Anne Costello
Nov 8, 2012

OPINION: India’s digital tipping point imminent, but business basics still apply

The uptake of digital marketing in India is about to increase dramatically, but the country's adoption of digital will differ markedly from other Asian countries, writes Anne Costello, Asia-Pacific regional director of Text100.

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Digital adoption inevitably takes a hyper-local form, one that’s unique to every specific global market. While other Asia-Pacific markets like Malaysia, Singapore and Australia have already undergone significant growth in digital, and China, Korea and Japan have seen adoption rates increase, India appears to be on the verge of its own digital 'tipping point'.

To take advantage of this imminent opportunity in India, PR and marketing professionals must not only upscale their skills and technical capabilities, they also have to build confidence in their ability to apply experiences from traditional campaigns that have been done in India to date, as well as lessons from other global markets, to their own specific business goals. India once again has the opportunity to leapfrog mature markets by leveraging lessons already learnt elsewhere.

The interest in digital communications in India has reached levels similar to those experienced in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia around 18 months ago. In my most recent visit to India a few weeks ago, I saw the same growth in RFPs and discussions on digital that foreshadowed that tipping point in other parts of the Asia-Pacific.

Our India clients have good reason to be increasingly invested in digital. Even though traditional media still plays a huge role in influencing decisions — both B2C and B2B — we can see journalists and editors starting to shift online, either joining established online publications or setting up their own websites and blogs. Our Indian offices have also seen growth in the number of digital startup agencies, most of which end up becoming acquisition targets or folding within a particularly short life-cycle. In other words, the hype around digital in India is building: a dramatic spike in adoption is all but inevitable in the near future.

India’s uptake of digital will, however, look markedly different to that of Southeast Asia. India’s unique demographic and technological landscape means communications professionals will need to rethink their priorities for investment and campaign work. Nielsen’s Changing Asian Media Landscape 2012 report, for example, found that India has by far the highest mobile-to-internet penetration ratio of any Asia-Pacific country, at almost eight mobile users for each internet user (the second-highest was Thailand with around half that number). While smartphone use constitutes only nine per cent of mobile users in urban India, that nine per cent still comes up to around 27 million users — more than Australia’s entire population.

Moreover, India is hungry for change and innovation — arguably its biggest strength over its neighbours like China. The incoming generation of business decision-makers is tech-savvy and relatively young. With a median age of only 25, the country’s population has an appetite for information and creative solutions unparalleled in the Asia-Pacific region. And given its highly entrepreneurial business ethic, India may well end up leapfrogging digital early-adopters once it hits that imminent tipping point. India’s telcos, for example, are already rivalling or outpacing their US counterparts in social-media engagement.

The change in how communications professionals approach digital in India has to start now. Investment in building the necessary skills and competencies is obviously important, but so too is recognising that reaching the digital tipping point is a cause for excitement, not fear. The core goals of what we do — raising influence, driving conversations and triggering meaningful action — will remain the same, even when the mix of channels inevitably changes. India’s communications leaders need to share that insight with not only their clients, but also their teams.

Our offices in India are seeing the most growth not in demand for purely digital work, but for truly integrated campaigns that drive engagement through whatever channel proves most effective. That focus on core business goals — and the entrepreneurial culture which enables their completion — has been the defining trait of growth in both India and the broader Asia-Pacific region thus far. It needs to remain the priority of communications professionals in India as they prepare for the country’s digital tipping point and beyond.

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