a man looking at a targeting advertising on a digital signage

Digital marketing can draw on data from other industries to help make it more relevant to the customers. Source: Shutterstock

The value proposition of a digital agency

WHEN a company has grown to a certain size, it is not uncommon for it to begin looking at diversifying its portfolio.

Disney is a prime example. Its portfolios include films, fun parks, retails, and cruise ships. Tech giant Apple similarly has moved from computers to music players and phones.

In some cases, the business relevance is immediately apparent. However, in the case of telecommunications conglomerate Axiata group, it’s not immediately obvious why it decided to add marketing services into its offerings.

During the Wild Digital conference in Kuala Lumper last week, the Chief Executive Officer of ada, a marketing company under the Axiata Group, Srinivas Gattamneni sat down with Tech Wire Asia in an exclusive interview to discuss how the company is taking advantage of the telco’s capabilities.

ada is actually an acronym for analytics, data, advertising. The company combines technology, data science, and creative content to drive digital marketing. It has a presence in nine Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand.

“Digital is hard. Unlike TV where content is scheduled, digital content is always on. Not only do you have to feed social media with a huge amount of content; it needs to be personalized to the individual,” said Gattamneni.

It’s precisely because of this complexity, that many companies still work on a hunch when it comes to digital marketing. ada aims to remove the ambiguity with the help of data.

Data is something that Axiata group is in no shortage of. The multinational conglomerate has one of the region’s largest telco powered data management platform. It hosts data on 280 million users across 10 Asian countries, which provides ada with valuable information and insights on users, which they use to identify audience segments.

Customers are demanding more from advertisers. Gattamneni explained that users want to discover products and ads, but only at the right time with the right context.

“If you show completely irrelevant ads, that annoys people. It will have a negative impact on the brand behind the ad,” he explained. “Context is important not just for discoverability, it’s also a way to emotionally attach yourself to your users.”

Working under a telco, ada is able to draw on the information from the database to understand not only basic information of the user, but also their online habits. Information like network usage, applications used, sites visited, etc. all provide key insights to user preferences.

“You could be a 60-year-old behaving like a 20-year-old online. That’s ok. We shouldn’t purely look at demographics and target the content based on your demographic. If you behave like a 20-year-old, we should show you materials that we show to other 20-year-olds, and not content we generally show other 60-year-olds,” Gattamneni exclaimed.

Having said that, the paradox of user privacy makes it harder for companies to use data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has since put pressure for regulators to monitor close how user data is being processed.

However, users demand more personalization, customization, and experience with technology, which can only be achieved by sharing data. “There’s going to be a trade-off that users have to choose,” Gattamneni noted.

In the future, Gattamneni predicts a need for offline attribution. What this means is measuring data on whether a particular digital campaign brought on actual intended results, such as customers visiting a store.

He acknowledged that this level of data acquisition would be intrusive, and will present a challenge from a user data privacy perspective.

“On the flip side, I believe product buying will also be done by bots, through voice assistants the like of Siri and Alexa. Bots would look up products that suit you based on personalization. Soon it’ll be a world of bots talking to each other,” he described.

For this to happen, it would require a lot of automation and a lot more data. Regulators would need to be clear on how to govern data usage, similar to the GDPR that came in effect for Europe. Any data used would have to be anonymized and aggregated, with explicit consent given by the users.

Sharing data from other industries for marketing is a great way to help drive digital ROI and allow companies to better engage with their audience. However, along with the sharing will be a huge responsibility for that data to be safeguarded appropriately.