7 questions we never asked about the role of Digital Strategist

Who is a digital strategist?

A question which has bothered me every single day. More so now, because after all these years, my designation finally says “Digital Strategist

Does that mean that I was not doing any digital strategy before?

Wrong! On the contrary, I was more immersed into digital strategy while I was doing hands-on execution. 

Does that mean I’ve stopped looking into execution now?

Wrong again! I am doing a lot more sharper execution now since I’ve got a much broader perspective about digital.

I’ve tried searching many times in the past, here’s what google has to say about “The Role of Digital Strategist”

Who is digital strategist

 

I guess the operative phase in that definition is “create and oversee the execution” of a plan.

However, the real problem Is..

When it comes to digital strategy, there are plenty of problems. Most of them are man made.

In some way, all of us in the business of advertising or communication, are equally responsible for contributing to the master problem.

Most of the brands hire their agencies / digital partners to answer the following question, “How to solve the complex digital marketing ecosystem?”

(Also Read : Gartner Digital Transit Map )

But the real question remain un-answered.

WHAT PROBLEM DO WE WANT DIGITAL TO SOLVE?

And then, there are below questions which are never asked.

Why?

Because nobody bother to ask them.

Why?

Because everybody think nobody knows the answer.

May be they don’t even discuss. They do what they do every time when they don’t know, THEY ASSUME!

 

7 NAQs (Never Asked Questions)

 

Q. Is digital strategist someone who knows everything?

Ans. While startups and agencies are looking for a candidate “straight out of Marvel comic books”, I doubt if that is even possible? If yes, someone please tell me how to find such talent? 

 

Q. Is digital strategist not supposed to execute things?

Ans. That would be disastrous, because in my opinion, no digital strategy can be created without keeping an eye on its execution.

Also read:  How to build digital strategy for execution?

 

Q. At what point someone becomes a digital strategist? 

Ans. Buddha once said: “Everyone has a buddha inside”. In case of digital marketing as well, everyone has a bit of digital strategist inside.

 

Q. In that case, is digital strategist really a skill? 

Ans. That’s a great question, but in order to answer this question, we must first answer “IS STRATEGY A SKILL?” (Read : Difference between skill and strategy). Role of strategy in digital ( and again, that’s just my POV ) is to have a strong aptitude to curate a solution for a marketing problem.

 

Q. Can we quantify the effort a digital strategist? 

Ans. Quantifying the effort of a digital strategist is like quantifying the effort of a “Chief Chef” in the kitchen of a 5-star fine dine.

 

Q. Does the responsibility of a digital strategist gets over after a pitch is won or when the campaign is approved?

Ans. Ideally no, because he/she may not execute the campaign (also depends upon the seniority of the person), a strategist must keep an eye on the campaign / marketing metrics to see if his work is going in the right direction.

 

Q. How can a digital strategist own the end outcome of his strategy, if he/she is not executing things? 

Ans. I personally like the analogy of a “Chief Chef” with Digital Strategist. Most of the times, a chef may not cook himself, but he does something more critical like defining the flavour of the day for his customers, hand-picking the supplies, ensuring quality control and work hygiene in the kitchen and most important, the presentation.

The Conclusion

Strategy vs Execution

I don’t think it is either-or in case of Digital Strategy and Execution.

Depending upon the person’s experience, caliber, organisation requirement and team structure, a digital strategist may or may not be executing or managing the operations.

But, one thing all of us (as digital strategists) must own, is the end outcome of our work.

5 practical ideas to stay ahead in digital agency business

Running an independent digital agency business is a tricky affair in any part of the globe. Speak to any startup agency founder, they would tell you exactly what pain they went through in setting up their company. Poor cash flows & bad debts, intense competition & price wars, fear of losing your business in a minute, lack of skilled manpower & high attrition rates are some of the factors that can demolish all the motivation of any digital agency entrepreneur.

Maintaining high profitability is on the top priority for any digital agency startup, it allows them to stay positive and make better business decisions.

Here are 5 practical ideas for business transformation of any digital agency:

Focus on your core digital service offering

Most of the “so called”, “integrated”, “one stop shop” digital agencies make this mistake of offering everything and they eventually end up offering nothing. While the idea of an integrated service offering is indeed a great one, but to deliver it successfully to clients, is a different ball game altogether.

