Pandemic was the chief digital officer for agencies and brands: Bharat Khatri

Bharat Khatri

Bharat Khatri, Omnicom Media Group speaks about the fundamentals of building a digital blueprint, targeting high intent consumers, and the role of digital in the purchase funnel.

Bharat Khatri, Chief Digital Officer – APAC, Omnicom Media Group talks about the changing digital landscape – from the consumer behaviour seen in the younger demographic to the role of digital avenues such as search play in the path to purchase, Khatri, speaks about what it is like to create a marketing blueprint in this phase where new and old normals merge. 

Edited Excerpts: 

As the economy resumes to open post-pandemic, what are the key media in marketing trends seen in the Indian context?

Post pandemic one of the key observations is that mobility is back on track. When I say mobility, you can do a basic Google search trend analysis to understand how the search volumes are going down on online stuff purchasing which was happening during the pandemic. The volumes are down by almost 40 to 50% in the current scenario. Consumers are now moving to different locations, and how they travel is opening up. 

In terms of behavioural change, certain behaviours are here to stay. Like the increase in content consumption on digital platforms. However, there might be slight fluctuation as offices are now opening up. Brands now have enough opportunities in Out Of Home, DOOH, or even the retail experiential space as outdoor footfalls increase at a faster pace. 

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically in the last two years, what are some of the consumer consumption trends that have emerged in the last two years? 

So, the trends from a consumption POV are, definitely more time spent on the streaming devices, and video consumption on the up. The content shift is happening from linear towards digital, towards on-demand.

Second is the accessibility of internet devices becoming quite cheap for the Tier II and III markets. Third is, now the boom of vernacular content.  

The change in the consumer behaviour that we saw in the pandemic, is here to stay. The flipside, however, is that during the pandemic we saw some new prime times being created. The afternoon was another primetime because people were consuming content while sitting at home while working. But now that primetime doesn’t exist as we have moved to normality. 

Ecommerce saw a boost across categories such as grocery, pharmaceuticals, and more however, as things open up there has been some decline and consumers are going back to the retail experience. 

As more members of the GenZ group enter the working segment with disposable income at hand, what kind of purchase patterns are seen amongst the youth? 

As compared to the other markets in Southeast Asia, then we have a larger proportion of the younger demographic which is joining the work army. Some reports talk about the average Indian USD 2000 monthly income would definitely grow as high as USD 4000 p/m in the next 5 years.

GenZ as of now is investing in automobiles and handsets – these have been the low hanging fruits. Post pandemic there has also been a rise in the demand for real estate, as everyone realised the value of their homes. 

Lastly, I think health is an important segment. Health insurance clearly became a key priority area. Most D2C insurance brands are clearly focusing on GenZ as an audience to educate them about financial and health investments. This again becomes an easy spot because they are already online transactors, they purchase products online, they have applications to buy, and they are already a part of that FinTech community using credit cards. 

With the change in consumption trends, how do brands need to realign their approach towards the media spends? Any tips on what brands and agencies need to keep in mind before creating a media blueprint? 

I think there is enough destruction happening in the media landscape. We are talking about cookie depreciation, identity depreciation, and more fragmentation of media platforms. The wall gap is becoming taller and thinner. 

When you talk about the media blueprint, I think the first thing most brands need to understand is how much budget they are now spending on addressable media v/s traditional media. Because some of the traditional touchpoints now offer options for you to build an addressable media. Like in the case of TV, how brands are embracing and creating a media platform, which is a combination of both linear feeds and digital feeds together because it’s the same screen on which the consumer is consuming the content, is important. 

Further, we are now moving into a privacy-first world. Now it says privacy first, precision second. Brands need to clearly focus on the first-party data; how they can build a value exchange programme with their consumer which they can offer so that the consumer gives them the consent with their information. Once brands have this first-party repository which is a privacy-first consent base, this is where they start building segmenting – which audiences they want to focus on. Once you have enough repository of first-party data as a brand, you would be able to get closer to the consumer and understand them through a deep dive lens with a consent first framework. As that happens, you have the blueprint ready. 

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While the penetration of digital marketing is way higher than it was 2 years ago, brands still tend to stick to the basics. 

I would say pandemic was the chief digital officer for agencies and brands. It took the pandemic less than 10 weeks to make them understand that they would have to come on digital.

No denying the fact that the investments have significantly increased on digital across the world. Certain brands definitely continue to follow the basic hygiene, which is let’s invest in the big 2 giants – massive reach and performance marketing. But when it comes to a digital-first approach, brands now understand that the consumer is spending maximum time on digital platforms; minimum 4-5 hours is being spent on that mobile device. 

At the same time, if there are traditional channels available which offer a better cost-effective reach when it comes to the top of the funnel, then there is no denying the fact that digital will complement the traditional media trend. 

Many new-age brands have taken a smarter approach in terms of bringing content, data and the user experience together. Whether it is connecting from an influencer marketing space, partnering with a content creator or taking the social commerce approach. So, these are the new aspects in which some of the brands are taking a big leap of faith in the media and delivering better ROI for their business.

As consumers get more aware and digital savvy, the power of intent plays an even bigger role. As a marketing veteran, what is your opinion on the power of intent and how it can be used to drive full final objectives?

The way the internet is growing, we can now do a full 360 campaign. Whether it’s creating end-to-end awareness about a product and then moving the consumer from the top funnel to the middle funnel or making him consider buying the product and finally the consumer showing an intent into purchasing the product.

When it comes to intent, I think the core hygiene of digital is one ad format or one platform which we call search. Where we get the maximum consumer intent because the consumer is showing an intent to purchase, he is searching for the brand keyword or a similar category keyword.

With the search now becoming more holistic towards marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, and BigBasket, brands are now embracing media spends on commerce platforms as well. 

There is enough opportunity for us to understand, which consumers are more toward intent v/s who are just exploring the product. Now, with different signals available about consumers on the platform, based on factors such as income level, location, and type of device they use, we are able to create an intent graph which was earlier missing. 


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