Digital is the new girl in town that everybody wants to go out with: Mohammed Sirajuddeen, RAPP Asia

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : December 29, 2009
In an exclusive interview with afaqs!, Mohammed Sirajuddeen, chief executive officer, RAPP Asia and Venkat Mallik, president, RAPP India talk about how data-driven marketing is the new mantra

Mohammad Sirajuddeen, chief executive officer, RAPP Asia is in India. His task is to lay down the path ahead for a restructured RAPP India, the relationship marketing unit of the Mudra Group. afaqs! spoke to Sirajuddeen and Venkat Mallik, president, RAPP India, on the agency's remodelling and perspectives on emerging relationship marketing trends.

RAPP, a data driven marketing communication agency, is part of the Omnicom Group, spread across 50 countries. The agency's capability in data-driven marketing solutions is supported with capabilities in digital and direct brand communication, Customer Relationship Management and analytics.

Excerpts from the interview:

afaqs!: Tell us about the restructuring that RAPP has witnessed in the recent past.

Mallik: We have been remodelling the agency for a year now. We are remodelling it, as well as re-launching it in different markets. Siraj started the re-launch in Asia around nine months ago.

He is building a new management team and winning new clients. All of that is filtering into India now.

Essentially, the India entity is being remodelled to realign with what is now the global RAPP agenda - to create a 'data driven, media agnostic, creative and marketing services company'.

Data is at the backbone of everything that we do; and our solutions are across media. We have built capabilities in every part of the world, including India, where it allows us to do classic mass media work and digital work. We have created data backbones in India, as much as we have created everywhere else.

We now believe that RAPP makes for a better partner for companies across sectors, where there are many more touch points that are reaching out to consumers; and therefore, the brand has to be built through each one of those touch points. Obviously, you need an engagement that allows you to do that.

Also, your partner company needs to track what is happening with every initiative that you take. We have to deliver measurable results. The marketplace is evolving dramatically and there is significantly more pressure on results. Everybody wants to know what is happening to the money that is being spent. Especially when we are emerging out of a recession, measurability becomes even more significant.

We think that a company where data and measurability is at the heart of everything is likely to be the agency model of the future. That is where we are at.

Sirajuddeen: India is a key growth market for us. It is one of the three growth engines, apart from China and Indonesia. We were very focused on India for the past six months. We wanted to set our house in order before speaking to the media.

We have done the restructuring to mirror the models and processes we have globally. We also had to make sure that we have the right kind of people with us. We trained our existing people, so that they could better understand what RAPP stands for; and also, the new people we bring in could understand the language we talked, a language of data driven marketing.

Everyone talks about relationship marketing, direct marketing and digital; but few are talking of data driven marketing. Data driven marketing helps you to understand your consumers much better. It helps in taking data insights to come up with engagement plans for your customers, which will further help in driving results. That has been our focus.

Our focus is all about keeping data at the heart of everything we do.

afaqs!: Could you comment more on data driven marketing?

Sirajuddeen: Data driven marketing is completely media neutral and provides huge opportunities. If you look at clients in India, they are very traditional advertising focused. When we are coming with a data driven marketing proposition, we are actually going to bring in the accountability model. There are many clients in India, who want to make sure that every rupee spent is accounted for.

The financial sector, pharmaceuticals and information technology, among others, are categories that offer great opportunities for us.

Data gives you complete media neutrality. We can decide what the best channel to reach the consumer is. If I think digital is the best way, I will choose it. If I think mobile can do it, then I will choose mobile. If I think a television commercial is required and I have an accountability model, then I might even do that.

afaqs!: What are the key trends you see in the market now?

Mallik: There is the growth of mobile and the internet across the world. When you merge digital with data and you create accountable digital solutions, then measurability becomes an integral part of the whole thing.

By merging digital and data, you can create very highly measurable and connected engagements with consumers. A very dominant part of RAPP's revenues internationally comes from digital engagement with consumers.

That is a pattern we see emerging in the whole of India. There will be a lot more digital and mobile solutions, going forward.

