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11 Things I’ve learned about Digital Marketing in the last decade

I started my digital marketing journey in 2007 through a tech blog. The Internet meant desktop/laptop and visiting a cyber cafe and only 2.8 Crore Indians were online. Fast forward to 2019, 2.53 Crore people concurrently watched India’s cricket world cup semi-final against New Zealand setting a new global record.

Today, the internet has become a huge business driver for small and large businesses. The digital advertising expenditure in India has been growing at a healthy CAGR of 30%+ for the last 10 years. Digital now accounts for ~ 20% of total ad expenditure in India.

The media landscape today in India couldn’t have been better for businesses and marketing professionals. In this post, I’ve compiled a few things I’ve observed in the digital marketing space in India in the last decade. Hope you find them valuable.

  1. It was (and will always be) a world of creators! Content marketing has been an often-used (& abused) term. There have been questions around its exact definition and what it really stands for. At the core of marketing through content is using the creator to promote your brand. Using creators to promote your brand/business on any platform works (if done effectively). In 2007 this world was dominated by bloggers. Today, engaging with relevant creators on YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok is not just helping start-ups & large organizations build credibility & recall but is also effectively helping them generate revenue.
  2. Advertising in Indian languages is more efficient. 9 out of every 10 new internet users in India will be Indian language users. Indian language internet users are expected to grow at CAGR ~ 18% (English users ~ 3%). Advertising in languages that people speak/read works better, not just on digital but on every medium. In my experience, the costs of reaching out to people only basis a certain language tend to be lower as fewer advertisers tend to bid for these audiences. Their click-through rates also tend to be higher as a user who is generally being targeted by ads in English sees an ad in her/his language has a higher propensity to click. This leads to better efficiencies in advertising.
  3. Test till you succeed. Having large elaborate budgets do not work very well with a platform, which is fundamentally agile. The best part about marketing on digital is the ability to test your marketing to ensure your unit economics work out. If you are working on a plan that promotes your product/service through creators, try different formats, measure efficacy (& ROI). The same would hold true for advertising on Facebook, or through Emails & SMSs. 
  4. Video rules in a market with the cheapest data rates. Video advertising has gained traction rapidly and enjoys a massive 36% share of the digital advertising market. If your marketing plan does not involve using video, you are not effectively promoting your business. In the OTT space, there are over 30 players now (from 9 in 2016). In a market with cheapest data rates on the planet, and a consumer actively spending time watching videos (an average of over 65 minutes/day), you might be missing the bus without video content. 
  5. Data is Gold! Only data can tell you what works (and what doesn’t). Any form of testing an measurement can only be done if you are effectively collecting and analyzing data (Acting upon this data should also be done in real-time). Companies not doing this will be purely riding on luck. This data could be as simple as Facebook pixels being used for effective targeting, or as sophisticated as building a credit profile of a user and using it to target relevant users on Facebook and reduce acquisition costs.
  6. Off-seasons can drive efficiency. A lot of large advertisers tend to spend heavily during the festive season in India, which typically begins in September. Advertising during this period especially for smaller businesses can increase the costs as there are more advertisers bidding for the same audience. If you can focus on an off-peak season to drive higher sales, you can get better efficiencies from advertising on digital.
  7. Organizations tend to perfect one channel. I’ve seen a lot of successful organizations being exceptionally good at one medium. It could be search, Facebook, TV, etc. This tends to be a direct consequence of a high failure rate in organizations trying to perfect a lot of mediums. As an organization, if you see value in one particular platform and have necessary expertise (acquired or honed), it’s best to build a moat around it. 
  8. Digital performs better with other mediums. Over 80 crore Indians watch TV every day. Over 40 Crore read the newspaper, go to the cinema or consume radio. Digital marketing when working in tandem with these mediums tends to deliver exceptionally good returns. 
  9. Digital as the core business driver. It’s possible to target approx. 30 crore Indian users on through Facebook’s ad platform. For most companies, it’s a significant internet savvy universe you can reach out to and drive business as opposed to simply keeping digital in the media plan. The growth in spends on digital reflect the shift that companies are making to investing a larger share of their spends on digital. 5 years back, the total spends on digital in India were approx. 10% of the total spends (to ~ 20% in 2018).
  10. Digital for being customer-centric. Organizations can become more customer-centric through digital and data. The true power of digital marketing lies in customer-centricity and personalization. It’s not just about efficient advertising on digital. Organizations that tend to use digital for being customer-centric benefit more than others.
  11. New platforms keep emerging. Every 2 years a new strong platform emerges on digital (and a couple of them tend to fizzle out). Tik Tok, Sharechat, Dailyhunt are very good examples of large new platforms that have emerged in the last couple of years. All of them majorly owe their success to creators (& the content they bring to the table), be it Hotstar (& other OTTs) or Netflix, Dailyhunt, Sharechat, etc. If you are not tuned in, you can (& most probably will) miss out on the early advantage that these new channels bring to the table.

Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

References

India is now the cheapest internet data destination

TikTok now has 120 million monthly active users in India

Internet users in India to reach 627 million in 2019

Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2019

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