While strategy lies at the heart of everything, it is very important to know if your creative, media or technology talent is your core strength. For better operating margins, focus on your core services in which you can scale your operations, hire more talent and add new clients easily.

Make technology your best ally

When it comes to productivity, most of the digital agencies in India are way behind their global counterparts. It is ironical to see that most of the digital teams are still using archaic processes to deliver client’s work. In most of the agencies, productivity & collaboration tools are still considered to be way too tech-ish. Agency owners must understand that technology is not just an enabler but can lower the cost of operation significantly.

Breed entrepreneurs, not just employees

I am sure, most of you would just dismiss this as a nice joke but let’s face it, attrition would continue to haunt you in your agency business. Even increments and appraisals can’t stop people anymore. After all, we are living in the times of “Entrepreneurship” & “Startups”.

The new breed of employees is looking for exponential growth in their careers, and they are prepared to do anything for it. However, if you build a culture of ownership and entrepreneurship in your organisation, chances are you would get to retain your best talent who would eventually earn you a lot more revenue in the future and at the same time, save you the cost of training new talent.

Build..Master..Repeat

While it is always good to have big retainer clients in any agency business, but not every agency can have that luxury. However, what is more important is to have a practical view of your business and the market. Unlike any product based business, it is difficult to quantify what you are selling in a service business, but there is a way in which you can quantify it for real, i.e. by calculating the effective man hours of your employees for which you are paying them. Companies like Accenture have mastered that art for ages.

Find out how much business you need to generate, in order to utilise 100% bandwidth. This would give you a break even point, beyond which you can maximise your operating margins. Small time agencies lack the vision to think big and hence could not visualise the whole canvas. They spend most of their time worrying about how to find their next big client. The solution lies in looking at people’s time just like any other tangible product.

Get innovative, find something tangible to sell

If you’ve been to a grocery shop, you would understand what I am talking about. Grocery shops in India sells a lot of side items (like wafers, snacks, newly launched products etc.) for which they pay only after those products are sold. It’s the real estate which those brands wants to occupy to sell their products. Guess what, something similar is also possible in the digital space. While you are selling your digital services, you can also sell different marketing products of tech companies & startups like their CRM, marketing cloud, social listening tools etc. Not just it would position you as an advisor and thought leader in the market, but it would also create a parallel revenue stream for the agency.

RIP CMO, viva CDO!

Has digital really killed the role of traditional CMO?

As the adoption of digital media and devices surges, digital is getting pushed towards the ‘most basic need’ in Maslow’s Pyramid.

Digital readiness is now looked upon as the key differentiator and also a success factor for any organisation’s future growth and competitiveness.

This elevates the importance of the chief marketing officer (CMO) as a strategist, a social innovator, and above all, a curator of advisory services and technology.

According to a C-level survey conducted by CMO.com, 76 per cent of CMOs believe that marketing has changed more in the last two years than it did in the last five decades.

Until now, the role of a CMO was leaning towards handling marketing communication and brand management. However, in the last few years, the digital industry’s growth has forced the organisational talent map to re-design the CMO’s role and tilt it more towards technology and data-driven marketing. So much so that companies are now even considering a dedicated Chief Digital Officer to drive this crucial mandate.

To get the maximum ROI from their digital efforts and also stay ahead on the innovation index, the CMO will have to become a ‘jack of all trades’ and wear multiple hats at the same time.

Due to the myriad digital devices, a consumer journey is no longer linear in any industry or type of business.

Technology is successfully delivering the end-user experience across multiple touch points in every purchase journey. As a CMO, keeping a hawk’s eye on the changing technology trends is indeed the new ‘marketing way of life’.

Modern-day data analytics has forced CMOs to stop making any hypothetical assumptions about the marketing process. In fact, CMOs will have to take data science as their biggest ally in marketing warfare. Focus on data insights would allow them to make scientific business decisions at every step of customer engagement.

As a CMO, digital transformation is the new mission critical which is a lot more complex than just running an integrated marketing campaign.

