The Agency Experience

Last Thursday was my first anniversary at GroupM, and the next day was my last there. A short tenure, and one year in an agency is too less a timeframe to be exposed to all the facets, people and processes a large (media) agency has to offer. But limiting though it is, I’d still like to share my (limited) thoughts, because I wasn’t able to get these perspectives before I made the shift to the agency side. My contacts on the client side had near zero clue on life in an agency, and my agency friends were veterans who had always been on that side. It wouldn’t have occurred to them that these things might be unfamiliar to a n00b! :)

These are based on what I saw and experienced, and hence more subjective than objective. I’m restricting it to three aspects that bring out some good and some not-so-good points. More

A response to Facebook’s shrinking organic reach

Facebook’s plummeting organic reach has prompted several questions on whether it makes sense to continue investing in a presence on the platform. The short answer is still yes, and while I have never been a fan of Like acquisition, the platform continues to offer several avenues to help brands meet business outcomes. But marketers must learn from this episode, understand that Facebook and most other social platforms are fundamentally leased media and not owned, and be more cognizant of the landscape inside and outside Facebook in order to address business objectives better.

Rather than going for my standard long form text, I thought I’d play it differently and take the help of my favourite pop culture phenomena in the process. The disclaimer is that this is meant to be a primer on how to tackle this issue rather than a comprehensive silver bullet.

until next time, Like? 😉

Manufacturer, Market, Media

Sometime last year at Myntra, we were having a planning meeting and everyone was asked for their take on the future of (fashion) e-commerce in a 5 year time frame. I confessed that I had no idea, and asked the group whether they had heard of 3D printing. Since this was before the hype machine went into overdrive, none had. My perspective was that if I could print branded merchandise on my own, what would be the role of an intermediary? (interestingly, I read something on a similar note more recently)   I have no idea how mainstream this phenomenon will become, but 3D printers are already being sold online by Staples and Amazon. eBay also has an app that allows users to buy custom goods from three of the top 3D printing companies. (via)

There are multiple themes which we can explore from here – the augmented human, the collaborative economy and social commerce – to name a couple. But since these are fairly obvious and have at least been kickstarted on the blog, I thought of connecting this to my post from last week – the future of owned media – in which I explored the possibility of a media marketplace which is tapped by businesses to create, curate and possibly even market content that is relevant to them. The journalism that brands want subsidising the journalism that society needs. I hypothesised whether Bezos’ purchase of WaPo was a vague start to this, given Amazon’s presence in multiple domains.

It’s interesting that Bezos had invested in MakerBot, probably the original poster boy of 3D printer manufacturing, (via) but thinks the digitisation of physical goods is a while away. It becomes even more interesting when WaPo publishes a story on the business case for 3D printing in the context of e-com players’ need to minimise delivery time. The long tail would explode even more! The article also mentions how “Amazon’s giant fulfillment centers could be another place where just-in-time manufacturing and delivery come together.

What role does media play in this? IMO, we’re increasingly moving towards interest based communities and our consumption of media is influenced by this. With Kindle, WaPo and several other components in the mix, Amazon could indeed be well placed to aggregate the long tail of not just creators and consumers of physical goods, but information (media) as well.

until next time, the Amazon of news

The Future of Owned Media?

Tech Crunch had a rather funny take on why Bezos bought the Washington Post, but the more thought provoking piece was on the Post itself. (via @nixxin) Its premise was that the predictive analytics perfected by Amazon could be used to provide Post subscribers with personalized news feeds based on where they live and what they have read before. People browsing The Post’s Web site or tablet app could be served ads tailored to their past purchases, and then could buy products with a single click. Ironically, the last paragraph actually ends up validating the TC post. :)

It reminded of an earlier post of mine, in which I had wondered about the future of media in a social era, and though I did not use the words, asked whether a ‘marketplace’ kind of model for news creators and curators was possible. To be honest, I was still skeptical whether a business model could be worked out on this line of thought. But the entire WaPo purchase by Bezos, the subsequent discussions on the web, and this fantastic article at Forbes that brings out the radical shifts in management required for a firm to thrive in ‘the creative economy’, set me out on a new direction.

Media and advertising, like I mentioned in the earlier post, have had an intertwined life. What if media cannot now exist as a business on its own – the primary reason being that the value it provides -news -is being disrupted by technological innovations including self publishing tools? Does it mean that  its role now has to be seen within the context of a larger business? We’re already well into the paid-earned-owned media cycle, and while paid is arguably on a decline, earned is now increasingly being controlled by the platforms. (FB’s Edgerank, for example) Does it not make sense for a firm to make relevant news part of its product offering, or part of a sales process? Of course, the dynamics would work different from a merchandise marketplace, but if news is a commodity, can’t its vendors be on a marketplace? Media corporations might not be able to sustain a business model with high overhead costs, but journalists could build a reputation and thrive, and the marketplace would decide their price!

