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It's time to change the digital brief from platform-agnostic to neighbourhood-specific

Look at the digital neighbourhood

Anirban Roy, head of strategy Ogilvy South and Siddharth Mohanty, senior planning director, Ogilvy India make a compelling case for brands to build their digital strategy backed by a ‘neighbourhood’ strategy, instead of a ‘stalker’ playbook.

The lure of targeted and measurable advertising has hoodwinked us into creating platform out/format out communications because we haven’t thought about this irrationally. Rationally, it makes sense to stalk your consumer – wherever she is – through myriad Orwellian-like approaches, to serve your product until you torture her enough to buy it. Or so they would like us to believe.

There just might be a better way to do this, especially when we are thinking of building a brand only on digital or thinking of investing heavily on digital.

Brands can stop behaving like a stalker and start behaving like a neighbour

Every person on this planet lives in a neighbourhood and moves around a few others. It is a mix of private spaces, markets, utility and public services, faith centres and third spaces like cafes. Neighbourhoods are not just defined by who gets in – they are also defined by who is kept out of them. Markers like education, income, class, religion and even gender are sometimes used to decide who gets in and who does not.

The way we live our lives on digital is no different. We find our own little ‘digital neighbourhoods’ where constraints of time, space or access don’t matter anymore. Some we frequent very often, others now and then; some we go to seek answers, others to ask better questions; some we go to find inspiration, others to seek connections; on some, we are active, on others we are just voyeurs.

Brands can perhaps take a helicopter view of these neighbourhoods to figure how they can befriend consumers located there. ‘What is the digital neighbourhood of my TG’ is a good question to ask – and it is a really good one because there are no right or wrong answers; the tyranny of ‘or’ can be sublimely replaced with the brilliance of ‘and’.

For instance, consumers may treat Instagram as an art gallery and a flea market; they may treat gaming platforms to skill and to chill; they may find themselves on Twitter for the banter and to vent; they may use Facebook to sell and to learn.

Shift the narrative from platform-agnostic briefs to neighbourhood-specific briefs

This frame of ‘digital neighbourhoods’ can help us shift the conversation from platform-agnostic briefs to neighbourhood-specific briefs. It can also help us avoid the trap of cross-posting the same content on multiple platforms. It allows us to acknowledge that the consumer journey on digital is sometimes non-linear and fragmented. For instance, one may discover a new D2C brand (hitherto never seen offline) and choose to buy directly through a social platform.

Just like in offline neighbourhoods, even online there is a culture for each of these places that we frequent. There are unsaid rules. There are voices in the neighbourhood who influence others. Brands have evolved from being symbols to stories and this is the age when they are trying to build ecosystems or flywheel.

Neighbourhood thinking and ‘sales’ framing

Neighbourhood thinking allows us to rise above ‘sales’ framing. For instance, if you are an F&B brand, you may realize that the consumer’s digital neighbourhood when it comes to food could include YouTube to mine recipes, Instagram for plating inspiration, vloggers for fusion recipes and e-commerce engines to search for specific ingredients. And this could change from cohort to cohort – it could be different for a teenager experimenting with cooking to an elderly person whose motivation might be totally different. We need to triangulate consumer motivation on platforms, brand role and category drivers to decide which neighbourhoods we want to play in. More importantly, it nudges us to articulate what we want to stand for in each of these neighbourhoods. Cadbury is a brand that does this well in India – ‘Madbury’ and ‘Heart the Hate’ are good examples of this triangulation.

Pushing brands to be good neighbours

Like all good neighbours, we have to figure how we want to be useful and find ways to entertain. Depending on the neighbourhood, we may find ourselves behaving like a salesperson or become an entertainer; we may choose to be a motivator or an ally; we may choose to be a confidant or an advisor. Having a better view of our consumer’s digital neighbourhoods can lead to inputs that not only depends on hard data to tell advertisers where to target but also help us figure ‘why’ we should target her on that platform and at that given time. The ‘why’ can result in communications that are more meaningful and relevant.

The stalker’s playbook can be a bit annoying for the consumer. The neighbourhood playbook is refreshing. It treats every home screen as a village. A village where all kinds of neighbourhoods exist. We move from one to another, depending on what we are craving or who we want to be.

Anirban Roy is the head of strategy at Ogilvy South and Siddharth Mohanty is the senior planning director at Ogilvy India.

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