The real transformation journey never ends, and begins a lot earlier than campaign launch. It involves tying up all the loose ends in design, technology and data science, including cross device UI & UX, website SEO strategy for overall brand discoverability, defining audience targeting filters for laying down rules in the programmatic campaign, and so on.

For all this transformation to happen simultaneously, it is vital for any CMO to get their hands dirty with new emerging technologies, devices and marketing tools in order to understand the brand’s core target audience better and recommend any strategic changes from an organisation standpoint.

In the words of Leon C. Megginson:

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the role of a traditional Chief Marketing Officer in its current avatar may go several feet below to the dark soil. Only to be able to resurrect as a digital transformer.

And like brands have to now re-imagine their story and bond with the customer, the CMO too will have to morph quickly and surely into the CDO. And place the epitaph on their past with an RIP.

[The above article was first published in The Hindu Business Line]

Here’s why digital marketing agency face high attrition rates

Lack of skilled digital marketing talent and high attrition rates of existing resources has literally choked the growth of digital agencies in India.  This trend remains consistent across independent local agencies and large global conglomerates. Based on my past discussions with few leading recruitment consultants, in managerial roles, the average attrition rate stands at around 10%, but the overall attrition rate in the advertising space is around ~30% and it remains in the same range for digital startups.

Although, global network agencies like the Publicis, WPP, IPG, Dentsu etc. face less challenge compared to their local counterparts due to their bigger bench strength and the number of opportunities within the group companies.

Human capital is the back bone of any service sector company, but poor human capital management makes digital agencies in India extremely vulnerable to the concept of attrition.

Why is attrition rate so high across digital agencies in India?

Agency work culture demands highly skilled & motivated employees which is a rarity in these times. Most of the people are working for fast career growth (financially or otherwise). While skilled employees have more than enough opportunities to choose from at any given point of time, exponential growth of digital advertising in the country has resulted in high demand and less supply of skilled manpower.

In my decade long experience as a digital marketing expert, I’ve worked with all type of digital organisations, from big agencies to large enterprise companies and the early stage startups, but when it comes to attrition, digital agencies are the most vulnerable lot.

Here are some of the key reasons for high attrition rates in digital agencies:

Dynamic digital projects

Over the years, digital projects have become more and more non-linear, courtesy the growth in the number of digital channels & platforms. There is so much to learn for digital professionals that nobody like sameness in their daily job.

Newer challenges

Employees in digital agencies are always looking for newer opportunities and would like to challenge themselves on a daily basis to increase their productivity and create innovative campaigns using unique ideas and technology. In agencies where the clients are more open to innovation and experimentation, get to retain a lot of their creative & servicing talent. And, that’s a fact!

No time for upgrade

With such enormous pressure of timelines and delivery, it is very difficult for the talent in digital agencies to upgrade their knowledge & skill. Most of the digital client servicing professionals have not done any specialised certification (like GA or Analytics), nor they intend to do it. There’s a time when everyone feels that they are hitting a dead end in their learning. At that very moment, they call it a quit.

Poor Appraisal Policies

There is no doubt that a lot of people (including myself) work in the digital marketing and media business for the sheer romance of it. But you cannot ignore the monetary compensation aspect, especially when majority of the workforce is hired on entry / junior level. I agree money is not the only motivating factor but, it definitely complements when the job satisfaction is high. A lot of agencies use operating income as an excuse for poor appraisal because they have signed high value clientele by compromising their profit margins, which lead to poor employee appraisals and eventually high attrition rate.

High work pressure

Being a part of service sector, advertising industry was always a high pressure affair. Words like ASAP are extremely popular in the client – agency parlance. There is no respite or escape for the execution teams including servicing, strategy, creative, media and social. Single creative resource is working across 2-3 live project at the same time, leaving him with little mind space to churn out ideas. The situation is a lot worse for client servicing teams who have to turn themselves into an octopus in order to manage multiple conflicting project timelines across multiple teams. The result is, only the tough hearted survive the onslaught, while the rest start looking for greener pastures.

Why job hopping is losing its negative stigma globally?

