‘Google will be single biggest supplier to GroupM globally by March 2014’

Q&A with Rob Norman, chief digital officer, GroupM Global, who credits reallocation of resources, a ‘test and learn’ culture, and quick identification of things that work as reasons behind GroupM’s digital evolution

‘Google will be single biggest supplier to GroupM globally by March 2014’

Rob Norman, chief digital officer, GroupM Global, was in the country as the media behemoth announced the launch of MashUp, a digital video brand solutions company. In conversation with Campaign India, Norman opens up on the agency’s digital investments and what keeps the Indian market at the top end of priorities. Edited excerpts:

Who are the largest recipients of GroupM’s digital investments?

Google is the simple answer to that. By end of 2013-‘14, Google will be the single biggest supplier of media to GroupM globally. If someone would have told you that in 2003, you would have looked at them and wondered if they were mad. I think the reasons for that are many-faceted. First of course is that they operate in many more countries than any other media partner we have. Google has no target audience issues. There is not a single client who cannot use Google. It is quite interesting if you look at it from that point of view. You could take almost any TV channel or magazine, and there is not even a single one which you can say is the right platform for all our clients. So, Google has a great advantage there. Google has also demonstrated a very clear and accountable business effect for many of our clients. And it has managed to operate a number of business to considerable scale such as Search, Youtube and now the Android mobile platform. So, Google has executed globally, within markets, at scale, and has executed on things that have proven RoI for our clients.

Yes, we do spend significant amounts of money with others too – like Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo. It would be wrong to ignore all of the other publishers and television companies.

The television business has done a tremendous job in embracing the online consumer. One of the things that fascinate me about the Indian market is that you have a higher proportion of all television (content) that finds its way online – sometimes live and sometimes with a few hours’ delay. The word most associated with India is ‘potential’. It is not fair, in a way, because there are a number of things like distribution of broadcast content via internet, where India might have ‘arrived’ (more) than any other country in the world.

You have just launched MashUp in India, offering digital video-led brand solutions. Are there learnings from such offerings from other markets?

We don’t have an equivalent product of MashUp in other markets. India is a test bed for us. What we are hoping to do is change the economics of video production. With Optimistyix, we have really good storytellers and if we can effectively combine our ability to target and distribute the content, it is very exciting and I am hopeful that MashUp will be a great success in India and contribute to the development of similar products elsewhere in the world. There are number of areas where GroupM thinks about India as first, and not last. This is one of them.

GroupM (as have others) has been investing in the digital practice for a while now. Has it started returning profits?

Definitely yes.

If we hadn’t made the moves we made over the last few years, we wouldn’t be here now. There is an expression that says, ‘It is very difficult to change a wheel on a moving car but changing the engine of a moving plane is even harder.’ Changing it on a vehicle that runs on a completely different fuel without testing the altitude is really hard, and that’s what we have really been doing. We have been re-engineering our business in real time under very difficult circumstances; we have put lots of untested materials into operation, watched, and using our judgement and imagination, tried not to crash the plane in the process.

Looking at how GroupM India or even North America was, ten years ago, the agency has done a pretty good job of evolving itself. The proportion of people that worked in digital and the proportion of people that didn’t work in digital but understood digital, and with the tools and practices that we have now, has changed considerably. It hasn’t done the job by charging clients more money. It has done it by reallocation of resources, a constant ‘test and learn’ culture, and quick identification of things that work for us and clients.

What are your expectations from the Indian market?

You have a population that is young, entrepreneurial, driven by engineering, respects data and analytics, and loves sports and entertainment. There is huge enthusiasm for adopting new devices and technology, and they are also hungry for new experiences. The combined force of that, will lead it to being one of the biggest markets in marketing generally, and digital marketing in particular.

What’s the one thing you will bet on as ‘the next phase of digital evolution’?

Let me call it passive computing. Passive computing is the combination of data embedded in products, places and services and the natural wearing of technology that discovers data in the built-in environment around you. And Google Glass is the first step on that.

(Read the full interview in the issue dated 31 May 2013.)

Campaign India

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