Rahim Rahemtulla: Hello everyone, and welcome to this SVIC interview with me, your host Rahim Rahemtulla. Today, I’m speaking to Aprajita Jain, a Brand and Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google. So Aprajita, thank you so much for joining us today, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. So we’re going to talk about building smart brands in the digital era. That’s the title of our interview. So maybe just to start, Aprajita, I wanted to just maybe get an overview from you. Branding and marketing today is going through a lot of change – just like all the other industries that we see – because of digital technologies. So give us just a brief summary, what does it mean to be a brand today in the 21st century, in the digital era?
Aprajita Jain: Indeed, brand marketing is no longer the way it used to be. And to really appreciate what challenges brands and brand marketers are facing today, I would love to walk you through a two-minute time lapse of how it all began, just so you have context on what the challenges really are today. So when we think of modern marketing, we go usually as far back as about the 1930s, that’s when we saw the first implementations of modern marketing that wasn’t on a slate. So 1930s is when brands came up and said, “We are all about our product. Somebody in our company, manufactured it, and I, as a marketer, my job is to sell that product.” And the person they sold it to was merely seen as somebody with a physical need. So, you took the product – very product-oriented company – and your job as a marketer was to inform the consumer about that. That was it. And the means used to do that were typically traditional media forms, such as TV, print, radio. But because of those mediums, it was also always only a one dimensional relationship with the consumer. It was so unidimensional, that you as the brand would talk to the consumer and that was it – there was no way for the consumer to talk back to you.
Then, let’s fast forward to, let’s say, the 1960s, around that time. We saw that brands were now moving away from being product-centric to being a little bit more consumer-centric. They started seeing the person as somebody with a heart and a mind and an intelligent human being that they needed to appeal to. So for the first time we saw experimentation with media and the product packaging, for example, became a creative canvas, people started putting their messaging on that, or the first time pyramid schemes, the first door-to- door sales models came up, because it was all about creating that human connection at that time. And that means that communication for the first time became bi-directional: the brand was talking to the consumer and the consumer had a chance to talk back to the brand or at least provide some sort of feedback.And then let’s take a leap to the 21st century. What happens now is brands are still consumer-centric in a lot of ways but, on top of that, they’re also increasingly becoming very, very value-centric. And what I mean by value-centric is their goal is now becoming to not only serve the consumer, but do something so great that they’re making the world a better place. So it’s beyond the product, beyond the consumer, you’re now creating a message that is good for the world. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Let’s take Always, the female hygiene brands. They’re not just selling female hygiene; they’re creating women empowerment. Or Dove. They’re not just selling soaps and lotions; they’re actually standing for a better body image.
Or Coca Cola, for that matter. They’re not selling a bubbly, sweet drink anymore; they’re selling diversity, they’re selling global connectedness. And all of that is possible because these brands are creating a new voice for themselves using digital media. They’re still doing offline traditional media, not to get that wrong, but they’re adding on a digital layer on top of it because that allows them to create that multi-dimensional communication with their consumer, so to say.
So now it’s not only one or two touchpoints; we now have a million touchpoints with our consumers and literally every touchpoint is giving you so much data that brands are now facing the challenge of, well, “I have all this access to data, how do I use that to my advantage?” And there’s a stat, actually, that 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years. 90% of the world’s data in the last two years. But you know what the tragedy is? Less than 0.5% of the data that these brands are sitting on is actually being used for marketing purposes.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Yeah.
Aprajita Jain: We as an industry need to change that.
Rahim Rahemtulla: That’s incredible, 90% in just the last two years. So what needs to happen, then, in that case? So, you say we’re only using such a small part of the data. What do you think is going to happen with all those touchpoints, with all those numbers and potential insights there?
