We recently met with Kevin King- Global Practice Chair of Edelman Digital on his visit to India. Here is a quick Q&A with him on the growing expectations and optimism around digital and social media in India along with his views on brand building on digital channels and how marketers need to adapt the new-age.

Marketing and Innovation are at the core of any business. Digital is sort of straddling both these right now – Can you share some key innovations in Digital Marketing that have grabbed your attention?

The big sort of change, keeping aside the innovation in technology, has been more in terms of consumer behavior. What we are witnessing is the on-demand-culture – the content on demand, video on demand versus the ‘appointment model’ used traditionally. Today’s customer wants to consume content when he wants it. This fundamentally changes the way we do marketing – it changes the way advertising works, the way content is being delivered, it changes everything! This is the big change or innovation that I see happening globally.

What are your views on brand building on digital platforms – do you believe that digital and social platforms are more ‘here and now’ and traditional media more suited for the long term brand building plans that a marketer would have?

Companies are going to have to learn to brand build on digital mediums. Traditional media has been the way that brands have been built in the past. Now we see a number of brands, very successfully embracing the new age media and social channels for brand building. A brand like Red-Bull for example, comes to mind which has very successfully done this. To my mind not enough brands understand the value of building a brand using digital media and they are still trying to work out how to make theirs a digital brand.

How do you suggest that one can maintain a balance between planning for the future of your brand and investing for today?

To brand build digitally the way one produces content has to be different. The planning process to get content and how to collect that content has changed, so brands have to keep all this in mind when they decide to go digital. Moreover, there is another side to it because while one is talking about digital and social channels to use as marketing platforms we have to remember that these are platforms where several other activities take place; customer service interactions, feedback and even crisis management – so as a marketer one has to be aware of this and plan for it because these interactions are driving the overall perception of the brand.

Given the ‘newsroom’ nature of social & digital platforms how can a marketing team actually plan to catch a trend at the right time, how can they be better prepared?

Digital media should be more about relevance. Brands are trying too hard to jump on a ‘moment’ or a ‘trend’ and are amplifying that to grab attention. Sometimes this is not well thought through and the information shared digitally, is not verified or authentic. So first of all the brand has to have something to stand for on the digital platform, it has establish the right tone – is it a funny brand or a more serious one? Without establishing this tone of voice, the brand comes out as scattered and inconsistent. Second, it is important to find the moments in time that is relevant to the brand. So when we comment on something or are a part of a trend it does have to tie back to what the brand believes in and should be related to the product or positioning. Overall, brands need to do a lot of ground work to get their social and digital campaigns right and be prepared when the right moment arrives.

Customer experience is the next big item on a Marketers agenda – is this tactical or strategic? How do the two align so that the consistency that the brand wants to maintain is achieved across platforms? Also, how can the engagement extend over the lifespan of the customer?

It’s absolutely strategic and should be. Customer experience is the center of the brand. More importantly marketers are being impacted in this digital age since negative customer experience plays right back into the marketing channel. All departments involved in delivering customer experience have to be aligned and the marketer/ agency or someone needs to have a wide angle view to ensure that consistency is being maintained.

I believe that brands have to earn the right to promote themselves in the digital and social medium. And many brands are making the mistake of keeping their marketing separate from customer experience. As an agency, Edelman has been trying to bridge that gap between customer experience, customer service and the marketing function to make sure that they work hand-in-hand.

How would you judge the success of a digital campaign?

It depends on what one is trying to accomplish. Instead of chasing ROI what we have to do is customize our suite of metrics by measuring one’s goals. This could range from, am I driving people to social media platforms/websites or getting them to make purchases. We do a lot work in the entertainment industry which drives viewers directly to shows that are being aired and also two-screen experiments studies their engagement and results can vary dramatically. If we are on the protect side of the business where brands face reputation issues – here it is important to measure the sentiment and overall positive feedback over negative feedback. So, tools and technology have to be chosen based on what we want to achieve, even to measure brand awareness on digital platforms.

Where do you believe India is on the Digital Marketing Map – what’s your opinion on the marketing eco-system in India?

It’s pretty much on par with what’s happing around the world, India is a savvy market. In markets where the infrastructure and access is uniform, on-demand viewing is happening quickly and traditional media like viewing TV is declining rapidly. This is forcing marketers in markets with high 4G penetration, to invest more in experiential and digital marketing. Here, India is still a little behind and I haven’t seen a high level of migration as yet from traditional to new age platforms but as the penetration of broadband increases I’m sure we’ll see things changing quickly here as well.

What are the things Marketers today should focus on to leverage the whole digital era?

First and foremost, marketers should develop the ability to adapt to change although this is where I see most of them trip up. Just like the expression ‘drinking from the fire-hose’ everything is coming at everyone really fast and is changing constantly. Let’s look at Facebook who keep changing their business model- so whatever they have learned in the last 2 years is gone and they are doing things differently again now. If this sort of constant change frustrates the marketer, he or she is going to have a rough time going forward. A marketer also needs to set aside a small percentage of the time for thinking about forward-looking stuff, because if one doesn’t have an eye on the future then one will be left behind.

Marketers also have to be more aware about what’s happening on the business side of the organization for example, in areas of operations, customer service and human resources they use digital channels in a more aligned manner. We had an airline client who turned on Wi-Fi in a part of the fleet on a particular day without notifying the marketing department leading to a flood of customer complaints from passengers who were in flight. Employee relations need to be connected with the marketing department because the team may be launching a marketing campaign on their Facebook page the same day while the company is undertaking major lay-offs. This could go down badly on us if we are not prepared for it!!

Profile: Kevin King is the Global Practice Chair for Edelman Digital. Kevin joined Edelman over 10 years ago and has been specializing in the digital space for the last 20. He currently oversees a digital practice with over 1000 people managing 750 social communities around the world.

Kevin has worked on global social media and digital initiatives for some of the world’s most well known companies and brands including Unilever, Samsung, eBay, Microsoft, Activision, Energizer, Disney, & Pfizer. In addition to helping with social and digital strategy, Kevin is a trusted advisor to companies on managing digital crisis and establishing ideal organizational structures to execute in the social space.

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