Review blog. The last post generated 35 comments in the first few days of going up - and has unbelievable retweet stats. I cannot say I was unaware of this - but it just brought home to me the criticality of ensuring that your "social" strategy is backed by a very powerful content platform strategy (a hub and spoke model as it were).

6. Who? : Big question. If digital media means content and channel are joined at the hip - what kind of team can handle it ? Between the input at the summit, and a healthy contribution from @_anshul - here's the answer. 1 writer + 1 designer + 1 technologist + 1 imagineer. Of course, in my book the imagineer has to be the marketer. I really think the days of the marketer briefing the agency so that they can come back later are over in the digital world. So I have a team working on a breakthrough mobile app for our upcoming global meet in Orlando. The above constitution holds for that team. Lets see.

7. Marketer vs Agency: Throughout the summit, I could sense a certain frisson between the two communities. The change in ways of working (indicated above) might be a reason - but probably not, given that this milestone is still some way out. It did not take me long to realise the issue was far more real world - money. Marketers spend money on branding. Digital gets positioned below the line to direct response - in effect, getting the left-overs. So we go back to the key question - can brands be built digitally ? From an agency perspective, I believe this is the single issue everyone should be working on. Unless significant thought leadership and evangelisation is brought to this issue - the frisson will remain. I do have 3 things which I think will be critical in defining a brand digitally. I also believe if digital agencies focus on these 3 areas in their interaction with brands - happiness will result.

8. Creating a digital brand 1/3: Community : So assume we do the You part well. Enough You's become a We. That's a community. The community becomes the core evangelist group. The brand connects emotionally - and spreads. And this is where the off-line / on-line question can also be addressed. For instance - basis this aspect, I believe Harley Davidson (which has already mastered community creation through the HOG) can do phenomenal digital branding. From a marketers perspective - if your business has community building capability, you can do very well through digital branding. From an agency perspective, there are ready made low lying targets for community building in any brand - employees and existing customers. It may make sense to engage with marketers through these as a start point.

9. Creating a digital brand 2/3: Engagement : There is a common perception that more fans / more likes etc a digital brand make. I saw a very interesting contrast between Docomo and Vodafone (the zoo zoo). The former had many more fans - the latter had much higher conversations and buzz. Followers and Fans do not measure engagement / buzz; disposition or quality of conversation. The Nike plus program is an excellent case in point. Nike Plus, allows runners to keep track of their runs using a small accelerometer in their sneakers.  The runner can plug the device into their computer and track results against their friends via leader boards. As a matter of fact, Nike was the only answer I got when I asked the question on brands being built digitally. It of course did not fly - as the Nike brand was built much before (and through conventional advertising). Engagement is a natural extension to communities - both brands and agencies should be thinking of engagement ideas once communities get identified.

10. Creating a digital brand 3/3 : The business model : And this is where it gets really tricky. For various reasons (transparency for one ?) digital brings the kitchen into the restaurant. Unless the marketer is in a business which is willing to examine the business model from a digital point of view and adapt - relevance and remarkability can get swamped in a backlash of disbelief and betrayal. At the very least (if the brand is listening through social media) there has to be readiness and a process to rapidly adjust the business model basis feedback. Recently, when DBS Bank in Singapore suffered a massive outage in its IT systems it faced a major backlash. Soon after, OCBC Bank in Singapore also suffered an IT outage - but their CEO immediately went public with an apology and an explanation  - with no backlash. Marketers have too long been used to the "hidden kitchen". Digital brand building brings a new problem - which will need a business solution.

Net  take away. Great brands stand for one unique idea. The digital world is custom made for the creation and sharing of ideas.  Logically, great brands can be built digitally.

What are you waiting for ?

Krishnan Chatterjee, is VP & Global Head Of Marketing at HCL Technologies. He attended the first iMedia Brand Summit Goa and shared his experience and thoughts. Krishnan also loves to blog and you can read more blogs here >