Aprajita Jain: Right now a lot of brands are just overwhelmed with the amount of data and also they’re organizationally structured in a way that they can’t make good use of that data because it’s all sitting in silos. So we first need to organizationally think about breaking the silos so data can freely flow amongst the different departments. And then it’s all about organizing that data, making it clean and usable. We’ll get to this a little bit later, hopefully, but machine learning and automation in advertising is really going to change the way we can use data. But for that to happen, it needs to be clean and organized.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Very interesting. I definitely want to talk to you about about artificial intelligence and the role that’s going to have, for sure. So let’s just pause for a moment on this question of what’s happening today. And I think, and I’m sure you can correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s all about the smartphone these days, isn’t it? It’s about mobile consumers and mobile-first. We all go to our mobile phones hundreds of times a day. We’ve all seen the stats about how often we just simply pick it up and look at it and scroll around and do things. And when we think about how much time we possibly waste on our mobile phones, it’s a little scary. But be that as it may, this is where consumerism is happening today. This is how we engage with our brands. What do you think about this? Is this good for companies? Is it something that challenges, then, the fact that we are all mobile-first these days?
Aprajita Jain: It’s interesting you brought this up with how many times we touch our phone every day. The latest stat I read about that was 150 times a day on average, and at least +3 hours a day we spend on our mobile phones. So it’s pretty insane how we interact with our phones these days, and that wasn’t even a possibility maybe 10, 15 years ago. So mobile has fundamentally changed the way we as humans interact with the world around us. And that is a actually an advantage, for brands, I feel. I’ll give you just an example here. So everybody watching this live stream, imagine you were walking out of your house in the morning and you left your wallet by accidentally. I think most of us would still be okay, we wouldn’t necessarily drive back home to get our wallet. But if you left her mobile phone at home, I bet you more than half of us would actually drive back home to get that mobile phone because we just cannot imagine our lives without the device anymore.
I’ll give you a personal example. I was in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, a couple of months ago and on my last day there I was strolling through a very busy market and my phone was stolen. Now let’s track what happened afterwards. So my phone gets stolen, I was supposed to meet some new friends that I had made the day before for lunch that day. I couldn’t because I couldn’t get in touch with them. so that lunch would canceled. Then I was in the middle of this market, about a kilometer away from my hotel, but I didn’t know how to walk back to my hotel because I had used Maps to get to that place in the first place. With my broken Spanish because, again, I couldn’t use my translate app to communicate with someone. I had to use some broken few words and find my way back to the hotel. Once I got there, I was so frazzled as like, “Okay, I’ve had enough. My flight is at 6 pm, I might as well just go to the airport right now and then take the flight at 6. But I couldn’t call an Uber because my app was on my phone. So I asked the receptionist to book me a taxi, I went to the the airport using the taxi and on the way I was like, “Okay, let me at least check into my flight, so I don’t have to do it when I’m at the airport.” But I couldn’t because my United app was on my mobile phone that didn’t have on me.
At the end of this entire experience, I was just so exhausted, which is the reality of today – we are so dependent on this mobile device that it’s sad but it’s true that we cannot imagine ourselves without it. And that’s exactly the advantage that brands should take. I digressed a little bit, but coming back to what brands are doing about this, they’re actually coming up with new business models with mobile at the center.
A couple of examples. So take transportation: taxis have pretty much been run out of business because of Uber and Lyft. The mobile phone is at the center of those businesses, they were designed for that platform. Take payments: everybody in the US that I know has a Venmo account, they’re using that to do peer-to-peer payments. Same thing in Asia. In India, Google launched a space a few months ago or last fall that’s really changing the way people are doing commerce with each other. Then take accommodation, for example, Airbnb, HotelTonight, these are all business models that are thriving because of mobile. And brands are really catching on to that, I feel. Entrepreneurs are getting more and more creative in how they’re going to use this 79th organ in the human body.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Absolutely. So this is where you see the companies that are being created now, I suppose, are doing that with mobile in in mind, looking at how they can first be mobile, before anything else. And then I guess the challenge for other companies, companies that are already well established, who have been here since before the mobile phone, they sort of need to get up to speed with that, I suppose, turn things around to become mobile-first and look at the other things they do. And those things may become less important, I suppose
Aprajita Jain: That’s incredibly important, especially for the companies that haven’t started as a mobile-first business because what’s happening is, as these companies go global or maybe some of them are already global, the issue becomes that many people across the globe are actually entering the Internet for the first time through a mobile phone. That’s the only device that they’re ever going to use. Take many countries in Africa, take many countries in Asia, many people don’t even buy laptops or desktops anymore because that’s all they use to access the Internet. So if your business isn’t present on these devices, either through a mobile web presence or a mobile app presence, you are not going to get those consumers.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Yeah, absolutely. And so, with that in mind, if you are a company and you want to be there on mobile and you want to have a presence, how do you do that? Because it seems like it’s a really challenging thing, in many ways, to get the mobile experience right. Because we’ve all used many apps at this stage, we’re all pretty well-versed in how they work and we’ve all experienced great apps, we’ve all had experiences which have been very poor. And there’s nothing worse or more frustrating than when we are trying to use an app and get something done and it just doesn’t work, and then maybe you go to your laptop and go to the website or you have to try to find another channel. So what are your thoughts on on how companies should approach this question of creating great mobile experiences?
