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Throwback2020: Not in moolah but digital marketing grew in virtue

No more fence sitters in the digital marketing world now

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NEW DELHI: It has been quite a few years that the digital marketing industry is enjoying a fabulous run rate in India. It is a no-brainer that growing internet penetration, cheap data rates, and just the sheer availability of digital entertainment and logistical options have contributed to its stellar rise. While the traditional modes of advertising have been struggling to keep the  cash registers ringing, partly because of the continuing dip in the economy and partly due to the Covid2019 lockdown’s impact on businesses across the spectrum, digital marketing enjoyed quite a positive stay in an otherwise positively uncomfortable 2020. 

The year was a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities for the digital marketing industry, though the latter were overpowering. Despite a slump in growth numbers, the industry seems to be staring at a rather bright future. Tech advancements, positive sentiments within the industry, and the sheer scope of growth ahead makes the ride an interesting prospect for the future too. 

The spike in digital adoption

For nearly two-months, starting March, the whole country was forced to stay indoors following strict lockdown rules, courtesy the global viral pandemic Covid2019. It forced people to work online, connect online, shop online, teach online, consult online and do what have you online. This led to a crazy uptake in digital adoption. 

Logicserve Digital founder & CEO Prasad Shejale said: “The pandemic has definitely caused a huge shift in the industry. While the country’s economy and GDP took a massive hit, the digital industry has been rapidly growing with regards to its consumption, penetration as well as engagement. The global e-commerce sales growth and number of digital adopters accelerated in the initial three months; in the normal course that would have taken three years.”

According to a Kantar report released in May this year, India’s monthly active internet user base is estimated to reach 639 million by the end of 2020, from the currently estimated 574 million. The country had clocked 734.82 million wired and wireless broadband subscribers up to 31 October 2020 according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of Indian monthly telecom data reports.

Mobile became the preferred choice of internet consumption and the average time spent on smartphones in a day grew with average usage growing 11 per cent to 5.5 hours in March 2020 (pre-Covid) from about 4.9 hours on average in 2019. This further grew by another 25 per cent to 6.9 hours April onwards (post-COVID), a report by Vivo and CMR highlighted. 

India also saw the biggest jump in video consumption, of 40 per cent to over 2.9 billion hours during the week starting 22 March as compared to the last week of December 2019, when it was 2.1 billion hours, as stated by an Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen report. 

Naturally, this sharp spike in digital consumption had a positive impact on digital marketing and advertising too. 

Digital marketing growth story 2020

At the beginning of the year, a DAN report had predicted that the digital advertising industry would grow 27 per cent in 2020. However, that might not turn out to be the case entirely. 

The sector, much like every other business, took a hit in Q1 FY21, because of the market uncertainties and lockdown. Ad rates went down as much as by 15-20 per cent according to an industry insider. 

A panel discussing the widening scope of digital marketing with Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari in June stressed that the growth digital marketing has clocked in the year will not be immediately visible in the CAGR, but will be a defining factor in how the advertising pies of individual marketers changed. It insisted that after six months of struggle in 2020, the industry will have a very prosperous six years ahead. 

iProspect India AVP-strategic solutions Nihal Nambiar had said: “Digital, in 2020, will definitely not have a similar CAGR of 27 to 30 per cent as it has been recording for the past few years.” But he mentioned that he is looking forward to some positive quarters ahead in terms of brands moving to digital platforms.

Shejale pointed out: “Various reports suggest that in spite of the slowing economy, the digital segment has seen a growth of around 20-27 per cent by November 2020. The numbers might vary in different research articles. However, this is the broad range within which the growth is seen, and it’s very promising.” 

However, GenY Medium co-founder & CEO Yashwant Kumar is more hopeful and is expecting that the industry will grow by 35-40 per cent in 2020-21. 

He noted: “Digital advertising has gained tremendously during the pandemic and has become the preferred medium with a huge surge in e-commerce across categories together with consumers spending a lot more time with their families at home on their connected TVs and mobiles. Digital has been consistently growing at 27 per cent CAGR over the past few years ahead of television, print and outdoor. We are seeing a significant movement towards digital in Q2 and Q3 this year after a slow Q1. My expectation is that digital advertising will grow by 35 to 40 per cent for the year 2020-21.” 

