India should look to China for a digital innovation template

John Kerr, Zeno Group, talks to PRmoment India, Editor, Paarul Chand, on PR and the art of real time media buying for the upcoming World Cup Cricket, the upcoming battle for video, 3 big PR trends for 2015 and the value of brands tapping into mindful content for storytelling and engagement.

Paarul Chand: How can real time media buying help in Indian and Asian markets?

John Kerr: It’s funny that on the day of the Superbowl in the US, we get to talk about real time media buying. There is a change in innovation that is coming from PR. Today corporate brands are trying to scale into content and real time media buying is tied into that – but it only works if the content is interesting. The challenge is that as a brand you can only create so much content, therefore you need co-created consumer content.

Paarul Chand: Can you share an example?

John Kerr: During the Superbowl, there were as many as 13 Superbowl war-rooms being used by agencies to feed content to marketers for real time campaigns. Facebook had video tiles. As a proud New Zealander, I’m looking forward to the impact this approach has on the upcoming World Cup Cricket. I actually believe there was more digital innovation during the Brazil World Cup than the Superbowl. 

I believe the Cricket World Cup will harness the best engagement ideas from all sporting events and drive some remarkable work. There is so much innovation that is continuing around us – many agencies want to tell clients that we’ve settled into a pattern – but this is because they can’t keep up with the pace. We are moving from a point where scale and reach is the ‘one ring to rule them all’ to a place where there is as much value in mapping out the full customer journey and programming multiple touch points for content. Sometimes these touch points will use paid to amplify – that is ok. What matters is that the content has value to the audience and answers why they would care about it – and why they would share it.

Paarul Chand: How does one crack the challenge of video content?

John Kerr: Brands are really interested on answering one question. How do I create more content cheaper and faster? And this is not working too well with the current agency model. We are finding interesting options for video content. For example there is –, where you can put in a brief and find the best video production option. The cheapest option so far has been 4000 US Dollars and the fastest turnaround has been 7 days.

Additionally, look out for the battle of video. Facebook and YouTube are going head-to-head, but they will need to watch out for the emerging video platforms we can see (e.g. Vine, SnapChat, Youku) and those that will emerge (e.g. video messaging apps, new disposable platforms, AR-Hololens etc.). The biggest digital battlefield today is video.

Paarul Chand: What can India learn from the China digital experience?

John Kerr: China has already been digital to the core for over a decade. I remember rolling out the first online reality cooking campaign, driven by social media, back in 2006. Imagine what digital and social looked like in India back then? China has a maturity that India can learn from – Chinese brands think in a very systemic way – I don’t mean in silos, but think systematically in terms of the whole eco–system. China is a good template. I do believe, however, that this is the year silos will come down in India. For me, an important first step is filtering out advice from agencies that protects traditional business – esp. in media.

Paarul Chand: What can we learn with regards to e-commerce?

John Kerr: Where e-commerce is concerned China is so far ahead. 63% of e-commerce finds in China are via social media. In India e-commerce is still very email focused. I saw billboards for Flipkart and Snapdeal – a very traditional approach to advertising for some very sophisticated technology. And I suspect this approach is coming in from the agencies. Today clients know more than most agencies about technology. This is one area where systemic thinking comes in.

Paarul Chand: Are clients willing to pay for this?

John Kerr: Clients should move around more. Globally 28% of the marketing budget goes to digital; in India I would be surprised if it cracks 15%.

Paarul Chand: What is your PR trend forecast for 2015?

John Kerr: Three big trends for 2015. The first one is the need for Systems Thinking to battle the challenge of Context Collapse. Successful brands will really need to plan engagement (right message/content/place/time) and the relationship holistically with a customer/consumer and bring synergy to their communications. Yup, it’s time for the silos to come down.

The second trend is ‘mindful consumption.' Brands will really need to start to balance between lean back content (entertainment stumbled upon via social media) and lean forward content (content that consumers search for and care about).  Social media can often be noise, entertaining noise, but just noise – smart brands will find out what people truly care about and create more content to support the ‘entertainment’ approach. 

Thirdly, despite the scaremongering around ‘anti-tech,’ consumers will actually rekindle their love affair with gadgets. The ‘Internet of Things’ is here. AR/VR, for which Hololens is interesting, is here. RealSense is here. Personal drones are here. People are going to figure out how to harness these innovations to do better and live better. Let’s also remember we’ve got a billion extra people coming online in the next little while - innovation and excitement remains everywhere!

Paarul Chand: Zeno in India has grown extensively over the last 2 years and the Motorola account is serviced from India for the entire APAC region?

John Kerr: Zeno has grown by 300% in India in the last two years in terms of revenue and gone up from 4 people to over 25 people. With regards to Motorola, one of the key differentiators is that Zeno is truly regional. We operate on one P&L model as part of the Daniel J Edelman approach and look at where the best place is for the client. In fact the original brief was to headquarter the APAC services from Singapore or Hong Kong, but we felt that India was a better fit. It was our decision, not the client’s to do this. Today India is Motorola’s largest market in India – this was not the case when we began work on the account.

John Kerr, Asia Managing Director, Zeno Group

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.