IAMAI Conference: Is there a tradeoff between online and offline?

By Chhavi Tyagi , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | July 03, 2009
While online might not ever take over mass media campaigns, yet, marketers are realising the importance of having a good social plan

The third session of the Fifth Digital Marketing Conference, organised by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in New Delhi, deliberated on how next generation marketers are using new media, such as social networking websites and search marketing tools, for their brands.

The session was moderated by Ambareesh Murty, country manager of eBay India, The panellists were Anisha Motwani, executive vice-president marketing and chief marketing officer, Max New York Life; Mohit Hira, president, eLearning (Retail) NIIT; Sanjay Tripathi, executive vice-president and head marketing, HDFC Standard Life; Dinesh Agarwal, founder and chief executive officer, IndiaMart InterMesh and Virginia Sharma, director marketing and communication, India/South Asia, IBM Software Group.

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Murty began the discussion by asking the panellists on how marketers can tradeoff between online and offline spends and how they can be persuaded to put more money online.

Sharma replied, "It is not a tradeoff, but a question of coming out with a combination of online and social media and offline media. We, at IBM, always think on the lines of how to integrate media like Twitter and Facebook with traditional media. We want results in terms of better responses and more loyalty from our consumers. The idea of one versus the other doesn't resonate with us, as we want the best of both worlds."

Sharma added that while giving agencies a brief, IBM focusses more on a holistic strategy, which should come out in the form of an integrated communication that meets their brand objective.

Tripathi agreed with Sharma's stance, saying that the question itself is passť -- companies today are not only looking at how the campaign will come out in radio or print, but also online. "The problem is not whether we are thinking online, but is the metrics available to launch an exclusive online campaign."

Hira added that clients and agencies alike are digital aliens -- they don't really know what to do even if they want to. "Nobody is actually shifting money from offline to online; but marketers are increasingly experimenting with a small amount of money, with rising expectations from the medium. Clients are used to devoting major spends offline; and whatever is left after that trickles down to online. At our organisation, fortunately, it is our chairman who has initiated the online discussion. That is where the change should come from. Otherwise, it just gets lost."

Motwani brought in a different perspective, saying that looking at online as an exclusive medium for any campaign is not practical, as even popular media have not been able to attain that exclusive tag. "If television could not become exclusive, then online has a long way to go. As marketers, we want to tap consumers at multiple touch points. If you think that we are going to trade television with online, then the answer is no. But yes, we are looking at trading smaller media with online, as it is proving to be comparatively more cost-effective and engaging. Digital is becoming an important part of the overall picture."

Hira added that the problem with marketers going for large-scale online campaigns is that the mainline brand agencies are digitally illiterate, and that digital agencies are not in sync with the brand. However, he said that an exclusive online campaign could very well be possible if the brand is online.

Murty then asked the members which media the marketers would slice their spends on, to shift it to online. Though all the panellists agreed that it is more of a brand and company specific question, some said that print is a more likely candidate. "It depends on what role the medium plays. While television plays on the audio-visual aspect, print is more of an information providing medium, which online does as well. Why would I not choose a medium, which not only provides my consumers with information, but is also interactive?"

On the role of search in a brand's scheme of things, Sharma said, "Two things are extremely important in the customers' decision making process -- peer discussions and search. Many of our consumers depend on feedback and on online product reviews. Therefore, we are constantly trying to optimise the search capabilities of our pages. These routes also throw up the best leads for us in a very cost-effective manner."

Agarwal also remarked that it is not an agency's responsibility to suggest online spends, but the initial push should come from marketers. "As marketers, we should be worried where our return on investment (ROI) is coming from and how we can employ better, cost-effective mediums."

On the question of how marketers evaluate ROI, Hira said that while television and print do not allow the marketers to know where their consumers are coming from, online does it naturally.

Talking on online creative concepts, Agarwal said that the online ad concepts are just an adaptation of TV or print campaigns; there is greater need to come out with online specific communication.

As for performance-based advertising, Sharma said while performance is everything, it also means different things to different people. "For us, it is not about generating leads, but about generating better leads. Marketers should also be aware of how their brands are being perceived in the online space -- they should know who is writing on their brand and what is that being written."

She cited the example of a painkiller brand's communication going awry with a few women. The brand had to come out with an apology note on their website, after a hate group was started by the angry women on Twitter. She said that marketers need to get very worried if somebody has said something bad online and work on an action plan to counter that.

Motwani added that the medium has great potential. "Newspapers make consumers lean back, while internet makes them lean forward, which showcases that the medium is very effective and rich. So, while my television commercial might touch 70,000 people, those 700 touched by a Twitter campaign are more valuable to me, as they are realistic and more capable of conversion into buyers."

However, Sharma said that the follow-up process was important here. "What happens when the leads are generated? A web campaign is not going to succeed, unless there is follow-up on those leads. A consumer will try out a campaign once or twice, but if is no salesperson gets in touch with them, then the consumer is not going to waste their time on the brand again."

All the panellists agreed that an online campaign also requires intensive effort and labour to figure out all the conversation around the brand, as well as creating their own communication, coupled with following up with consumers.

As for search marketing, Motwani said that while companies do invest in paid search; yet, organic ranking is far more credible and a real challenge for brands to take. To which Sharma added that while some may call paid search an easy way out; however, paid search can only get consumers once -- eventually it is the editorial content that will make the consumer bookmark the page, which is the starting point of the relationship.

Murty summed up the discussion by saying that there are three things which a marketer has to keep in mind while planning an online campaign -- good content, providing users with a good experience and feedback to then reflect on the content again.