While the industry has contrasting views towards the growth numbers, KPMG’s ‘A Year Off Script’ report released in September indicated that online advertising is expected to result in a 12 per cent growth overtaking traditional media like television which will contract by 17 per cent this year. 

The report added, “At ₹22,300 crore, total digital advertising revenue will beat the ₹21,700 crore revenue of TV over FY21.”  

Trends that defined the industry in 2020

The biggest trend that strengthened the roots of the digital marketing industry in 2020 was the sheer influx of rural users in the internet world. As per a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen, rural India had 227 million active internet users, 10 per cent more than urban India’s about 205 million, as of November 2019. A Kantar report further suggested that this number will increase to 304 million by 2020. “Local language content and video drive the internet boom in rural India, with a 2.5 times increase in penetration among the population in the last four years,” it added. 

This, added with digital retailers going deep into the heartland India, led to a great jump in the need for “hyperlocal” content by brands. This kept the digital agencies busy through the year. 

Additionally, giants like Facebook, Swiggy, and Instagram entering the local market with thier own shopping platforms, growth of edtech companies like WhiteHat Jr, Vedantu, and Instagram releasing a new content section called Reels, were some new found opportunities for the digital industry to explore. 

Wavemaker India chief client officer and head-west Shekhar Banerjee had mentioned in an earlier conversation with Indiantelevision.com that brands went heavy on performance marketing in 2020. “Apart from the usual search, social, and e-commerce mix, one platform that has become the biggest gainer during the period is the e-groceries section, taking a huge part of the digital pie. Going ahead, hyperlocal platforms, with their changing business models will be more conducive to advertising.”

Another interesting opportunity for the digital marketing industry came in the form of online events. Almost 95 per cent of the physical events moved to online platforms giving digital agencies great opportunities to work with brands. It included marquee events like IPL, which was hosted without a live audience and saw viewers engaging with it either through TV or digital platforms. 

OTT platforms also saw a remarkable rise in viewership during 2020. Kumar highlighted, “According to one industry report (Velocity MR Study), Amazon and Netflix saw +60 per cent growth in their subscriber base in the AMJ '20 quarter. Similar numbers have been reported for other platforms like Hotstar, YouTube and others. This massive shift towards the OTT platforms becoming the go to destination for entertainment, sports and news is driven by increased consumption of video content by consumers across all the age groups and demographic segments. Daytime video usage by the working professionals has become the new norm as they have started watching TV or streamed video content during their work breaks or while actively working.” 

Additionally, what moved the industry significantly was FMCG brands getting more serious about digital platforms. As per industry experts, FMCG brands increased their expenditure on digital platforms to 12 per cent, compared to around 7 per cent in 2019. 

This also paved the way for a significant hike in influencer marketing activities. 

Mompresso co-founder & COO Prashant Sinha said, “Digital marketing has seen transitional growth in the year 2020. The majority of advertising and marketing spends by brands this year has been towards digital channels and with no doubt, this will continue to grow further in 2021. We can also expect to see big portions of these budgets to go towards influencer marketing and macro and micro-influencer led campaigns. The overall digital marketing industry has seen a boost this year, where creators, brands, and marketers have learned to work together. Brands have revaluated the metrics and shifted focus to prioritize channels where they receive the most engagement. While video content has dominated the space, more diversification is expected. Live streaming and user-generated content will continue to be popular among influencers and marketers.” 

The growth in the e-gaming industry resulted in increased ad spends by players and also the development of a whole new media option for the brands. While most of the marketers still sat on the fence about exploiting the medium, it is expected that it will flourish in the coming quarters. 

The year was a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities for the digital marketing industry, though the latter were overpowering. Despite a slump in growth numbers, the industry seems to be staring at a rather bright future. Tech advancements, positive sentiments within the industry, and the sheer scope of growth ahead makes the ride an interesting prospect for the future too. 

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