Category: Work

Birds of MICA

The beautiful MICA campus

I was back at the MICA campus recently to take a couple of sessions of Digital Media Planning & Buying. My previous (and my first) visit to the campus was in August of 2019 and this trip reinforced the positive feelings I have for this unique campus.

The campus is located on the South Western outskirts of Ahmedabad city, in a place called Shela. The campus is just the right size for a medium sized educational institution. At around 15 acres, it is neither too small to make the place look cramped and not too big to make it impersonal. Add the beautiful landscape of lush green lawns, leafy trees and the built environment of low rise exposed brick architecture, and you have all the right ingredients to make it a wonderful place for learning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The place is also bordered on one side with a branch of the Narmada canal. Add the fact that it is located amidst farmland, well away from the hustle and bustle of the city and you have a place that’s a dream for bird-watchers.

I have, so far, spent only about 5 days at the campus, and spent about 4 hours in total in bird-watching. But in this time, I have observed no less than 52 species of birds. To put that in context, I have counted 65 species in the 18 months that I have been maintaining records on ebird.

Here are the birds I spotted during my stay of around 28 hours in the MICA campus this week:

  1. Indian Pond-Heron
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Little Egret
  4. Black (Red Naped) Ibis
  5. Oriental White (Black Headed) Ibis
  6. Black Kite
  7. Oriental Honey Buzzard
  8. Western Marsh-Harrier
  9. Grey Francolin
  10. Indian Peafowl
  11. Red-Wattled Lapwing
  12. Common Redshank
  13. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  14. Spotted Dove
  15. Little Brown Dove
  16. Blue Rock Pigeon
  17. Rose-Ringed Parakeet
  18. Plum-Headed Parakeet
  19. Asian Koel
  20. House Swift
  21. White-Breasted (Throated) Kingfisher
  22. Small Bee-Eater
  23. Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker
  24. Rufous-Backed (Long-Tailed) Shrike
  25. Black Drongo
  26. Brahminy Starling
  27. Common Myna
  28. Indian (Rufous) Treepie
  29. House Crow
  30. White-Eared Bulbul
  31. Red-Vented Bulbul
  32. Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler
  33. Jungle Babbler
  34. White-Browed Fantail-Flycatcher
  35. Common Tailorbird
  36. Indian Robin
  37. Great (Cinerous) Tit
  38. Purple Sunbird

Of these, I was particularly delighted at spotting two ‘lifers’ – The White-Eared Bulbul and the Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler. The formed especially delighted me as it is only found in North-west India.

How Good is Your Email Marketing Strategy?

black and gray digital device
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Email Marketing is one of the oldest forms of digital marketing. The first email was sent nearly 50 years ago (in 1971) and the first marketing email was supposedly sent in 1978.

Email was also one of the first digital marketing channels that I worked on. I have seen the strong role it can play in driving sales for businesses. And which is why, in general, the state of email marketing today disappoints me.

I truly cannot recollect any business whose email I look forward to receiving. Some of the better ones that I receive in my inbox come from thought-leaders. They seem to have a good understanding of what is it that their subscribers are looking for from emails, and they stick to delivering that in the simplest form with absolutely no bells and whistles. And you know what? It works! I can read the important points right in the email, without being distracted by unnecessary images. In many cases, I can get all the information I want right from the email without having to click to go to a Landing Page (though that option exists).

However, when it comes to ecommerce (including travel), the lesser said the better. I have unsubscribed myself from most mailing lists of businesses that I have shopped with. Why? It did not seem that they could be bothered to send me information useful for me. Receiving the same, standard one-size-fits-all message started getting extremely irritating after a while.

And one of the worst offenders have to financial services. It’s such a shame that, given the wealth of information that they have about their customers, they still do not seem to be using this to create interesting and relevant emails.

It is a well accepted fact that email marketing (to clean legally acquired lists) is one of the most effective and efficient forms of marketing. But to get these benefits requires businesses and marketers to invest in truly understanding their customers and building a robust customer data management strategy. The trick is not in the creative element of the email, but in the targeted and relevant messaging.

I sometimes wonder if, in their craze to adopt the latest ‘Next Big Thing’, marketers are forgetting to devote enough time to the basics. A well designed email marketing campaign has to be one of the first digital marketing strategies that any business should develop, if they are keen to derive the maximum benefits from their overall Digital Marketing strategy.

The role of AI in Digital Marketing

gray scale photo of gears
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is no doubt that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is going to play an increasing role in our lives going forward. And I can already see that happening in my line of work – Digital Marketing.

Type in ‘Role of AI in Digital Marketing‘ and you will see pages upon pages of relevant results. I spent some time reviewing these, and most of them wax eloquently on how Digital Marketing is going to be (or is already being) transformed for the better due to AI. Some of the areas where AI is presently being used in Digital Marketing include:

  • Content Generation – AI is already being used to write news articles. And with the increasing consumption of visual content in the form of images and videos, AI can definitely help with the creation of content at scale.
  • Audience Targeting – Leading digital advertising platforms that have huge amounts of data on internet users are now providing advertisers with options to target these users based on factors such as their interests and relevant digital activities.
  • Personalisation – Combining both of the above to provide relevant information to individual users at scale.
  • Optimisation – Machine Learning algorithms can help rapidly speed up the process of marketing campaign optimisation.

However, I get worried when I read stuff like how Digital Marketing can help with Consumer Behaviour Analysis, Predictive Analysis, etc. Implied in these statements is the belief that Machines can help provide a better understanding of consumers (and therefore, marketers do not need to spend as much time as present on these tasks).

I completely agree that AI can help with the process of analysis at a speed and scale that humans, even with current processing capabilities of computers, just will not be able to match. But it is important to realise that analysis is just a process and not the end goal.