The WaPo purchase is probably just another kind of vertical integration. Much like an e-com company India would build its own logistics or payment gateway and then even white label it, the far-sighted Bezos might have just taken the first step in evolving owned media in a scale and direction no one has ever thought of before. Journalism has mostly been subsidised by commerce – I’d say this is just another evolutionary necessity.

until next time, to each his own media..

Of trending on twitter and media fragmentation…

A couple of weeks back, I’d written about the increasing broadcast tendencies on social platforms. Some events last week reminded me of something I’d tweeted a while back –

It is, for better or worse, an item in the social marketer’s checklist. So unless it’s a day on which we’re outraging on multiple issues, you can easily see ‘branded’ trending topics. At, we’ve been playing with hashtags for quite a while now – #bachpanstyle was one such experiment. As we practiced more, the patterns started becoming more evident. Late last month, we started the #hotindecember hashtag in response to a business objective – creating more awareness about the similarly titled promotion at – and had constructed it around the promo TVC. It resulted in the hashtag trending on twitter. Just to check the lessons learned, we ran a #hotin2012 hashtag on 31st Dec, and ended the year as the #1 trending topic in India.

Considering that there was a much more serious issue taking up everyone’s attention, this should be surprising, but it’s not, and that’s what we have learned of Twitter’s trending algorithm.

That was about a brand using social as media. Like I mentioned earlier, the first hashtag was based on the TVC, something that had gotten us positive feedback on Twitter. After the Delhi incident however, the ad was considered by a few as ‘projecting women in poor light’. (worthwhile mentioning that Lisa Haydon, who starred in the TVC, had tweeted about the TVC being a lot of fun) Users, who also utilise social as media, are bound to have their opinions and will air them. The interesting part was that all this (hashtags and criticism) was happening in the same timeframe – 27-31st December.

Why do I find it interesting? Let’s take a step back. It was only when TV stations started competing with the rabbit population that we started contemplating the fragmentation of media as we then knew it. Add to that the increasing web (+mobile) penetration and things became more complicated as time progressed. Brands (in general) still haven’t figured how to handle this, so fragmentation within a social media channel and its impact is small fry, except this is probably an indication of the future.

This time, we chose not to react to the criticism – given the circumstances, it would have probably led to a nasty debate. Thankfully it died down. But what if a few twitter heavyweights had gotten into the act and made it trend for all the wrong reasons? We’d not have had the luxury. We’d have to refer to Crisis Management 101. In a worst-case scenario, we’d probably have to consider taking the TVC off air.

In essence, when an interactive medium is added to the mix, fragmentation takes on a completely different meaning. It no longer means isolated compartments which don’t talk to each other, the events on one affect another. As a media buyer, a brand can choose not to be present on some media, but when a channel talks back, the brand’s choices suddenly dwindle. I think this will manifest itself much more in 2013, the learning curve is going to be very steep!

until next time, user generated brand virals!

Disclaimer: The perspectives above are personal, and does not reflect the thoughts or actions of the organisation mentioned. 

Broadcast 2.0 then?

Facebook is planning a new video-ad product that will offer video advertisers the chance to target video ads to large numbers of Facebook users in their news feeds across devices. It is also becoming more public about its Publishing Garage, that aims to put into place a set of measurements to demonstrate how well campaigns are working. Twitter has partnered with Nielsen for the the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating” – an industry standard metric for measuring the conversation that TV shows spur on Twitter.

The commonality I see is the shift from social to media, though to be fair, the Twitter-Nielsen partnership also talks of sentiment being measured in the future, in addition to tracking the volumes generated. I am using the term ‘social’ for two of the biggest platforms around now – FB and Twitter, but considering they have been the trendsetters, it is likely that the others will follow suit. Yes, there would be exceptions, I’m sure, but let me generalise a bit. While time will dictate whether this shift is smart or not, I’d think this shift is massively underplaying the true potential that social has thus displayed as a disruptive force. Social is now walking the measurement rules laid for a thoroughly different kind of media. (I liked this post at GigaOm because it throws light on, and questions why every social network is trying to turn into a broadcast platform) Doesn’t this put them on the same path of vulnerability that traditional media is facing now? Is this inevitable or is this sheer laziness and/or conforming? Also, from a user perspective, isn’t this a fundamentally different direction from the original premise/reason for existence of these platforms?

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that this is happening at the same time as users (increasingly) are treating social as broadcast – from the shoot-from-the-hip opinions on everything to the careful posturing. Not so suddenly, it’s more about numbers than actual conversations. Now what does that remind me of? :) I don’t know how much of it is unconscious and how much of it is subtle nudging (read) by the networks and their features. But whatever the reasons, imagine a future where everyone behaves the way media behaves today – loud, pompous, full of themselves, ignorant to their own faults, violent towards any criticism, and generally abhorred. What happens then?

