Forbes India Forum discusses brand-building in the digital era

The Forbes India Thought Leadership Forum was a highly successful event which shed light on building brands and businesses in the fast-changing digital world.

BRAND CONNECT
Published: Oct 15, 2018

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The Forbes India Thought Leadership Forum was organised by Forbes India, in association with Mastercard, at Taj Lands End, Mumbai on August 13, 2018. The event brought together some of the top minds in the advertising industry to discuss the significance of going digital in a constantly evolving modern world. In the digital era, it has become imperative for senior executives to manage businesses and build strong brands, harnessing technology and the digital media. The panelists included Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Mastercard, Apurva Purohit, President, Jagran, Shilpa Kumar, CEO, ICICI Securities, Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment, Sudip Ghose, CEO, VIP Industries, Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media & OOH. Brian Carvalho, Editor, Forbes India, moderated the discussion.

Excerpts:
Brian Carvalho: Brands help forge an emotional connect between businesses and those who use and experience the brand. That’s a truth held on for decades, even centuries. So what’s changed now? How can brands be developed in a rapidly evolving environment? Has technology changed the way you build a brand?

Raja Rajamannar:
For me, first and foremost, if I look at the brand-building activity today versus how it used to be done even five years back, it’s totally different. Technology has democratised the whole playing field in such a big way that even a relatively small player has the ability to create breakthrough solutions. Technology has led to significant changes in how consumer behaviour is shaping up. Your brand can be built and destroyed very quickly in this environment.

Brian Carvalho: Do you see a shift happening to the smaller screen?

Sameer Nair: Technology and social media has empowered brands and customers to respond instantly, which has led to expectations from brands to reply [to their customers]. All the brands are coping with this, some doing a better job than the others. But there is no taking away from the fact that at the end of the day, these devices are around 900 million strong and therefore brand-building has moved on from a computer or a TV to a screen in your hand. And that screen in your hand is becoming everything.

Brian Carvalho: So Sudip, do you see more customers asking for better quality or different types of products?

Sudip Ghose: The digital media has made brands more  responsible and consumer-oriented, in a way. In consumer durables, each promise that you make has to be backed with a product. So, for us, advertising is just 30 percent advertising; rest is about understanding the product. I'm okay if you get a marketer whose understanding of media or advertising is very normal, as long as he/she understands the product, which is very important.

Brian Carvalho: Will you actively listen to the feedback on social media?

Raja Rajamannar: The beauty of social media is that every brand can make itself heard . The anonymity that this medium affords gives consumers the freedom of expression . It’s important to listen, take feedback, be agile and make decisions quickly .

Brian Carvalho: So, Apurva, as this is something that we struggle with, what should be the core for media companies? Also, people tend to post very strong political views, claiming them to be their personal views. But at the end of the day, the employee is part of a brand, part of a larger organisation, so is there some kind of responsibility that lies with the employee in that sense?

Apurva Purohit: More than the employee I’d like to talk about the media platform and the responsibility that lies with it. The digital medium is facing a crisis of confidence currently. Credibility of print, TV and radio is still high, but what is said on the digital platform is considered to be fake. It’s digital media’s existential crisis. Only the brands with true loyalty will survive. The digital world is eroding ‘forced loyalty’ formed by lack of choice. If traditional media and the non-social part of digital media has to grow in stature and in even financials, credibility is a serious concern and for that, there have to be many detailed rules and regulations, internal controls etc. that one has to put in place.

Brian Carvalho: How do you perceive this situation of the entire media changing? Is it moving towards digital?

Vikram Sakhuja: It’s definitely moving very fast towards digital. Mary Meeker [creator of Internet Trends report] said that money should follow the amount of time spent on mediums. I don’t agree with that because I think the context is important. I would never put a TV ad created for a brand on Facebook; that’s stupid. Somewhere along the line, the entire integrated marketing communications came in and now media wasn’t looked at for giving you incremental reach. You now look at it as a central idea and find different media touch points to take that idea to life. With the influx of digital platforms, search and social media, the CMO now has various aspects to consider before creating a coherent marketing campaign. Till now, advertising was only about awareness or encounters, and to some extent, exploring your thinking engagement of the brand. Digital has changed this; I’d like to believe that the pie should now become bigger rather than be a zero-sum game. A lot of the spends are actually adding on, which is why TV and print continue to grow, even while the digital juggernaut is relentless.

Brian Carvalho: Vikram, you said that the CMO is facing an existential crisis, right? So based on your interactions with CMOs, how do you see the role of the CMO changing; is it less relevant than it was earlier?

Vikram Sakhuja: No, I think the relevance is still there. There is no question that the CMO needs to have certain data skills and technology skills in addition to the branding communication skills which he/she had. They need to be able to forge partnerships, so they have to be able to view the entire game more holistically.

Raja Rajamannar:
Like Vikram said, a CMO must not only function as a pure marketing specialist now, but also upgrade his or her skills to be able to understand and leverage technology and data, talk the language of the business and connect the dots between the investment in marketing versus the business results. Unless the CMO does that, we will see more of these CMO roles being eliminated.
Shilpa Kumar: I think in today’s context, every employee is a CMO, including the customer service guy, the HR, since the way they interact with the customers reflects the brand identity itself.

Sameer Nair: I agree with Shilpa completely. I too feel that everyone in a company is, in a way, a CMO as everyone has to sell the brand; everyone has got to be the brand. I think all the smart companies are doing that at every single touch point; every single person in the company eats, breathes and sleeps the brand.

Brian Carvalho: Probably one of the most successful ad campaigns Mastercard has done is ‘Priceless’. So, how’s that evolved over the years, especially with the digital economy taking shape?

Raja Rajamannar:
Priceless is one of the world’s most successful iconic campaigns. It has run for 20 years and is still going strong. This is because we focus on things that truly matter to people – things that are priceless in their lives. Our brand platform connects people across the world through universal human truths. In today’s digital economy, we are seeing more than ever that experiences matter more than things. Our marketing evolved from advertising to a more holistic engagement platform where Priceless infuses across everything. We curate experiences that resonate authentically with people in spaces they truly care about.

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