Patrick Rona is the President, Tribal DDB APAC, and Chief Digital Officer, DDB Group APAC and has been responsible for reinforcing and expanding Tribal DDB’s market leading position and driving growth and innovation in the provision of digital marketing services across the Tribal DDB Group. Patrick joined Tribal DDB from OgilvyOne, where he ran the global Unilever digital marketing account. Overseeing and coordinating teams across five regions and over twenty five countries, Patrick helped some of Unilever’s top global brands including Dove, Persil (Omo), Becel/Flora, Hellmann’s and Vaseline to embrace and utilise the ever expanding arsenal of digital channels including social media, mobile and viral marketing in additional to display advertising and search, to engage with consumers and drive sales. Patrick began his digital marketing career at Agency.com in the mid-90’s where he advanced to Group Account Director, working with clients including British Airways, Hewlett Packard, Kmart and Unilever. In an exclusive interview to India Digital Review, Patrick discusses about his understanding about the the Indian digital market and his plans for India in the future.
You have seen both the European and the Asian digital markets. How have you seen the growth in usage of digital media by brands in India vis a vis other developed markets?
In the last couple of years, through my conversations with Chief Marketing Officers of different brands worldwide, I have understood that there are basically three fundamental differences. In Europe, senior clients are now speaking about how to use digital to transform the business over the next three years; whereas in Asia, I find the discussions to centered around digital as a media.
In Asia, digital is becoming an expensive media gradually and clients are now graduating to social media to drive efficiency and engagement with consumers. However, the strategic understanding of social media in the Asia Pacific is higher than what we see in the west.
The third area, which might just be called a no-brainer, is mobile. The way numbers of internet penetration is growing in Asia with access especially been driven by mobile, leading marketers here understand mobile well and know how it could impact their businesses.
But in India, still very less amount is spent on mobile. What is your take on this?
The fact is that India is still a pre-paid dominated mobile market. From where I look at it, Indian youth is very careful while spending money and hence are not spending on data plans which are higher in cost. The penetration of smartphones in India is still relatively on the lower side. But with the penetration of the tabs in India rising, we will soon see a change in the mobile marketing dynamics.
In 2011 beginning, you had relocated to Singapore and assume the roles of President, Tribal DDB APAC, and Chief Digital Officer, DDB Group APAC. What are your key priorities at Tribal DDB’s APAC President now?
I am also the Chief Digital Officer of the DDB Group and I ensure that all our agencies are continuing to understand the creative and business opportunities that digital media enables brands to have. It’s a monumental path in ensuring that the DDB Group continues to work in the same way in 21st century as it was in the 20th century.
In Tribal, we are transforming it into APAC’s strongest digital network. My job is certainly to maintain that and make Tribal a strong brand in the digital business today.
How do you see the digital media literacy of Indian marketers vis a vis their European counterparts?
In my journey of understanding the nuances of a specific market, in India, we have some factors that are actually working in our favour. We have the growing middle class and a rich and vibrant mobile infrastructure. Though the internet penetration numbers are on a lower side, a close look guarantees that all these users are pretty active users. The Facebook usage pattern in India would suggest that the opportunity here is only going to increase.
In my brief conversations with marketers in India, I have seen that executives from major companies have invested the time to talk about the opportunity of digital marketing in the country. They wouldn’t have been doing that if they were not serious about it. Speaking about one of major clients McDonalds, because of its Target Audience, we launched their new product McSpicy through digital media in India, with a mix of display, search and social app. This example of McDonalds tells me that we are in for many more such innovations in this space.
People say that there is no digital case study emerging from India that can be showcased in a worldwide level. What is your take on this?
From what I see, the backbone of digital is data. We have that data but we are starving for insights. And unfortunately, we are just now starting to find the insights and metrics out of digital. We as digital marketers are not giving the client enough confidence that digital marketing works. Clients operate in a very competitive scenario and they have to meet their targets. Unless we talk that language, it will be difficult for brands to spend money on digital. The McDonalds exercise is exactly the kind of case study that will provide confidence to other marketers about spending money on digital.
Have we overdone the measurement quotient and made this medium hard to understand for the brand marketers in India?
Yes, we have and I think we need to simplify and talk the language that the marketers are speaking. At Tribal and the entire DDB Group, this is something we are taking very seriously and increasing our capabilities in measuring what is happening in TV, PC and on the mobile and analyse the data and build to the confidence of the client and make them understand where they can get more value from. To give an example, an YouTube video is very different from TV as it involves the viewer’s conscious decision to watch the video. I don’t think there is any other metric that can define engagement in a more powerful manner.
Similarly, on Facebook, when one likes a brand, this shows a deliberate show of appreciation for that brand and its responsibility to deliver value to the consumer. This is a very powerful metric to understand the effectiveness of the medium.
The third strong point of appreciation for a brand is its mobile app. Mobile phone is a very personal device and when a customer downloads that app and puts it in his personal space that is a very strong message of appreciation of brand loyalty from the customer.
Speaking about new engagement forms such as videos and apps coming up on internet, what are your thoughts on visual brand building exercises on internet in India?
I think we need to evolve our thinking beyond display advertising and think about content. The role of any agency should be in developing meaningful and engaging consumer content for the brand, be it through video or apps. I think TV can be a far more effective display advertising medium to drive engagement than online display ads.
In that case, how do you Indian digital publishers surviving in this scenario?
Online display advertising is still going to be big in India. I see digital publishers evolving by engaging with consumers with branded content.
What, according to you, should the Indian digital media industry adopt from the western markets?
India has an opportunity to leapfrog in digital media usage ahead of the European markets. India, as well as APAC, will have to ask the client about their business strategy and see where digital can fit in to accomplish that goal rather than just doing media. That is exactly what digital agencies across the Europe and other developed markets are doing now.
How do you see the social media spends getting big in India?
It is a combination of some vital points. One is we will have to show that we can deliver results and stop talking about hits, impressions, Cost Per Clicks etc and have more case studies like McDonalds examples. Case Studies like Big Mac Chant, Telstra Cabbie-oke, Intel Escape should emerge more. Strategically and creatively, we will have to see how digital fits in to our client’s larger business objectives and show them the opportunities. We also need to show that we are moving towards an interaction point between creativity and technology keeping the brand’s objectives in mind.