So in the current direction I see the networks (and users) taking, the future media mashup will show more characteristics of traditional broadcast platforms than the social traits displayed by the social networks in the early days. My concern in such a scenario is because of what Godin has stated in another context – “Media doesn’t just change what we focus on, it changes the culture it is part of.” That’s when I wish social/we would be more ridiculous.

until next time, growing pains

Social grows up to be media

On the first page of BG Verghese’ “First Draft”, he talks of The Times front page on the day he was born -21 June 1927. The paper was priced at one anna and “only carried advertisements on its cover page as was the general practice.” This was how traditional media companies had always worked. They had probably begun as journals, and later had sponsored information. (ads) In an era of information scarcity, this was probably required and appreciated. Even if they were not, the complaints would spread only as WOM. More importantly, while they took money from readers, their real survival (generalising) depended on advertisers. In the case of radio and television, it is even more evident. Then came the internet, and a story that has oft been repeated. We’re not going there.

Though from email to BBS to Geocities to Friendster and beyond, everything can be considered social media, it began for me in the form of blogs (in 2003) became social networking via Orkut and really took flight with Twitter (May) and Facebook (July) in 2007. By this time, ads had begun to be ‘noise’ as media platforms proliferated. Twitter as well as FB served different purposes. As the cliche goes, “On Facebook, you connected with people you went to school with, and on Twitter, with people who you wished you went to school with.” In fact, such was my affection for Twitter that I even walked the talk. :)

Why this long winded narration now? Because what I’d considered social is now very clearly becoming media that happens to have a social past. Facebook’s Promoted Posts will now reach people who have not Liked the brands as well, and it is working on measurement systems that resemble GRPs. From its options – a real time cloud API company and a media company, Twitter has clearly chosen. It has now started throttling the third party apps that made it the rockstar it now is. In their chosen line, this is an inevitable step to protect the ‘value’ it sells. Promoted tweets can now be targeted on the basis of interest.

The disappointment, even if I reconcile myself to the fact that social is media, is the extent of evolution, or rather, the lack of it. Of the two, I have better hopes for Facebook now. Mark Zuck, despite the IPO, still controls it and from whatever he has spoken thus far, it seems this is not just a business for him, and though the ‘Promoted’ stuff on Facebook has now taken centre stage, the potential of the Open Graph remains and if it does evolve (as mentioned in an earlier post – last paragraph) it will continue to be interesting. Twitter? Oh well, Google’s AdWords is a megabucks one-trick, and it has Android. In the Google-like path it has chosen for itself, I can only hope that Twitter has a vision beyond being “sponsored”. If there is anything that media history has taught us, it is that irrelevance is just one service away.

until next time, growing pains

It’s all roleplay

The other day, Samadooram, a talk show on Mazhavil Manorama featured Revathy, in the context of Revathy’s own show Kanamarayathu on the same channel, that deals with children who have run away from home. I’m not a viewer of that show, and cannot really comment on the content, but… (Opinion – on related things – follows. :) )

One of the things that piqued my interest was something that Revathy said during the show – that she was disappointed by the attitude of a well educated person who asked her whether they created so much melodrama on the show to attract more viewers. (that the Malayali audience is addicted to glycerin is well established by the success of the daily soaps on various channels) That reminded me of the twitter reaction to Day 1 of Satyamev Jayate and the posts that followed in the next few days – swinging from abject cynicism to equating it to the second coming.

(Generalising) In India, there is obviously a huge difference between the perspectives of the low single digit percentage of people on twitter who are rarely directly affected by issues (barring #firstworldproblems) and the billions who are not on twitter but who are directly affected. However, the polarising of opinions is something I’ve seen outside of twitter too, increasingly these days. In that sense, twitter does act as a microcosm of the world outside. Which brings me to the other related point that Revathy made – sensitising people to the things that happen around them, not directly affecting them, but could later, or which they could influence in a positive way if they acted on it. Not to blame anyone, but I am aware that today’s society is becoming increasingly selfish and living in self made bubbles. Existential pragmatism perhaps.

