Opinion

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14 Apr: So, Where Did Pokémon Finally Go?

On a downcast July afternoon last year, one of the agency’s clients sent me a text. It read “Can you look into Pokemon Go and see if we can leverage it to bring people instore? My friends say that it is the future of marketing.” I texted back: “Lol!”

Two days ago, I found this message on my phone while I was looking for some other information. As soon as I read it, I had a good chuckle. And then, I curiously Googled: “is Pokemon Go still a thing?” The LA Times reported last month that the game is still profitable and continues to generate buzz. But, the problem with this and several other news articles I read was that none of them had included the word, ‘marketing’.

Pokémon Go, by default, wasn’t an earth-shattering game. It used the simple premise of Augmented Reality and built a platform on it. If anything, the latest game update should have revived it with an advanced gameplay. But that never came through and the game continues to rot in its own basicness. Niantic announced recently that a sizeable update will arrive in the coming months and will revitalize Pokémon Go. Yeah, I don’t think so!

Last year, people were hailing Pokémon Go for something that wasn’t about the game. As the game grew popular last summer (or spring, depending on where you were when it all happened), many blogs and health-associated websites came to the game’s defence. I remember that Huffington Post once wrote “Pokémon helps cure loneliness by bringing people out of their homes and onto the streets where they seek out and bond with fellow gamers.” I think HuffPo confused Pokémon Go with Tinder.

When news journalism sank, it took photojournalism along. Photographers suddenly turned the lens away from the crime on the streets and the lying politicians to the hordes of gamers who had come together in New York and in Taiwan, and to world leaders, celebrities and dignitaries who were all spotted playing the game. Fortune reported that the game might actually make you happier and more active as it makes you get off the couch. And last year, Psychology Today, one of the vile and irreparable websites you’d ever visit (second to BuzzFeed), released this gem: How Pokémon Go Helps Mental Health.

Here’s the thing: Pokémon Go isn’t revolutionary. For centuries, kids have been going out to play football or tennis or even, take a walk on a sunny day. We know for a fact that technology has disabled us in more ways than we can imagine. Why wait for the internet to tell you about it, when you knew what to do all along. What we’ve uncovered so far was that Pokémon Go was a fad at best, just like the Harlem Shake and Gangnam Style. And, when you want a session in cringe, you go to your old buddies at the advertising agencies. They never let you down, do they.

Ad Age, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Land and even the American Marketing Association have written multiple articles on how a game on your phone is disrupting marketing and breaking new ground in digital marketing, and redefining B2C marketing. The only thing that these articles do is pull you into the vast and ever expanding arena of nothingness. Absent-minded marketers and click-hungry marketing blogs often exploit these fads and predict a future that’s never coming.

Every year, we have one or more fads. Pokémon Go wasn’t even the most cringe-worthy fad of 2016. Later that year, the Mannequin Challenge came into prominence and marketers called it the “next best thing”. Year on year, people are looking to replace digital marketing but they can’t seem to differentiate between a fad and reality. Simply put, people’s perception of digital marketing today has reduced to something banal.

I’m often asked by clients and prospects as to how we will break barriers to create something new. I often shrug and ignore that question when I could have simply responded: “we already broke barriers with digital marketing. What else do you need?”

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23 Dec: Ten Predictions For 2017

Folks, it’s that time of the year when every agency and blogger is busy publishing a roundup of 2016’s highs and lows. While the endless flow of listicles will nevertheless flood your news feed, we can assure you that not much is going to change. In fact, here’s our take on the strange, new world that we’ve found ourselves in. We are making ten predictions for the upcoming year. These aren’t wild predictions but based on what we’ve witnessed thus far.

There have been too many news articles talking about the scandals that have marred the already tarnished reputation of the digital advertising industry. Remember when eBay published their report on search advertising? The report raised an important question: “why do well-known branded companies spend such large amounts of money on what seems to be a rather ineffective marketing channel?”

It’s been three years since the report came out but we still haven’t answered the question, because there are other reports and case studies. Ad networks continue to flourish. Ad publishers continue to flourish. The same cannot be said about those paying for the ads – the clients.

