Rahul Vengalil
Guest Article

Why the ad fraternity should stop being the torchbearer for digital

The last few years have been great for digital companies in India. One can refer to any of the reports that are coming out of the advertising networks, ad tech companies or consulting firms to see that digital is growing exponentially in India. This has also resulted in the mushrooming of many institutes advocating and promoting digital marketing courses in India. Events and award functions acting as torchbearers for the usage of digital marketing in business are a dime-a-dozen. CMOs are given the charge of digital transformation & they turn towards their advertising agency (mainline/digital) to build the strategic roadmap, the operating word being 'advertising agency'. The question that one fails to address though is, when and where will digital cease to be an advertising channel and start becoming the centre of business? More importantly, who needs to be responsible for this?

As an adviser to businesses in the game of efficiency and effectiveness for close to three years, I have had the opportunity to interact with over 100 businesses. Through these interactions I have realised that opportunities in digital excite everyone, but not many have the maturity to use digital effectively.

My biggest worry at the moment is whether it will be too late before businesses up the maturity level and move beyond advertising. There are 3 key challenges that businesses face due to low maturity:

  1. Fragmentation ⁠— Any large enterprise today faces this challenge. There are guardians of different verticals within the organisations whose responsibility is to not see eye-to-eye with others. Each function is forced to pussy foot around the other, often creating turf wars of sorts. This is neither good for the organisation nor for the talent pool. The question then is who decides what is good for business? A team that understands only technology, or advertising, or business? Do we even have among us, people who have experience across the functions today, or is it still too early?

  2. Data paralysis ⁠— When the stakeholders involved in the process are working in silos, then the whole idea of data-led marketing is a far cry. Brands are finding it difficult to start seeing data holistically. Most of the time, stakeholders do not know who owns what kind of data within an organisation, and more importantly what data should be looked at. I have had clients who are not able to map top-of-the-funnel activities with performance, compare website performance with GMB or store visits, website performance with branding activities, sales with UX, and so on. What else do you call this, other than data paralysis?

3. Agility ⁠— The fragmentation and the subsequent data paralysis finally hits the agility of any organisation. When different stakeholders are working in silos and there is no clarity on the data that is available, iterations and optimisation come to a standstill. This is a major blow to the agility of the business.

If these challenges aren't addressed and arrested, digital will always remain an advertising vehicle, even though everyone is calling it a business enabler. Where should the course correction start then? Is it the CEO or the BOD who should become the torchbearers or strongest proponents of digital platforms. They need to invest heavily on upskilling the current set of leaders within the organisation, attract new talent of generalists in digital, failing which they will not be able to understand or appreciate the full potential of digital as a medium.

Let me draw your attention to a non-digital technology company that tops the market cap globally. If you are wondering which company I'm talking about, then stop. Because there isn't one. The writing on the wall is clear. Digital is an integral part of the consumer’s life because it entertains, it makes the interaction with business seamless, it is easy to use, accessibility to digital is high especially among the younger generation, it connects people with other people, it provides information at the tip of the fingers and so on. In other words, digital technology makes life simpler and that trumps everything else. If a CEO is not able to understand the implication it has on business, who else would?

(The author is founder and chief executive officer at What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm)

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