Aprajita Jain: Yeah, and I feel a lot of companies that are a little bit later to the game actually have a late-mover advantage in this case, because there are so many incredible mobile experiences, app experiences, mobile app that experiences that you can learn from. So I would say, take a look at the top 10, 15 of your own favorite apps or mobile experiences and, really, write down the best practices, the things that you find amazing as a consumer and you would like to implement in your own business’ experience. And then, from there, sit down with a mobile developer, figure out whether you want to start with an app first or a mobile web experience first type of design, and then just start designing. But don’t make it complicated, because a lot of companies will take their web experience on a laptop or a desktop and replicate that for mobile – and that doesn’t work. Because the real estate we have on the screen is much smaller, the way people behave with the screen is much different, so you have to start from scratch – you can just take something you have and then repurpose it for the screen.
Rahim Rahemtulla: And do you think is it important to look at, say, the millennial generation or Generation Z, for example, in a study, how they use apps, and how they interact with their phones? Because you could argue that they will, of course, be the consumers of the future and perhaps for them, in some ways, they’ve grown up with a mobile phone, a smartphone even, not just a mobile phone, not just like an analog, old Nokia, but they’ve had a very smart phone from a very early stage. So, do you think it is worth looking at how they use their phones and how they interact with brands in order to get insights?
Aprajita Jain: I think it’s definitely worth looking at them, but I wouldn’t limit myself to that, because if you’re a business that is serving more than just that generation, you’re going to alienate the people that are not in that generation. So you really have to design for, yes, that upcoming crop off your consumers, but also make sure that you’re servicing the people who may not be as savvy using their mobile apps yet but who you still want to do business with. And that may mean that you design two different instances of that application where you log in and you pick what type of view you want depending on your behavior. And so you can go as far as customizing the experience per consumer. You can make it really adaptive to the consumer, so personalize that experience. That is a little bit more involved, but definitely worth it if you have a very wide spectrum of buyers or consumers of your service. Rahim Rahemtulla: I guess this comes back to the data issue that we touched on earlier, where you have all this data. So you do have the power now, potentially, to personalize on all these experiences. And this is the new huge opportunity which, until now, brands have not had. Aprajita Jain: Absolutely. It’s not just the type of consumer, but personalization can also happen in my stage as a consumer. How often have I bought with you? What do you think my lifetime value will be with your business? If you think it’s high, you better give me a much more personalized experience on mobile or even your desktop, any way I interact with you, than somebody who you think will only buy with you once or twice. So all of that can be informed by data.
Rahim Rahemtulla: And of course, being being at Google, I can’t not ask you about search, the power of search, which is everywhere these days. And again, with the mobile phone in our pocket, we are empowered as consumers to make better informed decisions Because of search. And, again, I wonder how how you think this impacts on companies and brands because I can be walking into a store and I can see see a product and, before I buy it, I’m probably going to take out my smartphone and at least type into Google the name of that brand and I can see some consumer reviews, I can see price comparison websites, I can look at all kinds of information surrounding that product. So, is that a good thing for companies, that I can do this now? Or has this actually challenged them in in some way?