It is our prediction that despite the scandals, digital advertising will continue to exist, given the fact that two internet giants are now dependent on them: Google and Facebook.

You remember bots, right? Those nice little things that helped you order a pizza without having to call Domino’s, register complaints without having to listen to another IVRS system, and find relevant information on movies without having to search for it. That was a nice time for bots. Now that the honeymoon is over, these little bits of code are rearing its dark and murky side. Bots are now the bad guys. They spam, they peep into your browser history, and they also killed Kenny!

In 2017, bots will become creepier and invisible, i.e. blend in with the crowd. Coders have found a way to humanise bots through engaging conversations, friendlier avatars, and names. I recently chatted with a customer support executive named Todd, who helped me register a complaint and made references to the Presidential Election. Guess what, he was a bot!

How many apps do you use on a daily basis? If it’s anywhere from 10-20, you’re a normal app user. If it’s higher than that, you are an app addict. If it’s lower, you are a basic user (like the most of us). Despite that, we still install a lot of apps, most of which we never use. It’s no secret that everyone wants to get in on the app boom. Whenever a client asked us to build them an app, our first question would be “why?” It’s not that we hate apps; we feel that having an app will not always solve your customer’s problem.

In 2017, we’ll see many more games like Pokémon Go while social media and eCommerce will cross that imaginary line and integrate with each other.

I can’t remember the number of times Coca Cola has redone their branding campaigns. I’m sure that every time a new campaign is launched, BuzzFeed and Ad Age publish listicles featuring the previous campaigns. But, that constant fear of losing out on the young millennial crowd is something everyone’s afraid of. While many bloggers and key agency officials have dispelled the notion that “millennial” is not a thing, and that they are your Average Joes, brands continue to turn a deaf ear to these claims allowing agencies to seize the opportunity and present a mildly nauseous marketing campaign about the values of life. It’s a non-existent problem that has become the prime concern for every brand in the world.

Our prediction is that Coke is going to take to hot and happening social media channels like Snapchat and attempt to get down with the young crowd. Coke will also look to find an agency whose communication is more in tune with the young bunch. So, with that in mind, here’s our early bird submission for Coke’s 2017 campaign:

While Pokémon Go has largely helped commercialise Augmented Reality, there still is concern about the extent of experiential marketing’s reach. Pioneers brought us these groundbreaking technologies. It takes another pioneer to ensure that these evolve into something that’s much bigger than a smartphone game. When Facebook bought Oculus Rift, every blogger in the tech world spoke of a Virtual Reality boom. We’re still waiting for one.

Our prediction is that 2017 will be a sleepy year for both AR and VR.

Simply put, influencer marketing is a type of social affiliate marketing. At one point of time, influencers were mainly a bunch of singers, supermodels and Kim Kardashian. Now, influencer marketing has gone local. Anyone with a social media account and over 10,000 followers is labelled an “influencer”. We’ve been asked many times about the need for influencer marketing in today’s wired world. We agree that if done right, influencer marketing can help brands find their footing and generate better sales. But, there are some troubling issues. There is a difference between clicks and conversions. Most influencer marketing platforms promise clicks but not conversions.

Our prediction is that the number of influencers and influencer marketing portals will continue to grow. But, it won’t be nearly as effective as traditional marketing.

You have tools to think of Facebook post ideas, create posts and publish them. Yet, digital agencies are still stacked with so-called social media experts, who are often busy photographing and hashtagging everything that moves. I remember back in 2008 when I first held the iPhone in my palm. Remember that glorious time? We were chanting “Yes, we can” and “Jai Ho!” and all of our televisions were tuned to this new show about life in the advertising agencies in the ‘60s. Those were better times.

Debaters have often called technology, a double-edged sword. It has made life easier and us, lazier. We delegate tools to take care of our daily tasks so that we can spend more time thinking of a perfect name for a brand new line of flavoured cat food or meeting more clients at industry conferences. These are harsher times.