The end goal, and the key role of any marketer, digital or otherwise, is Consumer Insights. And Insights is very different from Analytics. What does the analysis tell us about the actual thought process of consumers? This requires, in addition to data and analysis, a solid understanding of the business context, industry trends and consumer behaviour. Maybe AI could do all of the above as well at some date, but that’s a topic for another article. My view is that businesses have to be very clear of this distinction between analysis and insights.

The second point that I disagree with is Predictive Analytics. This fundamentally assumes that future behaviour can be accurately predicted by detailed analysis of historical actions. This might well be the case in certain standard activities that change very slowly (financial modeling, risk analysis, etc.) But I am skeptical about the application of Predictive Analytics in Marketing. The landscape, especially media and technology, is evolving so rapidly that I simply do not believe we have enough data to accurately predict future digital consumer behaviour. This article perfectly encapsulates some of these issues.

So, while I am not disagreeing that AI is already playing a useful role in some areas of Digital Marketing, it is not a magic bullet that will automatically help improve your Marketing. I would urge all businesses and marketers to invest time in learning more about the role of AI in Digital Marketing and build their own views on what might be relevant for their specific use cases.

In future articles, I will explore what the impact of this increasing role of AI might be on marketers (and marketing itself).

 

What’s Your Visual Marketing Strategy?

high angle photo of person holding film strip in front of a laptop
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I was having a discussion around Digital Advertising with a client of mine recently. We were debating on what kind of Google Ad to run for her ecommerce business when she made a comment, “Sanjay, who reads a text ad these days? Someone I know only looks ate the Image results while doing a Google Search.” We ended up deciding to launch a Google Shopping Ad. But the comment stayed with me.

A bit of research made it clear to me that what my client was saying was not just a single person’s opinion, but reflective of broader trends in the digital space. Many of us, I am sure, are regular users of the leading visual based social network, Instagram. And, of course, there is streaming video.

Digital marketers who started their careers over a decade ago are likely to be biased towards Search marketing. We have seen the significant and out-sized impact it made on many consumer businesses. Having seen those kind of results, when we tried Display and Video advertising, we came across a few challenges:

  • Display and Video could not deliver the same kind of results that Search could, simply because we were able to target users with very high intent to take a specific action.
  • Ad Creation was significantly more complex than Search text ads due to the requirements of multiple, high quality image and video content.
  • Performance measurement was a challenge. Most users who see a Display and Video Ad are unlikely to click on the Ad and perform the desired action. Yes, we had View through conversion tracking, but there was always a question mark on what was the true impact of seeing the ad on the purchase behaviour.

But, over the past few years, large advertising media players have invested significant efforts in addressing all of the above issues.

Targeting – There are now powerful ways to target users for visual advertising. These include, in addition to demographic targeting, the ability to target users based on their interests and online behaviours, across both a brand’s own website and other websites or apps.

YouTube Targeting Options

‘Responsive’ ads – Advertisers no longer require to have a team of graphic designers to create ads. As long as you have the basic assets ready, you can use the various automated ad creation systems now available to create a vast number of different creatives across multiple sizes. Even an average smartphone user can create very good video ads these days, as we can see on Instagram stories and other similar sites.

Responsive Display Ads
Example of Responsive Display Ads being auto-adjusted for mobile and desktop views. Courtesy Google

Advanced Measurement Tactics – Smart marketers are able to leverage the multiple data signals available to them across the spectrum of digital channels to have more detailed insights into the impact their visual advertisement is having. In addition, many media agencies are also able to provide ‘lift’ metrics soon after the campaign ends.

If you would like to learn more about how to develop a Visual Marketing strategy, then you might find the following articles helpful:

How To Create A Visual Marketing Strategy

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Visual Content Marketing Strategy

How to Plan Your Visual Content Marketing Strategy

On Remote Working

woman sitting on sofa while looking at phone with laptop on lap
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

While I have mostly worked with digital native organisations, it is interesting, looking back, that remote working was not really a big thing in most of these organisations. Sure, you could work remotely if required, but very few people actually took it up, preferring to work from the office most of the time.

My first real exposure to formal remote working policies was, interestingly enough, when I started working for a very ‘traditional’ business. They had quite progressive rules for employees who, for whatever reason, had to work from home.

I have been ‘remotely working’, in a fashion, over the the past 18 months or so since I decided to embark on my independent gig. I have learnt a few things along the way:

I find it very challenging to work from home full time. I am just not able to shake off the fact that I am actually sitting at home, and hence get easily and regularly distracted. Not to mention that, in India, there’s a steady stream of people ringing your doorbell through the day, which can be a nuisance when you are in the midst of some work that requires concentration.

I like the discipline of having a routine of ‘going to work’. Related to the previous point, I realise that I prefer to have some sort of demarcation between ‘work space’ and ‘relaxation space’. Which is why I decided to invest in a desk at a co-working space.

I like to be surrounded by other ‘workers’. It gives me the sense of belonging to a community, After all, we are social animals.

The reason for this post is a State of Remote Work 2020 report that I came across recently. It contains some interesting insights into remote work. I personally found it surprising that only 7% of the remote workers surveyed (3,500) are working out of a co-working space. It was also disappointing to read that 80% of the organisations that the respondents work for don’t pay for monthly expenses associated with remote work.

As the ‘gig economy‘ continues to grow, organisations will have to increasingly design frameworks that balance the desire for some employees to work remotely with other considerations that might necessitate employees to work out of common offices. Clearly, the technologies of today are much better at enabling connectivity between employees who are spatially distributed. But I also believe that there are issues with team and culture building, informal networks, etc that still need to be debated and resolved.

What are your views on remote working? Please let me know by commenting on this article.