Vishal Jacob as a Digital marketer has witnessed the roller-coaster ride of India’s digital marketing transformation journey from up close and personal – from the dotcom burst in the early 2000’s to the current age of data-driven marketing. The purpose has remained the same – enabling brands to establish a deep connection with the consumer – yet the means whether through Search, Social, Mobile, and Programmatic etc. have dramatically evolved and are continuing to do so at a frenetic pace.
Vishal is also a published Author and a certified coach from ICF with further specialization in transactional analysis and NLP, Vishal continues to nurture and coach talent to prep them for leadership roles.In his current role Vishal continues to drive this transformation with a focus rooted deeply in nurturing talent and enhancing digital product capabilities.
In today’s Straight Talk Vishal Jacob, Chief Digital Officer, Wavemaker India talks about his journey, the changes in the Digital marketing space and much more.
You have seen the ups and downs in the Digital space, now there is a surge, what have been the challenges and what will be the new challenges in this business?
Yes there has been a surge. Digital’s share of ad spends has increased from being 27% in 2019 to an expected 35% in 2021. As far as challenges go, if you look at it from an agency perspective I would say finding the right Talent has kept me up at night. Managing digital campaigns has become fairly complex and the skillsets needed are quite diverse. Not only finding the right people with such diverse skillsets is needed, but having a diverse skill set means they need to be helped with the right guidance and career path. Also getting everyone to work as a team to solve common problems is the need of the hour. From a brand’s perspective however I would say the challenges have been in articulating to brands the ways in which digital as a medium is able to contribute to effectiveness. This is especially true for businesses where sales happen through traditional retail stores. As far as new challenges go, I would say every brand will now need to grow and enrich their 1st party data. I see this as a key problem that most brands will look to solve in the time to come.
You have worked with the best in the industry, from the time when digital spend was an afterthought to now, what has the transformation been like and the challenges?
Digital is an ever evolving medium and it has been evolving in more than one way. Even today we continue see a lot of change in the way brands have been using Digital. These changes are across content, media, data etc.For instance,
Brands have started to shift from placement-led buys to audience-led buys. This in essence means identifying audiences you would like to reach and prioritizing spends behinds these audiences that convert rather than behind certain platforms
Building a brand through conversations rather than just visibility. So campaigns are now engineered in ways that can spark more positive conversations and drive a positive disposition through organic mentions for the brand
Moving from a one-content-fits-all approach to a platform-specific content approach.As each platform grows to become an eco-system in itself it becomes very critical to create a content strategy suited to each specific platform
Shifting the dependence from Talent to Machines – this has been steadily happening for aspects of campaign management and optimization
Prioritizing efforts on D2C channels compared to building visibility on marketplaces
Building 1st party data and reducing dependance on 3rd party data
Given the ever-changing dynamic nature of the medium, agility and speed become very critical.
The past year was a difficult phase for all. Heading the digital in Wavemaker India, how do you see 2021?
It’s true that last year was a big challenge for the advertising industry. Yet digital as a vertical Had not de-grown. If we look at 2021 estimates, digital as a vertical may have grown by about 28% or 30% from last year. At Wavemaker we should index slightly higher than the industry. Our key priorities for 2021 would be to strengthen our e-commerce practice, build exceptionally strong capabilities in data-driven-marketing and work as partners to our clients to help them drive business growth.
Are you seeing a shift in how brands are now looking at digital as the front runner when it comes to delivering their brand communication? Do you think it is now time for brands to explore the full potential of programmatic advertising?
Yes digital has always been a lean forward medium compared to television which is a lean back medium. Therefore, while building a brand on digital the same rules don’t necessarily apply. It is critical to identify need-states and the audiences in those need-states and then further personalise the communication to them. Businesses that have done this are able to successfully build their brand on digital. With programmatic your ability to find the right audiences and personalise the communication to them increases significantly. However, in my view very few brands have been able to explore the full potential of programmatic. In order to do so brands would need to invest in a data-driven practice and build a tech stack that can engineer the best outcomes. Not all brands are open to this investment and it may take a while for this to become a standard practice.
What has been the performance of the Digital Platforms in the last quarter of 2020 and the beginning of the financial year in 2021?