Our prediction is that much like apps, there will be a boom in internet tools, not that we’re using all of them.

No, we’re not referring to the President of the United States and his detractors. We’re talking about the platforms themselves.

In the beginning, it was Orkut vs. Facebook. Then, it was Facebook vs. Twitter. Then, smaller players like Instagram and Pinterest came into the fore and were either bought or relegated to second-tier channels. Today, Snapchat is taking the war to our fingertips. But, can it truly take on Facebook?

2017 will be the year where social media platforms will battle each other for first place.

Ad blocking was perhaps the best invention since the internet. And now, publishers have decided to fight back. Many news sites have been demanding ad block users to whitelist their domains. This brings up the question: are ads the only way to generate revenue online? The internet became commercialised in the mid-1990s. Ads went online in the late 1990s and they continue to be the main source of online revenue. Somewhere along the line, we have stopped inventing.

As more and more publishers continue to hold content hostage in exchange for a spot in the whitelist, consumers have a rather tough choice to make in 2017.

The fun fact behind most year-end articles is that many contemplate on the impending death of digital marketing. It gives us great joy in reading those articles because we know that digital marketing is not going to die, it simply evolves. So, if you are writing about the end of digital marketing and using done-to-death headlines, you might as well add “stop writing about the end of digital marketing” to your New Year Resolutions.

Happy Holidays from all of us at A Slice of Digital!

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19 Jul: Are We Still Curious?

A week ago, a colleague asked me to check out her latest blog post. I wrote back: “The topic is good, but it needs more explanation.” She replied: “what exactly do you mean by that?

Now, any content writer would understand what I meant. But, the colleague I was corresponding with, was no content writer. She was plucked right out of business school and made a social media executive, before becoming a content creator. As she grows, she learns. But, what fascinated me was that she asked a stupid question. I ran through all of my email responses and I discovered that I no longer ask stupid questions, at least since 2015. It’s partly because we no longer want to call them stupid or dumb questions.

Coming back to her question: “what exactly do you mean by that?” According to her, I could have meant almost anything. It’s a simple reminder that people aren’t always on the wavelength that you currently inhabit. Some are on higher wavelengths, some lower. I understood that I was being vague and she was in fact, being curious.

In his 1995 book, Carl Sagan observed:

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

Carl Sagan was one of the most influential persons of the late twentieth century. And, he was magnificently curious. We need to bring in a little bit of curiosity into our lives. Even in agency briefings, we never ask questions like: “why exactly are we doing this?” We simply nod and start working, without asking the key questions. The “why” tells you about the playing field. The “what” clarifies the overall objective. And, the “how” sharpens your inner vision.

The secret to creativity is curiosity.

So, how do you bring curiosity into your work? The internet made it so easy for us to keep in touch with our friends and loved ones. Do you remember the time when you would gushingly login to your Hotmail account or check MSN Messenger for new emails or chats? Do you remember the first time you logged in to Facebook or Twitter and saw what your friends were doing? I remember spending all night on Facebook once. And then, I got over it.

Curiosity is often extinguished when there is no change. People working in monotonous jobs share the same feeling. No matter how groundbreaking your product or service may be, you should put your best questioners in a room and have them ask you all sorts of stupid dumb curious questions. This helps you improve and shape your offering into something that’s evolutionary. Curiosity changes over time and if you remain the same, you get left behind.

Normalcy is fodder for boredom. Boredom kills curiosity. My advice to you is to stay curious and ask those questions, no matter how stupid they may be.

Stay curious, my fellow readers!

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20 Mar: Living in an Algorithmic Digital Society

The Internet is always abuzz with self-proclaimed social media experts sharing tips on how to stay current with the “rapidly shifting but, never perfect” social media platform, Facebook. It is of course, the world’s biggest social media platform.

You may have even read articles on how Facebook’s news feed algorithm has not only made it impossible for users to see content from the pages they’ve liked, but has also inspired Twitter and Instagram to follow its footsteps. Well, why wouldn’t they? When Mark Zuckerberg was able to find a pot of gold at the end of the algorithmic rainbow, Jack Dorsey too would want that. At the end of the day, it’s business as usual.

