Jai Lala, Zenith Media on the evolving app economy & opportunities to reach the digital-first consumer 

Jai Lala

First, in our brand new series, Advertising & Marketing Thought Leaders, brought to you by Social Samosa and Quora, we have Jai Lala of Zenith Media, as he demystifies the evolving Indian media, marketing, and advertising landscape.

The last few weeks of 2022 saw an overall positive sentiment, given to the opening up of markets, the outdoors being accessible again, and consumers approaching products and services with a renewed vigour. Building on this sentiment, Social Samosa in association with Quora, launched a knowledge-sharing property, Advertising and Marketing Thought Leaders. 

Featuring the who’s who of the Indian A&M industry, the Social Samosa X Quora property attempts to understand what the 2022 marketing blueprint should look like. How are marketers re-approaching strategy considering the current environment and how can they evolve with the changing consumer behaviour?

First, in the series, we have, Jai Lala, CEO, Zenith Media who gives insights into the changing consumer and industry dynamics. 

Edited Excerpts: 

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

From a media standpoint, complete digitization has kicked off. Spending money on digital media as a channel has increased; probably this is the year we are going to see digital overtake TV with an estimate of INR 33085 cr. Second is the use of digital across platforms. E-commerce has seen huge growth and basically what would have taken 3-5 years, suddenly saw an acceleration, thanks to the pandemic. So, people shopping online, watching videos on digital platforms, embracing OTT, all that has been accelerated due to the pandemic. So, from a media standpoint digital has become what we call a habit. 

From a consumer lens, there’s a huge rebound. People have been trapped in their homes for far too long and now that is changing.

We have seen an increase in vacations – we have approximately 50% uptake in queries in holidays in March 2022.

An increase in any activity that includes going out – travelling, going to the movies, eating out. 

The big trend which we are seeing right now is that every time there is an opening up of the lockdown, the bounce back is extreme. Currently, we are witnessing a little increase in cases in Delhi. So, there will be a slowdown, but once things get cleared, as they did in March, the demand bounces back with aggression. Consumer demand is now no longer linked to seasonality which was the case earlier. Now, it is more relevant to the number of cases and the rules around it. 

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?

To create this entire intent, we need to track the consumer at every stage – right from the awareness to the research stage and up to the point where the consumer is building brand preference. By the time he takes action, the brand needs to get involved in every stage. Assuming that the consumer is unaware of the brand at the beginning, the intent is created using 3 stages. 

For example, if today I am deciding to buy a motorcycle I have an intent, that intent needs to be created. Because once the intent is created, the brand creating the intent benefits the most. This is not something that has evolved recently but something that has been seen historically. But the various mediums coming into play, where this intent can be built becomes a big challenge. Today, right from mass media to influencer marketing, everything has become linguistic and vernacular. Voice has a great part to play. How you leverage all these mediums to ensure that you sustain the intent is the question. 

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? 

In terms of consumption, as I mentioned before, the consumption of digital has gone through the roof, currently, in India, we have 825 million users. The trends which we were trying to see earlier, which probably would have happened in three years’ time have happened right now.

What we are witnessing today is a trend we call ‘Rise of Connectivity’. 

It’s where all form of connections, whether it be OTT or commerce, everything has seen a rise – today there is approximately 50 million paid OTT subscribers. It is one of the key things which we have seen post-pandemic. In commerce, we have approx. 12% acceleration in e-retail penetration in India.

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? 

In terms of purchase patterns, what has aided the youth largely, is their consumer income which has gone up. But when it comes to accessibility, and this is largely due to the app economy, everything is accessible to them. Though their entire spending largely goes into everyday things like shopping and eating, along with this we have also seen a trend where they have started investing in the stock market and crypto-currencies. This trend is directly influenced due to FinTech. The youth today is latching onto this trend much faster than the youth earlier was doing. So, the accessibility which makes investing in the market or crypto easier is something which is seeing a surge. 

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With a 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? 

This entirely depends on the brand to brand and the category. There is no general thumb rule to it. But largely the blueprint which we would like to focus upon would be the entire funnel approach. 

There is the top funnel, which leads more towards brand awareness where TV, digital video, and print play a big role. The middle funnel is where the engagement comes into the picture. This is probably where content and influencers play a big role. Wherein with engagement, the consumer will probably be open to the category and become closer to your brand. 

The bottom funnel is basically performance, where you convert the consumer into a sale. This is where digital search plays a very important role. 

This is sort of a pyramid, where many brands start from the bottom funnel which is basically the new app economy. These are the brands which start immediately from the bottom and try to maximize that. Once they reach a certain level, then they start looking at the top funnel. If you look at traditional categories like FMCG, they usually start from the top and then start filtering the audience and get them to the bottom funnel. 

While the penetration of digital marketing is way higher than it was 2 years ago, brands still tend to stick to the basics. Any tips on how brands can leverage platforms such as Quora to reach the consumer directly?

I don’t think brands stick to the basics. There are various categories and stages when it comes to brands. For example, if we look at one of our clients, Mamaeaarth, they started directly from the bottom funnel and started looking at digital first. Just like them, there are some brands in the Nestle portfolio that are digital-first brands as well. So, it is not necessary to look at the consumers in a traditional way. Because one, the trend is growing, and digital consumption is becoming the way of life where brands are looking to reach the consumer faster and better. This is where digital is coming into play. 

This means you don’t need to go to TV or print first before moving towards digital. As I mentioned before, many app-based economies are starting right from the bottom. They are trying to unleash everything there is in the category, onto the consumer. 

Talking about Quora, it is something that can be used directly as well. It is a platform where probably a lot of authentic information is available and it’s a direct consumer forum. Therefore depending on the need, if it does have a lot to do with discovery and research, then Quora definitely plays a really important role. 

In terms of social media marketing, what kind of success have you seen on platforms such as Quora? 

Although today we do have attribution metrics, every medium plays its own role. So, it’s connected. It isn’t about an individual medium. The consumer doesn’t look at a medium individually. I might have seen something on the TV, which I researched on Quora and eventually bought on Amazon. So, it’s through a funnel-like that. Every medium has its own role to play. 

What are some of the AdSense trends seen this year? Which category will be the biggest spenders? 

Definitely the new-age app economy brands. These are the brands which are leading growth. Whether it be in the area of EduTech, FinTech or Pharma, it’s the new-age tech brands that are leading the growth. They are the largest categories even in terms of IPL which by the way is the biggest platform to advertise on. Given all these factors, they will continue to grow. 

As the trend is increasing rapidly, over the next 2-3 years the new-age brands will continue to be ‘The’ thing. But, as FMCG is the biggest category so it will continue to be the mainstay. But from a growth POV, this is the one entire category which has grown. So rather than sectioning finance or tech, I would probably put the entire category, that is the new-age app economy which is seeing the fastest growth. 

Any tips on how new-age brands can leverage digital marketing in a way that they can stand out?

Most of their money is spent towards performance, which brings business. This helps in customer and sales acquisitions. But in long term, the brand building becomes crucial. And when it’s about brand building, then obviously digital, influencers and even TV to an extent play a big role. This is for the brands that want to advertise and get results first and then observe. 

With the increasing competition in the space, differentiation becomes very important. This is where mass media and digital can play a big role. So, the advice would be – that tough performance is a very big factor, but how you look at brand building also matters. 


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