As Isobar India completes 11 years of business from being a social media agency to a full-fledged digital agency to now being the agency that can solve any business problem with the help of digital is surely giving world class mainline agencies a run for their money.
Medianews4u caught up with Shamsuddin Jasani, Group Managing Director – Isobar South Asia, for a brief chat on Isobar’s journey of 11 years and the way forward.
How has Isobar performed in the last one year? What have been the key highlights for 2019? Which are the key account wins that you would want to share with us?
2019 is the 11th year for Isobar and has been a good time for us in a difficult market. It’s not been the best of times for us but it’s been good. In the context of what is happening, I think we have done quite well, because the market situation is not that great.
I think the first eight months of this year have not been great for the industry itself. You’ve seen what’s going on in the auto industry, followed by all the other industries, even FMCG for that matter is seeing a downturn with people just buying products themselves or the business itself is suffering, and hence, marketing suffers when that happens. In that kind of a context, we still have done quite well.
We have won big businesses such as Oppo and One Plus being one big client that we can talk about, there’s one auto client that we have won in this difficult situation also. We’ve done some great work for Visa and we are very proud of that. Visa was especially something that we want to speak about, because it’s now time that agencies like us which are digitally first, and I will not call us a digital agency anymore, we want to be looked at from a different lens, because our product now matches what mainline agencies bring to the table. So in Visa’s case, for example, even though we were signed up to be the social media agency, we did a TVC for them which was the Tap to Pay by Visa just like that campaign. That has happened not just through by chance, but through a lot of investment in the right kind of people over the past two years.
Earlier the focus for us was, how do we now start competing and building capabilities which enable us to compete with mainline agencies. The one clear focus area which was missing was a strategy planning team. We have a great creative team, a great servicing team, a great account team and amazing media teams. But I think what was missing over the years was a great strategy team and that’s something that we have built. I think that is now showing in the kind of work that is going out where clients are appreciating not just the campaigns that we’re doing but the larger thought like for example the Tap to Pay , which wouldn’t have been possible if we did not have a strategy. The insights that a strategy team comes up with are really a great start for creative team.
So I think that really has borne fruit in 2019. For us, what 2019 also has done is that it has strengthened our media positions. Oppo, One Plus are a 150 CR account that we won in digital which is quite large. our existing client portfolio consists of brands such as CEAT Tyres, Estee Lauder, National Geographic, Foxlife, V-Guard, Reebok India, Marks & Spencer, Wrangler, Acer etc.
How are you defining the roadmap for the next 10 years of Isobar?
We are defining the roadmap with some key leadership announcements.
Our content business that we launched in the beginning of this year already has five clients and is going to be headed by Madhura Ranade and we very gung-ho about it, we feel that that’s going to be a big part of our future.
Himanshu Arora who has been with us for nine years in Delhi is now going to take over our largest office which is the Delhi office and free up a lot of robust time of Gopa Kumar who is now our Chief Operating Officer. So Himanshu is going to take up the responsibility of heading the Delhi office as AVP Delhi.
Our social media practice which is very big and for that we thought that we now needed proper leadership to take just the social media practice forward and accurately, Aakriti Sinha will be heading the social media practice.
We had made Anadi Shah the innovation head, but we are also giving the added responsibility of the Executive Creative Director along with our CCO Anish. The idea is to strengthen our creative businesses. This is the start of what I call the next 10 years of Isobar.
Well, we we’ve charted the path for the first 10 years of Isobar and now I’m looking forward to having these guys take parts of our business and really make them much bigger.
How is Isobar Sri Lanka been doing? What’s the composition of the team there and are they all locals?
Isobar Sri Lanka is doing excellent. I think it reminds me of the early days of Isobar India. I think it’s been about 9 months now. We’ve signed 15 clients and we are already past the number one agency to become the number one agency in Sri Lanka, which was Mindshare. So we’ve really turned the tables out there. The team has already gone off to a 22 member team, within a matter of nine months for a market like Sri Lanka that is a decently sized team. We have just launched our programmatic product in Sri Lanka.
We have got only local talent in the team of Isobar Sri Lanka, and that’s the only way it works, you can’t sending in someone there from India. It’s a hundred percent local team, that understands the market, the people, the business and has allowed us to really get where we are today.
What’s the update on Isobar Commerce?