A few months ago, insta-happy marketers became insta-sad after the popular photo sharing app wrote the following on their blog:

“To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most… If your favorite musician shares a video from last night’s concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in. And when your best friend posts a photo of her new puppy, you won’t miss it.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you’re reminded of this:

“The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them.”

Yes, Instagram is making its parent company, Facebook proud by following its footsteps by introducing the algorithm-based news feed. And, similar to the aftermath of Twitter’s announcement which led to the viral #RIPTwitter hashtag, Instagram’s announcement did make a lot of people (mostly marketers) unhappy. But, before we immediately boo these platforms, let’s take a look at the pros of having an algorithm-based feed.

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Okay, we’ve really got nothing. But, let’s not forget that Facebook went from a big-time social platform to a big-time advertising platform with the algorithm-based feed. The move forced brands to pay for more ads to improve page and post visibility.

You, dear reader, have seen at least hundreds of Facebook ads from those snippets on the right-hand column to sponsored news feed posts. While some brands did reap significant ROI, others are busy fixing a large hole in their pockets.

When Facebook introduced its algorithm-based news feed, the platform offered us the choice of “Top Stories” and “Most Recent” with which users had some control over the content they were seeing.

While this helped arrange your news feed in chronological order, you were still out on updates from your friends or brands you follow, particularly because you interacted less with them.

The big question isn’t about finding a platform where users will be able to see your posts on their home feed. The question simply is this: should you continue using a rented platform to satisfy all of your digital marketing needs?

What’s A Rented Platform?

A rented platform is like a rented apartment. You really don’t have the liberty to act as you wish.

Simply put, a rented platform is a website that you do not own. It’s a place where you rent a page or profile and connect with the platform’s existing audience. This means your activities are subject to any number of limitations, be it character limit or video duration limit.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and its likes, or Medium, Tumblr and its likes, are all rented platforms. You create an account, post content and connect with people who use those platforms, period.

So when the original content on your Facebook page goes viral, you will drive more traffic to your Facebook page and not your website or blog. Get it? Facebook gets the cake while your website goes home empty-handed.

Okay, So What Do I Own Then?

You own the following: your website, non-hosted platform blog, mobile and desktop apps that you’ve created, your own online forums and email subscribers.

Owned platforms are places where you don’t have limitations on content, design and even customer data. Remember when Oprah Winfrey said “I don’t have any limitations on what I think I could do or be.” That’s how owned platforms work.

No limitations = free to experiment and try out new and better ideas.

Answering The Big Question

Earlier, we had asked this question: should you continue using a rented platform to satisfy all of your digital marketing needs? Many of you marketers have a counter-argument ready. “Social media isn’t going to satisfy all of my digital marketing needs. It’s just a small cog of the brand’s digital marketing exercise.” It may be small, but it’s also important.

Your audience can be found on social media and popular blogging platforms for the most part of the day, connecting with their friends. While this limitation has seen the rise of some truly spectacular content, it still doesn’t check all the boxes.

As a brand, your most important task is to keep a finger on the pulse and listen to your customers’ personal experiences with your products and services. Twitter is a listening platform where you can find volumes of conversations about your brand.

While Facebook and Instagram can be utilised to provide great content, you should slowly consider moving your existing audience on these platforms to your website or WordPress blog where you are free to offer groundbreaking experiences, the kind of experience you can never offer through a Tweet or an Instagram photo.

A Final Word

Facebook has 1.6 billion monthly active users. Just last year, Instagram reached 400 million monthly active users, surpassing Twitter. As our network of friends continues to grow, our feeds grow and social media platforms continue to evolve. Love it or hate it, the algorithmic news feed is here to stay. How we make use of it is the need of the hour.

Here’s one more (two-part) question:

What is your average weekly organic reach on Facebook? And how many people visit your website or blog (in a week)?

If the latter has a bigger number, you should continue increasing it. If the former has a bigger number, you should work on making your owned platform, a place where everybody wants to be.