Demystifying Digital

Vijay Sankaran is the Digital Strategy Director of Urja Communications, a leading interactive marketing firm in India.

By Shivani Mohan

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Published: Fri 24 Jul 2009, 11:39 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 10:30 PM

He has worked in advertising, communications, and digital technology, largely in creative roles, for over two decades.

He has planned and executed branding, advertising, digital and integrated communications for clients in the automotive, consumer goods, engineering and financial services industries, among others. His interests in the digital arena include Enterprise 2.0, customer relations in the social Web era, and the application of Web 2.0 paradigms in education and social change.

Sankaran spoke to Khaleej Times recently about the challenges of digital marketing, coping with the downturn, and other issues. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Tell me about your company, Urja.

A. Urja is a pioneering interactive design and marketing firm based in Mumbai, with over eight years’ experience in interactive marketing and over 20 years’ experience in traditional advertising. Urja specialises in developing advanced customer experience solutions and interactive campaign solutions. Urja embeds intelligence and measurement capabilities within all solutions and is focused on delivering higher ROI (return on investment) to clients.

What innovations have Urja introduced to ensure a rich user experience?

A. Each one of our campaigns is unique and tailor-made for the diverse needs of particular clients. Urja recently designed izone for ICICI bank, a “real branch” experience on the Web, using video, voice and 3-D tools. This is a first for any bank site in the world. The entire online experience is that of visiting an actual bank and availing of all facilities provided by the bank sitting right in the comfort of your home.

How have you managed to face the economic downturn and helped your clients remain profitable and efficient in this environment?

A. We are focusing on leveraging the one-to-one aspects of digital for large marketers. A recent email marketing campaign for a bank saw 25 per cent of the email base sign up for e-statements, helping the bank save on costs and contribute to saving trees. Digital is the future, and our focus hasn’t changed. Other than that, we are watching costs carefully, focusing on profitable customers.

Which of your cost-cutting practices have yielded the best results? What advice would you give to companies about surviving the economic downturn?

A. Retention is the new acquisition. As the 80-20 rule goes, 80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your customers.

Marketers should focus on their best customers, engage the rest and grow their relationship value. One-to-one automated programs using digital channels like email and mobile are very effective.

Is Web 2.0 still a vague concept? Are we banking too much on it?

A. No way. It’s the future. Wikepedia, Linux and Firefox are examples of Web 2.0 peer-to-peer collaboration. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube have changed the way individuals work and socialise.

Companies like P&G (Proctor & Gamble) are crowd-sourcing innovative solutions using the Web tosave millions.

(US President Barack) Obama’s success was as much an example of Web 2.0 social paradigms as Web 2.0 technology.

The biggest impact of social media is going to be inside organisations: Flexible collaboration, knowledge sharing. Walls will disappear. Cultures will change; (they) will have to.

What media have worked best for you in terms of soliciting new clients?

A. Our clients span leading marketers in banking, financial services, retail and telecom, among others. Our clients have largely come through referral and word of mouth. Recently a CEO approached us after seeing my article on Obama’s marketing saying, “Do an Obama plan for us for our Web start up” This conference has led to some new client enquiries.

I have also initiated a community on Linkedin for (an) Indian digital marketing professionals agency, clients and Web entrepreneurs. Knowledge sharing is the way to grow the profession and industry.

Do you think online and digital marketing has totally overtaken conventional media? How can companies strike the right balance in choosing their marketing and advertising media?

A. In India, marketers are still behind the curve. Forty-five million urban educated Web users constitute a segment larger than English (language) print circulation. In the West, the Web has changed society and consumer habits completely.

Marketers and agencies are following consumers and moving budgets and their strategic focus to digital.

Even large brand launches are now happening completely on the Web, and successfully.

Your presentation — 10 lessons for marketers from Barack Obama — is much talked about. Why have Indian leaders been unable to leverage new media totheir advantage?

A. New Media is not about being in your face. You have to segment your audience and customise your message. Obama did that.

Also in digital, you have to be genuine as a brand and engage the customers. Broadcast messaging doesn’t work.

Tell me a bit about your childhood, education and career path.

A. I am a typical Mumbaikar, (a) Tamilian brahmin who speaks fluent Marathi (and) grew up in a cosmopolitan Air India colony. I learnt more from books than any institution or course. Did my B.Sc (in) statistics but was interested first in journalism… and then film-making.

Settled for advertising and now digital storytelling — it’s a two way story and more fascinating.

What are your other interests?

A. My family — two kids… and my wife Malati, a former journalist and now freelance writer.

I am into Yoga — not so much the physical stuff as much as the spiritual side. It changed my life and pulled me through tough times. Otherwise, I am interested in English Club Football and good movies.

Is there a long-time goal you often dream about?

A. To give back on a larger scale. I am keen on exploring how the Web can change the way we learn, especially in organisations and among the less privileged.

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