Aprajita Jain: I think it’s actually a really good thing. We just need to think about it a little differently. So when I talk to brands and some of the largest brands I’ve talked to, it sounds very basic what I do, but the first question I ask them is, “Have you looked at both sides of the coin?” And then they like, “What are you asking me to do?” And I say, “Well, you are a brand marketer at this amazing brand but, at the same time, you’re also a consumer of various brands. So if you think about your product or your service that you sell and yourself as a consumer, just walk through that consumer’s process of buying your product and figure out, when I’m doing my research, Is my product showing up every single time I’m in that research phase? And that could be I’m just getting inspired at this point, or I need some motivation to buy something, or I’m already deep in my research, or I’m ready to purchase or it’s a post purchase phrase. Whatever that may be, is your brand and product showing up at every single one of these touchpoints? It might be organic search, paid search, review sites, my social media feeds, comparison shopping sites, online video content that I’m consuming.” So just a simple audit like this can be really eye-opening and help you find the gap. So you really need to be present for people that are searching and engaging with friends. Rahim Rahemtulla: And you mentioned there social social media and it brings to mind, I read one of your articles that you published – and I encourage our viewers to check this out as well because it’s a really nice article – which brought a lot of insights into the idea of social influencers and how brands can interact with these social influencers, these online personalities who publish content online and have a following. And this can be a powerful way of brands to reach the right audience for them. Can you just tell us a little bit about how that works?
Aprajita Jain: Yeah, so social influencers, there are huge personalities out there on YouTube and other online video channels. It was a little surprising for me too in the beginning – and I’ve been in this industry for 15 years – but when they started popping up, I wouldn’t believe my eyes how many followers and subscribers and true believers in these personalities were out there. There are people who are travel bloggers but they can sell you anything because they have such credibility with their consumer. And I’ve seen many brands that weren’t able to kind of connect with their consumer the same way as they were when they went through these social influencers. Because this person has their own creativity, they’re speaking the language of the people that are subscribing to them and it’s something that a brand just cannot do the same way that these people can, because they are either the same age range, the same demographic, the same psychographic, whatever it may be – it’s easier for them to connect with the consumer that for the brand to do the same thing.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Is there a risk there with the social influencers, though? Because I wonder with brands interacting with them, they don’t necessarily then have the same control over the message and they don’t necessarily know how that social influencer might talk about their brand or what other ideas, impressions, products might be placed near or around the brand. Is that something to be aware of?
Aprajita Jain: Yes, the brand control issue is the biggest objection that I hear from advertisers when I make that suggestion. They say, “Well, what if the social influencer doesn’t represent my brand the way our brand image has been created over the past 50, 60 years?” And I say, “Well, that’s where you need to adapt. Because if you don’t give creative freedom to these influencers, they will speak the same language as you are already speaking and you already know that’s not working for you. So you need to give them that creative freedom.” And yes, give them some guidelines – “Don’t show up against certain content”, “Don’t use a certain type of language” – but let them be creative with it. And we have seen the most success from brands working with influencers where they had that creative freedom.
Rahim Rahemtulla: So it sounds like it takes a little bit of a leap of faith, a sort of willingness to kind of let go a little bit and just put your products out there in the Internet, on social media and and just kind of be able to roll with the punches, I suppose.
Aprajita Jain: Yes, absolutely. But coming back to your question about search at our fingertips, a lot of times, brands are also forgetting what today is being searched for and what is not. And typically, brands would say, “Oh, it’s the more expensive products, like cars, jewelry, home appliances that people invest a lot of search in, so I only need to focus on being present for those types of searches and touchpoints with the consumer.” But you’d be surprised to know that it’s the most mundane products that people are doing the most searches for these days.
