Burberry's live streaming of their fashion show and Coach's employing the might of bloggers were two of the cases of successful use of the digital space cited at the Conde Nast Digital Day held in partnership with Campaign India in Mumbai on November 25, 2010. But the question that loomed large during the panel discussion later was whether luxury brands in India have cottoned on to the power of digital and social media.The panel included Dinesh Dayal, chief operating officer of L'Oreal India, Hari Krishnan, country manager of LinkedIn, James Bilefield, president of Conde Nast Digital International, and Radha Chadha, author of ‘The Cult of the Luxury Brand’. The session was moderated by Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami.
The first question posed to Dayal was how much his company has allocated to digital in its marketing budget. While not divulging figures, he responded, "Digital in the beauty business is still new in India, where television and press are still dominant. But it will certainly have a place in the future."
Krishnan believed that a figure like 50-100 million users in India was not one to be scoffed at. "Most of the affluent users are part of the early adopter group," he added. "So in terms of ad space for luxury brands, the market is already there on the internet and on mobile."Krishnan also felt that the virtue of being an active user of social media needn't necessarily make marketers good advertisers on it. "From bought media to owned media and now earned media, advertising on the internet has come a long way. People are coming to us to fix marketing issues, rather than with just the intent to buy media. Agencies too have to be educated on how to invest in digital."
A part of the problem lies with whether the Indian consumer is ready to swipe a card on a digital medium. Chadha felt that countries like South Korea and Japan have been very active online from an early stage, but in India, the medium is still new, and consumers are more cautious and would take a little more convincing. Krishnan believed that e-commerce and credit cards were developing at the same pace in India. "There are people who are also trying hybrid payment options such as cash on delivery," he explained.
Bilefield then made a prediction that in India as well, "E-commerce will become the most important store, as it will be around the world." For something like this to come true, Dayal stated that the entire experience of the brand needs to be captured in a store like environment. He added, "People can be convinced to buy products that need less commitment, like a perfume is easy to adopt versus an anti-aging serum that needs consultation." Chadha said compelling content and payment methods would make digital transactions fall into place.
The other challenge is that skew of digital users in India is towards males, but that would change in the future, according to the panelists. Krishnan stated the skew is now less on social media like LinkedIn, where the male to female ratio is 65:35.
At the end, Chadha said the focus in digital would have to be on the consumer. She cited the case of blogger Bryan Boy who has been photographed in the front row of a fashion show, two seats away from American Vogue editor Anna Wintour. "There will be a redistribution of power when it comes to digital and social media," she said. "Marketers will have to accept that they don't have the power and control over the brand they had earlier."