Sirajuddeen: Digital is the new girl in town that everybody wants to go out with. Digital is exactly what television was 50 years ago. It is a new medium and everybody wants to experiment with it. But where is the accountability? How many campaigns can you truly pick, and say that here is one that has delivered 'x' results?

When we talk of data and digital marrying, it is all about engaging the consumers using the digital channels. It could be online, mobile or the digital billboards you see on the streets, and other digital channels where you engage with the consumers. But we have the data, which gives the accountability.

One can track and say, "X number of people went to my site, but when I look at my sales funnel, I actually converted 10 per cent of that into sales."

We, at RAPP, track the campaign and are in control of the data. We are able to tell the clients that we can do a particular job for them, a certain result will be driven, sales will be increased by a particular percentage; but we will need a percentage of the sales revenue.

afaqs!: Are we witnessing a shift from direct marketing to something that is getting increasingly digital?

Sirajuddeen: Direct marketing principles are still relevant. Most people tend to think that direct marketing is dead; but it is not. How they can be used in a digital context and how they can be used to drive consumer engagement are the key.

Most people think of digital and think of banners and micro sites. They do not look at the direct marketing engagement model.

Direct marketing has just gone up a couple of notches into the digital space.

afaqs!: Could you comment on the growing use of CRM and digital practices in marketing?

Sirajuddeen: CRM is a very big word and has multiple components. Technology is one component. An agency needs to understand how technology can help in relationship marketing. There is an engagement process, which comes from the data that is collected. Once the data is collected, one must know how to engage the consumers.

There is no point in investing in technology and keeping the data in office. The data needs to be used to engage. Once the engagement is done, one must know how to grow the relationship. When you grow that relationship, you also have to ensure that you are driving accountability.

Most people look at CRM and think that only a technology system needs to be bought and a CRM program can be put in place. Technology is just one part of the whole process. That is what most agencies and clients fail to realise.

We, at RAPP, are built to handle CRM because we have the technology; we have analysts and then we have engagement specialists.

afaqs!: What are your views on digital marketing beyond the internet?

Sirajuddeen: Even when you look at the internet, it has many facets. Social media is one such facet, where you can engage with consumers. Some brands are doing that. We have a couple of clients in our portfolio, where we have used social media very effectively.

Then there is the traditional way, where you put some banners and expect people to click.

You can also actually create content. Not many companies look at doing that. You can partner with some of the websites and create relevant content.

You can also look at 'influencers', people who can influence your brand online.

Consider even 'search'. Search itself is changing, because consumers are now thinking very differently.

Then you have the mobile medium. Mobile marketing potential has still not been realised. There are still a lot more opportunities to use mobile and engage consumers.

The other digital mediums one can talk about are out-of-home, direct-to-home and IP TV (Internet Protocol television).

afaqs!: There are obvious challenges. There are people who would delete text messages and e-mails without even a look.

Mallik: It depends on how you actually use the medium. Every medium has its bunch of fallacies. Television commercials get zapped, pop-ups on websites are blocked; there are obviously a bunch of things that will not work, but there is still a fair bit that does. That is true about mobile as well. We are going through the different phases of evolution.

Relevance is the absolute key. Whether the proper handsets are being used or the users are able to understand the communicated language. These are challenges even the internet faces.

afaqs!: This marriage of data driven marketing and digital that you talk about; how do you see it taking off in India?

Sirajuddeen: This is the only way forward. Slowly, marketing dollars are going to move into this area. Most marketers have to show accountability and digital is slowly going to provide that.

When people tell me that India is slow on the digital highway, I disagree. If you take the penetration of mobile phones in India, it is so high. We know of companies that are using the mobile phone route to engage with the consumers.

The view that India is slow on digital is not right, because one is only looking at the internet. With mobile phone usage, digital is going to go much deeper and that is where the future is.

India, to me, lives in seven different centuries. There is a cluster of people who are already globally connected and then there are those who do not even have electricity at home. So, the key thing is whom are you going to connect to and what is the content you are going to provide.

We want to take the data and identify what we need to do with the data, to make a difference in the marketing space.

First Published : December 29, 2009

© 2009 afaqs!