I’ll share this one thing with you. Over the last two years, there has been 100% increase in searches for the term “toothbrush”. Yes, “toothbrush”. And it’s incredible. Who searches for a toothbrush? You just walk down the street, go to a grocery store or a drugstore and pick up one of the five toothbrushes available. But no, over the last two years, people are looking for these mundane things, they’re informing themselves before they step out to buy it and they will go as far as saying “best toothbrush for my teeth”. And when they say “my”, they expect you as a brand to know what type of teeth you have because you have all this information from my mobile phone. I may have done a search on my sensitive teeth in the past or visited a dentist for something and have that history on my phone, so I expect you as a brand to know all of that about me and give me results for specifically that thing. And that’s, again, where data becomes so important and the use of that is really, really crucial.
Rahim Rahemtulla: No, absolutely. And for companies and for brands, it’s such a big learning curve, almost, I feel. It’s really hard for them to know all of this stuff and to meet those expectations. Aprajita Jain: So what we used to consider high-concentration products and then low-concentration products is actually no longer up to us as brands and marketers; it’s up to the consumer what they consider high versus low concentration.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Fascinating. Yeah, really. But to go back, we we sort of touched upon at the beginning of the show, about artificial intelligence and how that is sort of playing in now. And, again, around search, I suppose we have voice-activated search, virtual assistants and tools like like that. And just tell us a little bit about what you see coming forward about how artificial intelligence is going to impact on the search process and then, ultimately, on brands themselves.
Aprajita Jain: Yeah, and I’ll start with the voice piece because that comes up a lot with brands, like they’re concerned about what will voice due to the way consumers interact with brands and how do we need to adapt to that? So it’s a known fact that, in the US, 20% of searches that Google receives today is already coming through voice. So every fifth search is a voice search. And in Asia, it’s actually way north of 30% because in those countries not everybody’s using a large screen phone and the languages that they have are little bit harder to type vs. Roman languages, so that’s making voice as the preferred input medium for search is happening in those countries. And if you were to go to them and say, “Hey, you know, we created this new app, try typing your Korean there”, they would look at you as if you’re an alien. So you have to adjust the input medium and the output medium to what consumers really want.
But also assistance, I feel, virtual assistants have to keep up with voice as an input because consumers want to have a fluid conversation. It shouldn’t feel like you’re talking to a machine or you’re speaking a über language – it should be as if you’re talking to a friend. I’ll give you an example of just how far we have come with that in the last decade. So voice search at Google for the first time was released on March 11th of 2009, so it’s been just about a decade now. And back then, when we first released this at I/O, people started rolling their eyes. They’re like “Who’s going to talk to their phones in public? That’s going to look stupid.” And look at today or even four, five years ago.
So I’ll give you my own example. I was in New York City a couple of years ago visiting the Modern Art Museum with a friend and on the third floor they have an art exhibit for classic European painters. So we’re standing in front of a Picasso and from my art history lessons in school I remember that Picasso has a middle name, but I didn’t quite know what the name was. So I pulled out my phone and I actually did a search. Let me try to do it live here, hopefully you can hear it. I’ll turn up the volume. “What is Picasso’s middle name?”
Google Assistant: “Pablo Picasso’s full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.”
Aprajita Jain: So he has about nine middle names.
Rahim Rahemtulla: No surprise you didn’t remember that quite.
Aprajita Jain: Exactly. So with that, I got a little bit more curious. And I asked, “Who was he married to?”
Google Assistant: “He was married to Jacqueline Roque and Olga Khokhlova.”
Aprajita Jain: Now, did you notice I did not ask, “Who was Pablo Picasso married too?”
Rahim Rahemtulla: Yeah.
Aprajita Jain: I asked, “Who was he married to?” Because had I asked, “Who was Pablo Picasso married to?”, that’s very destructive to the way I communicate.
Rahim Rahemtulla: That’s right.
Aprajita Jain: So I wanted to be able to communicate with the pronouns and just the way I would talk to a friend, and that’s where natural language processing, which is part of artificial intelligence, came in. So that makes it easy for computers to not just hear things, but understand the context of things. And that’s what’s really going to change the brands have to interact with their consumers. They have to provide these type of experiences.