But what I’d like to think about here is media’s role – the question that was asked to Revathy. Media, and I’m talking of the institution here and not any one specific, could play a great role in sensitising, mostly thanks to its reach and the varied perspectives it can capture. However, such is the competition for eyeballs and money, that ‘any means necessary’ is the accepted credo. Such is the onslaught on the remaining senses that I wonder if collectively, media has forced its audience to move directly to a desensitised state without pausing at ‘sensitise’. Whose responsibility is it finally to filter – the sender (media) or the receiver? (audience) I am really not sure. On my part, I don’t watch news channels, and I can’t say it has damaged me permanently. What do you think? (No, not about the damage it has/not caused me, but the roles)

until next time, know your role

Postscript: While on the subject, a small bit on celebrity anchors. They have enormous personal clout, and (this is an example) this can do + and – for their shows – bring and take away focus. I don’t grudge Aamir making 3 crores out of a Satyamev Jayate episode. He is a professional actor and it so happens that this is a project that (seems as per propaganda) is close to his heart. He does not need to part with his remuneration to show his commitment to the cause. That’s like forcing an employee to spend x% of his salary to buy his company’s product/service every month on salary day, since he’s supposedly – in pop lingo – ‘passionate’ about his job. On the flip side, Aamir is not doing the world a favour by being the face of the show either. What he could do to help though, is to write a small note that clarifies his role for the audience. It’s not an obligation, but whether it’s a job as a professional or his own personal affection for a show – if he were true to it – he would want the conversation around the topic of the show – the issue at hand.

Identity & Equity

I read two quotes in a completely unrelated (to this blog) context – Ashwin Sanghi’s “Chanakya’s Chant”, a work of fiction – but was intrigued by the perspective when I saw the ‘brand-social’ domain through this ‘framework’.

The quote to start with is the one by John Wooden “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In the days of (only) traditional media, (if given the money) both character and reputation were relatively easier to establish and maintain because the number of publishers with significant reach were limited. Which leads to the second quote – from Winston Churchill “There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion

And then came the blogs, social networks and the statusphere, which allowed everyone to become a publisher.

The question I’d like to ask is whether this published opinion and the pressures of real time (not to mention limited characters) are making brands focus more on reputation than character. How would you define reputation and character in brand terms? Would it be brand equity and brand identity respectively? If the focus were to be more on creating a strong brand identity through the product itself, customer care, sales process and even marketing communication, among others, would reputation/brand equity be much easier to handle?

until next time, identity scarred

New media indeed

When I wrote this in last week’s post – “‘social’ as it relates to friends and followers’ overrules ‘social’ as a relationship between brand and consumer”, in the context of how brands use social media, I also became  more conscious that despite me relating to Facebook and Twitter as a means to connect with friends, the platforms themselves were clearly seen as a media by the world at large. Even LinkedIn now apparently has a news aggregator.

It is true that I consume large amounts of content via (or on) Facebook and Twitter, but I have always seen it as content shared by friends, not as media like a newspapers or TV channels. It is probably because I have always associated media with information and entertainment and never social. But that’s only a personalised view, I realise. The larger picture shows a content delivery platform – media. I guess when social scaled it didn’t know what else to do but become media. Interesting how the new media platforms worked from social connection towards utility and the old media are trying to make the journey from info and entertainment to social.

And thus when I saw a few recent Facebook developments, I viewed it through the prism of FB as media. Facebook launched Sponsored Stories a while back, using friends’ actions as an ‘advertisement’. It updated Pages giving functionalities that helped brands interact more. Now it has completely knocked off the ‘Share’ button and replaced it with an omnipotent ‘Like’ button that will transmit a story blurb complete with thumbnail instead of the earlier single line in ‘Recent Activity’. (details) Publishers won’t complain since content will be more visible now. Facebook’s comment box plugin also got revamped with better moderation, social algorithms to surface the comments that will be most interesting to you (indicated by social signals from friends) and better distribution – now, when a user utilises the “Post to Facebook” button on a site with FB comments enabled, it can be replied to on FB and will automatically be reflected on the original website as well. If the publisher has a Page on FB, it can respond to the comment and include the people who have ‘Liked’ the page into the conversation. (details) That’s a first from FB – allowing conversations to go out. Wonder what they’re after – interest graph, a perpetually signed-in user, sole web identity provider, all of the above? But in essence, a new media platform that connects publishers with users. And in this age, brands are after all content creators too, eh?

I would think the progression is obvious – first build a user base with awesome features, then focus on publishers  (including brands) who will make it a distribution channel, and the next step would be to make the advertisers spend more.

While Google is busy dealing with content farms in search results, I realise that we have very little means to stay away from the Facebook way of throwing content at us. Watch your newsfeed as Facebook uses you and the content publisher to make itself more indispensable as a platform. Like I tweeted, the hope is that in trying to be everything – mailbox, location, photo storage, for everyone, Facebook might lose itself. The effect all this will have on ‘trust’ in networks, I’ll leave for another post.

Media has always been aggregating audiences by providing information..+entertainment..+social connections… and then leasing it to brands. (advertisers) With advances in technology, it’s perhaps time for brands to create their own direct lines to consumers, outside of the new media barons. Otherwise, in their immediate comfort state of using yet another platform as media, the way they’re accustomed to, it is possible that they will continue to be at the mercy of a third party and have to play by their rules, sometimes at the risk of antagonising the end user.

until next time, mediators = media + dictators? 😉