Before I say anything, let me first confess that I’ve been a job hopper in my career (only the first half of it), and this post is not written in self defence. Nor this is written to support job hopping in any manner.  I am just trying to present another view which  will help the recruiters to change their perspective (just a little bit) on this age old stigma.

According to a  new survey out from PayScale and Millennial Branding finds that 41% of baby boomers believe that people should stay in their jobs for at least five years before looking for a new role. Another 21% say between four and five years.

What is really interesting to note in that survey is that the people born between 1982 and 2002, a full 26% believe that you should start looking for something new before a year is up. Only 13% say more than five years.

Why the difference?

In one of the interviews given to F@st Company,  Lydia Frank, director of editorial and marketing at PayScale in Seattle said:

Young people tend to believe that loyalty is a two-way street. Especially in this economy, things that demonstrated loyalty from an employer to an employee are disappearing,

There’s just not this sense in the job market that your employer is necessarily going to take care of you.

As a result, people have become more focused on ensuring they’re making the best choices for their individual career

Pros of Job Hopping

Moving jobs early on in their careers has become a necessary evil for a lot of freshers. Not that they plan for it, or it is fashionable. The thing is, we are living in the times where only few people know what they want to be when they grow up these days. Trying different jobs—or even industries—early on can help you find the right fit.

Second, even if you do know what you want to do with your life, the global economy has been tepid for young people since the economic crash of 2008. Many teens in their early 20s have not been able to start out where they wished.

If a new opportunity comes along, the mind-set is this:

I don’t like what I’m doing;

I’m not being paid well for my skill set;

and if I’m not in a job that’s utilizing my training and education, why would I stay?

In the below video, Anne Krook, author of “Now What Do I Say?”: Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, explains how economic changes have prompted shifts in attitudes about company loyalty for Gen Y.

Interestingly, Forbes published an article early in this year ( ReadEmployees Who Stay In Companies Longer Than Two Years Get Paid 50% Less )  that touched upon this topic in much greater detail.

income-graph-people-who-leave-jobs-hopping

Graph comparison of salary growth of people who moved fast vs those who stayed in the same company

 

According to the article published in Forbes:

Why are people who jump ship rewarded, when loyal employees are punished for their dedication? The answer is simple. Recessions allow businesses to freeze their payroll and decrease salaries of the newly hired based on “market trends.” These reactions to the recession are understandable, but the problem is that these reactions were meant to be “temporary.” Instead they have become the “norm” in the marketplace. More importantly, we have all become used to hearing about “3% raises” and we’ve accepted it as the new “norm.”

Cons of Job Hopping

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a job hopper myself, but after spending 9 years into the advertising & marketing business, I do not look back at what I did, nor I feel guilty or regretful about the choices I made. When it comes to your career, I believe it is all about making the decisions, right or wrong is not in your control. While the right ones reward you, the wrong ones make you a better professional.

There is a hidden fear in people who move too often, that sooner than later they would hit a dead end in their career, which is not entirely incorrect. Recruiters and HR start looking at your profile (and you) as if you’ve committed the most heinous crime on earth (what I do not understand is why they call such candidates for interview in first place, just to humiliate?).

The thing is, there are no “valid reasons” for why someone hopped in his career. As a hiring manager, even I would have apprehensions of hiring someone who has moved too fast too furious. But, what we are missing here is the fact that none of the organizations may have tried to retain this individual.

A research conducted by workopolis (see infographic) suggests two key things:

  1. 20% of the employee’s annual salary is actually the cost of replacing him.
  2. Most people leave their companies for reasons other than compensation

If we go by the above 2 reasons, I believe there is some serious thinking that is required by all employers and their HR in order to retain their employees. If the company really want to retain their key talent, they can very well pay them more or improve their policies in order to save themselves from the botheration & cost of hiring process.

 

I am also running a Twitter poll for this:

Programmatic Media in India – A Despicable Story

While globally popular for over a decade, programmatic media in India is being used only since last couple of years.

eMarketer forecasts US mobile programmatic ad spending will reach $9.33 billion this year and account for 60.5% of total US programmatic display ad spending.  At present, the programmatic buying industry is at a very nascent stage in India.

There are many companies which have started providing such services.