And I feel we’re just at the beginning. My prediction is that visual search will be the next big thing. So text search, voice search, visual search. Because there’s a lot of things in our environment that we don’t know what their name is but we know what they look like. So I take my phone, take a picture of, let’s say, a flower or a certain type of shoe. So if my colleague is wearing a show that I like, but I don’t feel comfortable asking them where they bought it from or how much they bought it for, I can just take a picture of that and my visual search tool will give me an answer to where and how much I can buy it for.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Well, that sounds very fascinating. Aprajita Jain: Whole new way for brands to sell their product.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Absolutely. And it sounds like with voice search now and visual search in the future as well, these are sort of a whole new spheres, whole new kind of worlds, areas for brands and companies to start interacting with and learning how to interact with consumers through these different methods. They require new new ways of thinking, new languages and a whole range of new ideas, I imagine.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Yeah, absolutely. And machine learning, I would say, is not a new discipline, it’s been around for 40, 50 years, but it’s undergoing a renaissance, so to say, because we have more computing power than ever before, we have more data than ever before. And I know we have talked about data a couple of times, but organizing that data and really making it useful for machine learning will be important.
And then the secret sauce behind all of this is really neural networks. The development of neural networks is fairly new in the history of artificial intelligence. I’m a very visual person, so I like to think of it as a brain, and in our brain we have different layers that process different things. So, similarly, neural networks are sequentially ordered and one piece of information goes in here, is processed by the first thing, it goes to the next neural network, it’s processed by that. So by the end of it, when you put it all together, it can actually identify very complex patterns. And that is exactly what is going to make marketing so much better, because you can make a decision case by case based on who your consumer is.
So search advertising, for example, is completely automated today. You don’t have to manually make any changes. You could just tell the system, “This is my input, this is how much return on ad spend I want. Go do your magic.” We’re not 100% there for brand advertising because humans play a big role when it comes to creative understanding of new trends that machine learning may not have picked up on yet.
So we’ll get there, but it’s really important to get your basics right on that. Because, otherwise, if you’re building a house on a loose foundation, it’s not going to last very long.
Rahim Rahemtulla: No, indeed. And Aprajita, finally then, to end on this one, just following on from what you say there with the growth of AI and the spread of that technology as you described, I suppose you see that it’s going to be more and more prevalent and we’re going to use all this data that we have, this huge amount of data we are now generating, a lot of that is going to go through AI and AI is going to be making decisions based on that data. But at the same time, you still see a role that humans, we ourselves, are always going to still be there making some of the strategic decisions, I suppose.
Aprajita Jain: Absolutely. You said it right. I don’t think there will anytime soon be a world where it’s only machine learning and artificial intelligence taking over what humans did because, at the end of the day, those are programs that do what you tell them to do. And they do it really, really well, way better than a human could ever do, but that’s just about what they do. You still have to set the goal as a human. How else would the machine know what to optimize for? You still have to make strategic shifts based on external factors. If there’s new competition or if there’s a new way consumers interact with a product or a service, you still have to feed that into the pure machine learning bot for it to be able to optimize towards that. And I have to say, there will never be an “either/or” between artificial intelligence and humans; there will always be an “and”. You just have to figure out how to free up your time to not do those tactical things anymore, let machine learning take care of that, but really focus on the strategic things you can do as a marketer.
Rahim Rahemtulla: Wonderful. Well, Aprajita, it’s been a really fascinating talk with you. We’ve covered so many interesting topics that we could obviously go on. But, unfortunately, we better draw things to a close, I think, for everyone’s sake, but mostly for yours because we don’t take up any more of your time. So thank you so much for joining us today on the program.
Aprajita Jain: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
Rahim Rahemtulla: And for our viewers, we thank you as well for tuning in today. And we really hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion I’ve had today with our producer. If you’d like to find out more, I would encourage you to check out the Silicon Valley Innovation Center website, particularly our Leading Digital Transformation program. It can help you get up to speed with all that’s happening today in digital and with emerging technologies. And siliconvalley.center is the website for more information. But I think that’s where we’ll wrap things up. So from me and from my guest today, Aprajita Jain of Google, thank you for being with us and we will see you again very soon. Goodbye.