It's not digital marketing; but marketing in a world that's digital: Suresh Vittal

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 02:53 hrs

We can talk about social, search etc but it's about how digital is transforming consumer experience, forcing marketers to reinvent themselves, Suresh Vittal tells Devina Joshi

With digitisation gaining momentum, marketers are playing catch-up with consumers instead of the other way round. Surely not an easy scenario?

Digital is spurring a consumer revolution; it has put the power in the hands of the consumer and has levelled the playing field. Consumers have access to as much information as brands; they have great power because they can compare prices and shop at many different channels. They also have great amplification of their voice because they can be publishers almost instantaneously with tools provided by a variety of companies. In a nutshell, we are operating in a world where rules have completely changed and digital has been the driver of the change.

Having said that, it is not digital versus and it's not 'digital only' either. Digital has influenced, and is infused into, every channel, every interaction and every touch-point that a consumer has with a brand. This forces brands to up their game at each of the touch points. They need to know their consumer as a person, and should be able to personalise and deliver high value messages to her at each of these touch points and provide a seamless experience prior, during and post a sale.

If technology has touched every aspect of consumer's lives, how is it transforming marketing?

Technology has changed consumers' level of expectation from brands. Therefore, marketers and brands need to embrace technology too if they want to survive. How can it transform marketing? I think it is a multi-layered opportunity. First, brands can use technology to get to know the consumer better. A brand has innumerable touch points with its consumer - they may be through social, display, search, email, contact centres, stores, call centre, mobile apps etc. Every touch point is an opportunity for a brand to understand the customer better. Second, since the number of touch points is numerous, it is almost impossible for marketers to understand it fully without technology. Third, with easier access to technology, one no longer lives in a world of limitations. There are digital channels that have digital experiences and offline channels with analogue experiences, but now is the time to cross-pollinate those experiences. Use technology for offline experiences too - store experience, call centre experience etc to make the customer feel that the brand is accessible.

Earlier, marketing would build a brand plan, thinking about the brand only. It was inside-out planning based on their business goals. Now with technology, planning is outside-in. For example, marketers plan on the basis of questions such as what are the experiences to be delivered to the customer as a brand.

How does your job as a marketer become tougher when your 'product' is, indeed, technology, the way it is at Adobe?

The challenge in marketing a product that is technology-based is that consumers care about technology, but their objective on a daily basis is solving a problem - either solving a creative problem or an imagination problem or a marketing problem for brands. Technology is just a means.

To market technology, we have to be great storytellers. We have to be able to show brands the way forward, how they can re-imagine their lives in a world where silos are broken down, in a world where they have access to lots of data, in a world where they can talk to consumer on a one-on-one basis. We have to help marketers extend the limits of their imagination.

We often hear jargon in marketing corridors like 'conversational marketing' and 'channel marketing'.

In today's context, what should a tech marketer bear in mind before reaching out to his multifarious, multi-device-bred millennial consumer?

Marketing is always the discipline of understanding what a consumer wants. But marketing, for a very long time, came from a product centric approach. Now technology gives the power to the marketer to hear consumers and use the information to create her plans. What channels the consumer uses for purchase, how the channels are interacting with the brand post purchase and so on. Marketing has to internalise all this information. Millennial consumers don't want a product message to be pushed at them regardless of what stage of the buying cycle they are in. For brands, the cycle of emergence and death is faster than ever before .

People speak of the emergence of cloud and how it will transform organisations. How far or near is India from/to this revolution?

India is pretty far from this revolution. The world has just started to embrace cloud technologies. The ability to consume technology as a utility without large footprints that enterprise or consumer technologies used to have is a completely different paradigm for marketers and consumers. However this is natural in any economy, not just in India, where consumers have to try out such technologies to understand how they work and marketers have to try them out to understand new ways of consuming them. Any paradigm shift takes a little time.

Adobe has its hands in many pies, from enterprise cloud solutions to consumer software products to servers, video publishing etc. What does it best wish to be known for?

Adobe has always had the same vision - we're changing the world through digital experiences. We can impact how consumer experiences a brand -whether it is the media, the channels marketers choose to deliver their messages on, measure and optimise what they are doing. It is not about digital marketing, it is about marketing in a world that's digital. That's a fundamental shift for people to internalise.

We can talk about social, display, search etc, but it's really about how digital is transforming consumer experience, thereby forcing marketers to reinvent themselves. Marketing is no longer about 4Ps. Marketing extends into experience delivery, product development, customer satisfaction, finance and profitability. Marketers have to get new skills; consumers demand real time experiences and marketers can help drive this.

  • Vittal joined Adobe through the company's acquisition of Neolane in 2013 where he served as chief product officer. Vittal played a key role in rebranding Neolane to Adobe Campaign
  • Prior to Neolane, he was instrumental in building and scaling the Customer Intelligence practice at Forrester Research, where his research agenda focused on enterprise marketing technologies and customer analytics
  • Vittal worked with SPSS and Net Genesis for many years before joining Forrester in 2006

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