Key Players for Programmatic Media In India

  1. Global Leaders
    1. Publicis’s Vivaki – Audience on Demand (AOD)
    2. GroupM – Xaxis
    3. OMD-Accuen
    4. Dentsu Aegis – Amnet
    5. IPG – Cadreon
  2. DSPs & Trading Desks
    1. Sociomantic
    2. Vizury
  3. Ad Networks
    1. RevX by Komli
    2. Ybrant Digital
  4. Programmatic Ad-Tech Startups
    1. Rocketfuel
    2. Appier

Along with these, there are many US companies also which are operating remotely in India. But it still hasn’t picked up the way it should have been. It is still taking time for the marketers and agencies to understand the true benefit of DSPs and start replacing their traditional way of media buying with it.

Key Challenges for Programmatic Media In India

Revenue Forecast

Extremely difficult to project or forecast the market size for programmatic in India. A somewhat accurate guesstimate would be 10-20% of overall display spends and can go up to 50% of display by end of 2017-18.

Silo Approach By Ad Networks

Most of the companies in India providing programmatic services are currently operating in silos. The ad networks are providing very basic programmatic buys from ad exchanges, and claiming it as audience targeting. There are very few people (at both client’s and agency’s end) who actually understand audience targeting from a technology standpoint.

Limited Audience

With too many players trying to get their share in this small pie, the minimum bidding price (eCPM) in India can also go up for the same audience as not many brands are savvy reaching out to the audience outside major top 10 metros as the purchasing power or disposable income is linked to it.

Stubborn Media Planners

Programmatic’s basic DNA resides in data & technology, it is less of a media concept, and from execution standpoint, it needs more deeper understanding of technologies like Big Data Segmentation. Hence, any programmatic campaign requires handling a lot of data, analyse, create intelligent algorithms and provide meaningful insights to the advertisers. These technical experts will have to work hand in hand with the media planning teams. Media planning teams in India are too stubborn & resistant to change to this newer reality which would make the adoption for programmatic that much more difficult.

Less Confident Publishers

Major Indian publishers are often hesitant to sell their premium inventory in an open bidding process but are willing to work via private deals. Even if that requires a painful & rather long selling process of going from door to door.  Publishers have their own reasons to resist-losing control on their premium placements, earning less revenues due to RTB (real time bidding), integrating their premium inventories liked fixed buys or sponsorships.

Programmatic Rich Media

Currently, there is a massive demand for video based Rich media formats in India, whereas programmatic is still stuck on basic banner & pre-roll video based buys. Unless there is a massive upgrade in the programmatic tech, which would include the features like rich media, brand safety and premium placements, Indian brands won’t show interest in the programmatic buys.

 

Mobile has changed the in-market car buying journey

It used to be that when people needed to buy a car they would go to the dealer, walk down the rows of brightly coloured models and listen to a salesperson talk about the latest and greatest makes and features. Today’s auto intender can bypass the car lot altogether and gather information from sites, apps, friends, family members and even experts, all at the touch of a button or scroll of the thumb.

Today, in-market audience is visiting lesser number of dealer locations  as they are spending a lot of time discovering through their Mobile for their dream vehicle. Most of the time in-market customer has already made the decision before setting their foot inside the dealer location as they have the answers to most of their queries.

From a media standpoint, Mobile has captured maximum share of voice & share of mind across owned, earned & paid media, i.e. Brand’s Website, Organic & Paid Search, Social Media & Auto Reviews Portals, that influence & shapes audience decision making process for automobile purchase.

Current share of mobile queries across both organic & paid search is consistently touching 60% (the trend is common for all automakers as mentioned by Google in their auto insight report last year) which has further impacted all other connected channels like auto content portals & social media.

When it comes to social media, majority of the audience is engaging with the brand through their mobile devices. According to Facebook, almost 90% of the active audience in India in the age group of 25-45 are Mobile First. This trend is reflected in the audience data for auto portals as well, where most of them are seeing up to 50% and more entry referral traffic coming through Mobile (App & Wap) only.

Mobile truly cuts across the entire audience consideration funnel i.e (Awareness or Discovery > Consideration > Evaluation > Purchase), and further intercepts audience car buying journey at regular intervals with high degree of share of mind.