Cheil India’s Chief Digital Officer, Sanjeev Jasani, on why innovation is key in the rapidly changing country
The world over, ad agency folk will tell you that change is happening at an unprecedented rate. But compared with what’s happening in India, the rest of the world is changing at the speed of a pleasant Sunday drive. In India, it’s more like the speed of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. And it’s a not a neat, linear acceleration – it’s a complicated nexus of technology, creativity and sociological and economic change. For agencies that raises the question of how to keep up and stay relevant for clients’ constantly evolving needs.
At Cheil India, Chief Digital Officer Sanjeev Jasani, is finding that clients are not only looking for digital disruption and new innovations in fields like e-commerce, but also looking for help navigating the changes happening in society too. In order to find the kind of creative and innovative solutions clients need, Sanjeev and his team at Cheil have created what he calls a ‘culture of a technology playground’ so that creatives and makers and tech experts can constantly experiment and iterate. He tells LBB’s Laura Swinton about how the agency is helping clients embrace change.
LBB> India is well known for its tech sector but in advertising, creativity and technology really come together. To what extent, generally, are agencies in India driving innovation?
SJ> “While India is known for its tech capabilities, I feel we are not far behind when it comes to creativity and advertising. I can’t even begin to tell you how rapidly the country is changing and growing. India is a buyer’s market and choice is in abundance. In a scenario like this the topic of innovation becomes critical.
The need to stand out and make the most of the ever-increasing demand forces and drives organizations, and brands to innovate. Thus, a large number of start-ups and tech outfits mushroom around us thereby disrupting the landscape.
In this light, advertising agencies are being forced to remodel themselves and re-look at the way they stay relevant to clients. A lot of advertising agencies today are acquiring these start-ups and tech outfits to quickly build disruptive capabilities and hence stay relevant to their clients.
LBB> What sort of innovation or tech requests are you getting from your clients?
SJ> Well, the requests are diverse. But largely there is a strong need by them to disrupt the market and drive ROI for the dollar spent. Some of the areas where our clients are speaking to us are:
1. Channel and Retail Tech Solution building
2. O2O or Omni-channel strategies
3. Digital Disruptive Activations
5. AR/VR and mixed reality
6. Social Intelligence and Big Data
LBB> At your agency, what are the most exciting innovations or inventions your team has worked on in the past year?
SJ> At Cheil India, we have focused on driving Social Intelligence, eCommerce and Digital Disruptive Activations. Let me share some exciting areas we are working on.
Social Intelligence: We at Cheil India have created a discipline called Cheil Pulse that largely focuses on Social Intelligence. The objective of this team is to extract insights to solve business problems for our clients. We also believe that this is not solvable by any one tool. We tend to extract raw data and use a combination of tools to extract the insights. So we don’t really sell software licenses to our clients. This is more like a service where the clients don’t really need to worry about which tools to subscribe to. They just focus on the output. Some key areas which really define the innovative work we do from Cheil Pulse are as follows:
1. Customer Journey Mapping: Here we are able to play with social data and plot it along the consumer journey (Pre-Purchase, Purchase, Post-Purchase and Customer Service stages) to show our clients where in the customer journey should they be focusing. This is also comparable to their competitors and they can easily tell where they are losing the plot and where they need to focus on.
2. Brand Social Health Assessment: Another interesting service that allows a client to view the health of his brand as compared to that of competitors. Most clients use one or more tools for social tracking and analysis. These tools however can never tell you where you are going wrong and where you need to focus. This is where we feel we have the edge. Solving the clients problem is key to us. And if you can provide him a way in which he can do this in near Real time then you are able to create value for him.
3. Influencer Management: An area that has been growing really fast over the last one or two years. Most brands want a part of this pie. However, they tend to work with third party smaller agencies to create a spike in social engagement. But has that spike really worked for them? Have they chosen the right influencers? Is there a strong governance plan associated with it? This is where again we have the edge in answering these practical questions that brands have so that long term influencer management plans can be easily drawn up.
4. VIDEO ORM: ORM as we all know it can easily be done on text and there are a million tools available in the market. But let me give you a slightly different scenario. When you go to YouTube and search for your brand you are bound to find a hundred or even thousands of videos linked to your brand. Do you really have the time to see each video and ascertain its content and sentiment? Not possible. So, it’s a big pain point for most popular brands. This is where we have devised a service where we can automate the process of going through lakhs
of video content and do text mining on their content. We believe this is quite unique and useful to most popular brands.
5. Persona Building: Again an interesting area where we are able to scrub a brand's follower base and determine the personas and personality types. This often helps a brand know what kind of people are following and liking them and as a result can device content accordingly.
Digital Disruptive Activations: Another area where most brands are now sitting up and wanting to do something. Our Innovation Lab allows us to play with technology and come up with unique solutions to create disruption in the market. This is a fairly new discipline that we have started but we are seeing a lot of clients getting interested in it. Some areas where we play are as follows:
1. Retail Installations: These could be in the form of multi touch tables, Interactive screens, Projection mapping, Sensor based displays or even heat mapping. Often these solutions find a place in Retail setups, Events and large scale activations that brands do.
2. Experiential Design: How can we use disruptive technology to create an interesting experience for the consumer. These could be interactive product demos, use of technology like NFC, Sensors, Conductive Ink, AR, VR, and even the integrating into wearables.
3. E-Commerce: We believe that the eCommerce space is still evolving in India. We will soon see eCommerce getting integrated into Retail. As brands we need to think of ways where we can allow customers to touch and feel a product at the retail store and experience it and then later buy it online. This will open up so many avenues in future.
4. Mobile App Development: We all know that we have become a mobile first world. Everything we do starts and ends with the mobile. The endeavour here is to see how best we can exploit the mobile and all its capabilities to provide the best experience for the consumer. Image recognition, Motion Sensor, Blue Tooth Technology and even providing Retail Solutions for the trade are areas where we focus.
LBB> Is creating your own IP something that’s important to the agency?
SJ> It’s always good to create your own IP but that’s not really a goal for us. If the idea/platform is unique then we prefer to build our own IP there.
LBB> Do you work much with small start-ups – either collaborating on projects or incubating them or just getting involved in the local start up scene?
SJ> Yes, we work a lot with start-ups. We do not incubate them but we tend to collaborate with them a lot. Our plan is to try and get more deeply entrenched with them in the future. Recently we had collaborated with a start-up to build a media solution for ourselves where we could have a single view of all our campaigns that are running.
LBB> I read a prediction that India is due to surpass China by 2025 when it comes to innovation and that the government is trying to drive innovation more broadly in the economy. Is this momentum something you’re experiencing in your own work in the agency and with clients?
SJ> Yes, this is an exciting time. For any innovation to thrive we will need the government support to build the infrastructure and ensure fast adoption of technology. Only then can these ideas thrive. Thankfully the new government drives technology in a big way and we can expect to see even bigger growth.
LBB> How can the culture of the Indian industry benefit innovation? And what obstacles does Indian culture/indian agency culture present to innovation?
SJ> This brings me back to my first answer. Agencies are going through a transformation. Change is good. If you are not embracing change then you are bound to be left behind. Innovations are an outcome of this change. It’s not only the technology that has changed but the people and their ways of thinking as well. We, for example, have created a culture of a technology playground. Here we allow our creative teams to play and experiment with technology. Only if you give your people a conducive environment to experiment, discover and play will you see the tip of innovation. We cannot expect it to magically appear one fine day. We have to work towards it and for that we need to relook at the agency model and the basic structures to bring change in them.