2020 led the marketing industry’s horse to digital, and pretty much forced it to drink
Sandeep Rao, Chief Executive Officer, One Source
While all of us spent the last year trying to figure one’s ear (one must be copiously polite) from one’s elbow as far as COVID-19 went, those on whom relied the fates (and salaries) of others, decided to figure out how to evolve, to take advantage of what we were yet to even understand. I was among those, who did two things – one, I finally went ahead and bought a very sturdy baseball bat, fearing the zombie apocalypse that I assumed was to follow, and two, I decided to figure out where business would go for the marketing industry, because while we do not sell a product, for those who market basis a skill, up skilling is that much-abused old, present, and new normal that keeps the hearth warm.
In the course of my research, I realised the coronavirus had done for India, what Jio and demonetisation could not. A very plausible question to ask at this stage is – what is the commonality between Jio, demonetisation, and the coronavirus?
With Jio entering the space, data became cheaper, handset sales increased, the number of tech-focused soonicorns shot through the roof, and a half dozen other tech-related business phenomena occurred, which honestly you as the reader, and I as the writer, can now rattle off in our sleep. Jio provided infrastructure. It offered to put data in the pocket of (almost) every Indian, the way no one else had. It made sure that fintech boomed, and that financial inclusion bloomed. But it failed to change our habits.
Demonetisation similarly showed the potential of finally turning the nation digi-savvy. Yet India didn’t quite get there all the way. We continued to use currency notes. We continued to stuff our wallets full of cash. And we continued to tell ourselves that very ‘Indian thing’ – in an emergency, one never knows, so better keep some cash (read: tens of thousands) aside.
What COVID-19 did though, was bring to us 2020 – the year of the second Indian digital revolution. The infrastructure started getting put in place in 2016, the year Jio launched and we faced demonetisation, the year which will be remembered as that which gave us the first Indian digital revolution. But as the British like saying – you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Indians predominantly do not take to technology, as a fish does to water. But rude animal euphemisms aside, the coronavirus forced our hand to adopt the infrastructure, and how!
A few examples from the marketing industry – firms that had 300 traditional media folk, and 3 digital media experts, decided to call themselves ‘integrated’; the virus also spawned a huge number of fly-by-night social media firms posing as digital consulting firms; and among others, every firm decided that digital up skilling needed to happen yesterday.
But what is it that we gained in the year of this digital revolution that will hold us in good stead in the coming year, other than rebranding to integrated and other whataboutery?
Service industries traditionally cater to clientele who in turn cater to customers, who in pre-2020 India were anything but digital. The consumer going digital courtesy COVID-19 means so have brands, and therefore, so are consultancies. Think butterfly effect.
This among other aspects, also means that walking the talk will be imperative among marketing consultancies. No more – how do I get front page coverage in The Economic Times. The new marketing consultant is going to advise clientele about why having a Google Knowledge Grid is great for a stable Wikipedia page, while on the side getting that elusive SEO-optimised interview. Finally from six degrees to 360 degrees. The move from media relations to stakeholder relations will now gain steam, leading to a deeper understanding of why PR is a part of corporate communication is a part of integrated marketing. A move away from traditional media relations, especially in the Indian landscape, will help the marketing industry evolve, and become closer knit. Call it all for one if you will. Parkinson’s Law has overtaken our increasingly digital lives. What 2021 needs to ensure is that the tail does not end up wagging the dog, and the perseverance we have gained from seven day workweeks is used to bring our lives back to where we can ensure some semblance of sanity.
Last, just as my yoga instructor tells me that yoga is not a way of attaining fitness, it is a way of life, so shall digital finally become a way of life in the Indian marketing setup, not merely a tool, a platform, or jargon to be thrown around, come every NASSCOM.
I know I belong to the last generation that used a Sony Walkman, a Nokia 3315, and infrared, but that does not mean that this generation does not look forward to a Digital India, one that is coming about courtesy the infrastructure that Jio and our Honourable Prime Minister helped put together; and the kick the coronavirus gave us in the hiney, to adopt.