Isobar Commerce is a global technology center. The way we’re working is that there is a 200 member team in Pune doing cutting edge global enterprise level technology work, not just restricted to commerce, of course, commerce is a core capability. But that’s something that they are doing well, I think the Indian market is still not prepared for the extent of services because the Indian market still does a lot more third party kind of selling like Amazon, Flipkart, etc and primary selling is still restricted. So your own websites are still not on the scale that they should be. Once that play comes in then Isobar Commerce comes in.
What are going to be the game changers in the next couple of years?
I see the next two years being something where voice is fundamentally going to change the way we interact and we behave. One end of the spectrum of voice will be where we will stop using our phones as regularly as though because we’d be talking to the phones rather than tapping on and seeing what’s happening. If you want to know where to go just talk to your phone, you want to start a video or anything like that, it’s all voice enabled, that’s going to be there. So that’s one part of it, the other part of it is that voice will now reach into areas where earlier it was difficult for any other media to reach because voices going to take one barrier out, which all the other medias have and that is literacy.
The next big growth is going to come from the very small towns and cities. Voice is fundamentally not just going to change marketing its going to change business. Because the consumer who is in that smaller town city, having a 500 rupee phone will now start getting access to things which he or she never had in their lives. So it’ll unlock opportunities for them, which will never before that. So I think it’s fundamentally going to change how people live their lives.
On the back of Voice is AI and Machine Learning, that is a constant, it’s here, we don’t need to fight it, but we need to embrace it. Our whole concept of augmented humanity, which means it’s only going to make us better humans, is what Machine Learning and AI is. It is going to takeover, a lot of the mundane degree tasks that we do. To give an example in our industry itself, in the next year or so I see a lot of reporting and etcetera being taken over by ML.
On top of that machine learning and AI will give you a lot more insights and then the human sits on top of it and makes reasoning out of it and then not comes up with campaigns. So much richer insights, much richer decisions, much quicker decisions will be taken, I think it will improve our productivity by leaps and bounds.
What is the way forward for Isobar? Which are the key plans that you have for the near future?
One is the launch of Isobar’s transformational practice, consulting. So our digital transformation practice is to launch in the next few months, there we will consult with clients to really work on how digital can help transform their businesses and not just on the marketing side. This is not just an Isobar product; this will be an Isobar India group project. I mean that it will be in conjunction with our sister agency Fractal because it has to be brought to life by experience design and they are the experience design specialists while we understand consumers and brands. So how do we take this beautiful amalgamation of these two agencies and go to clients and tell them that how do I actually design a completely new journey for you, where you as a client are able to make a difference to your business using digital and not just, saying that as in the marketing of my brand we have used digital. That’s going to happen in the next two months.
So is this Isobar India entering the consulting space?
Yes, this Isobar India entering the consulting space.
Number two of course, the entire voice thing, we will be coming up with something very interesting in the next month on voice. It’s our take on what’s going to happen in that space. So watch this space, as they call it. I can’t say it right now so let the right time come.
Content, as I said, is going to be key. Earlier advertising used to interrupt your viewing habits by showing you a 30 second commercial and then you could go back to your entertainment. Consumers don’t like that anymore. So with different devices, different kinds of technology, different kinds of platforms you need to reach out to the consumer and engage them in a very subtle way and it needs to be non-intrusive for them. So in that space content plays a big role, because it becomes relevant to a consumer and he or she starts watching it only if it’s relevant to them. Brands are now getting much more into content so the content team that we have started this year is just a one person team, which already has five clients backed by the entire agency, of course. But that team, we expect quickly in the next year, to be a 30 to 40 member team. And that’s a scalar that we are planning for the content team in the next one year itself. So that is going to be a big play for us.
One other thing that we are hoping to launch this year is Isobar Good. What Isobar Good is about is as to how we can use our capabilities as an agency, which understands digital so well, to help clients do good for society at large, and not just a tick box to say that I have done CSR but as how can a proper business practice can use digital to enhance society. Let’s say it’s a stick in the ground that we are putting in thing that we all feel genuinely we need to do good. And today, the world sees people who fake it and people who really do it. So we are going to do it for really feel that we want to do it for society, the stakeholders that are there now for the new businesses are not just your consumers, not just your team, not just your stakeholders, and also the society at large. I think that it’s time for us to start working with a plan to contribute towards the society by using our capabilities. These are a few things as we go into the future that Isobar is planning to do.