I am not in a position to state how much each platform has grown as that information is confidential. However, I would like to state that e-commerce as a vertical has seen a massive growth last year and we believe this growth will continue for the next few years. We had seen the importance of e-commerce gaining momentum a few years back and launched our practice to help clients build a strong presence across marketplaces or D2C. Today we see the lines are increasingly blurring between e-commerce platforms and social platforms. This gives clients a new set of opportunities to engage with consumers through solutions around social-commerce.
Digital is still not measured, how do brands evaluate and measure their performance?
Digital is not a broadcast medium so the possibility of having an independent body like BARC isn’t possible. Having said so, I don’t agree that digital cannot be measured. On the contrary it can be measured a lot more compared to any other medium, but to draw an apt comparison it’s critical to articulate what is being measured.
Given that it is a full funnel medium one needs to go beyond exposure and look at other metrics that indicate business growth and there are brands that are doing a fabulous job at that. It’s a lot easier to measure effectiveness if the fulfilment happens online as you are able to measure and test every aspect of consumer interaction including copy, visuals, touchpoints etc.. If the sales happens through traditional retail channels one would need to lean onto statistical attribution models that can help understand what’s working and what’s not.
How do you use AI and Machine learning for driving maximum impact for your clients?
At Wavemaker we have been working towards building the right kind of tools, attracting the right kind of talent, and growing the much-needed skillsets that will help aid our clients’ growth. For instance, we have been working towards building Maximise, a tool powered by AI and ML that can help brands not only to plan at a very granular customer level but also to simultaneously explore multiple attributes of the different audiences and assess the best touchpoints to create the most optimized campaign – whether across channels and/or markets. Being AI based, Maximise helps us create for our clients not only the most optimized plan, but also the most efficient one in record time. Apart from that when it comes to deployment, we have Copilot our proprietary algorithm that can help optimize campaigns and deliver better outcomes.
Data is the new oil.How have you at Wavemaker funnelled this to your clients benefit?
Its true data is and will be a very critical factor in driving better outcomes for our clients. We have observed the need to prepare our clients for the challenges posed by the ecosystem at large. For instance, the need to collect, enrich and activate 1st party data is increasingly becoming a key area of focus and holds the promise of successful campaign implementation and deployment in time to come. We have been consciously recruiting the right kind of talent and building the right kind of infrastructures to help our clients create the right blueprint for themselves and activate campaigns using their 1st party data. We launched an audience sciences team to help brands does just that. We also launched Bridge to help clients use their 1st party data on a privacy-centered environment like Google that can help brands customize the way they create similar audiences on google.
Who was your first or most significant mentor or teacher in the professional space? What specifically did you learn that has held you in good stead throughout?
I will say without a doubt that I have been fortunate to have been around some really wonderful minds and I have been able to learn a lot from my seniors. If I have to pick the most significant then I would say it would be Tusharand Unny. Tushar for sharpening my ways of thinking and problem solving and Unny for helping me discover myself and my strengths.
You have also authored a few books, what made your venture into writing?
Well to be honest,it didn’t start as a book-writing project. I have always been fascinated with behavioral sciences and spent most of my weekends reading or doing courses on coaching and neuroscience. I enjoyed the process of learning and logging down my thoughts into words. Over time I had enough content to publish a few chapters and it landed as a book. It was quite a fulfilling exercise.
Talent is a huge issue, as a mentor how are you seeing it and what would be your advice to the young millennial?
Yes, the digital marketing industry has a talent crisis. Our industry needs professionals across diverse skillsets and good talent is hard to find. I believe it is the responsibility of the organization to groom professionals to become good leaders. For that we need to provide an environment where each one can grow personally and professionally. It is my belief that all professionals need to be nudged into discovering themselves, not just as a one-time exercise but more as an always-on activity. When people discover their strengths and play to their strengths they blossom and work in a far more fulfilled way.
What are some other activities or hobbies that excite you? What are your weekends like?
For the last year or so my weekends have largely been in-doors and I am sure it’s the same with most of us. I enjoy learning and teaching and coaching. I do online courses on various topics right from philosophy to investments. I find the process of learning new things everyday quite fulfilling.