Rajesh Pantina, Head of Marketing, the Asia Pacific at InMobi discusses how InMobi provides not just media buying, but also value-added services and deep insights into audience behavior. We discuss the latest trends in the digital space including the importance of leveraging mobile video, the rise of a programmatic, and growing focus on ad quality and brand safety. He shares his views on the post-pandemic scenario for marketers, and how brands should respond as digital becomes top of mind for advertisers and brands.
We would like to start with your journey as a marketer, current role at InMobi, and what all you have experienced from a marketing standpoint in your career in terms of how things have changed over a period of time.
Rajesh: Thanks for having me with this particular interview series. I currently handle marketing for the Asia Pacific at InMobi and that’s the entirety of b2b marketing, and I look at the regions of Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia, and ANZ.
My tryst with marketing started right out of B-school. I am a graduate of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and right out of B-school I joined InMobi. I was initially part of the digital marketing team, working on marketing intelligence, infrastructure, paid marketing, etc. so looking at all of that.
And from there I immediately transitioned into what I really love and what I really wanted to do, which was Product Marketing. I used to look at marketing for performance and monetization solutions and did that for a good two years across markets, including North America, even China for a while.
Then I moved into this regional role in India where I focused on how companies can grow with marketing as a growth lever. So that is one of the big transition phases as well. After that, I picked up the mantle for Asia Pacific marketing in April last year.
Could you also give a brief about the InMobi business. You now have Glance which is a consumer-facing product, so please tell us what do you provide to marketers on the b2b side and the b2c side of the business?
Rajesh: InMobi started off about 11 years ago as an in-app advertising platform. What we were trying to do was just help advertisers who wanted to showcase their ads to consumers, buy quality inventory on apps where consumers are spending time.
Today, we are InMobi Group which has three companies. One of them being the InMobi Marketing Cloud which is our traditional in-app advertising platform, and we’ve added a new product in its portfolio, which is our mobile market research platform, called InMobi Pulse. What it does is it makes it the most unified marketing cloud for advertisers. Where people can, not just target or deliver ads, but they can also get insights including the voice of the consumer and use a lot of second-party data to gather insights about consumers today. So that kind of completes the cycle of understanding and then offering media for the client in our mobile marketing cloud.
The second company is Trufactor. Trufactor is our data business, which was created after the acquisition of Sprint’s Pinsight Media in North America, the mobile data and advertising company. With that we are focused only on North America largely as a market, where we are trying to provide anonymous data to say government bodies, or planning bodies looking at constructing infrastructure or even telecom networks trying to understand how to introduce 5G infrastructure. So it goes beyond advertising as a use case where data can play a huge role.
The third company is Glance, our first B2C offering. It’s basically called LockFeed – in the sense that it’s a newsfeed on your lock screen, wherein consumers need not go into any app specifically, but can immediately get the latest videos, news etc. And all of this is personalized based on interests they have and the kind of engagement they’re showing on the platform on a day to day basis.
So that’s the InMobi group.
We recently published a study on content marketing best practices in India, launched at NASSCOM last year. One of the key observations was the usage of Video. Video-based content strategies are the most popular content strategies that marketers opt for, and we see Video is being consumed a lot. So how is InMobi helping marketers with video-based content strategy? Do you have any products around that?
Before I go into precisely what InMobi does when it comes to video advertisers, let me give just a bit of context in terms of the evolution of media advertising. We all know that video has been there for a while, and the science of video advertising is well understood. Because, with the advent of TV, video has been preferred over print and audio, and it’s been attractive to advertisers for a long time.
Video is always something that combines the visual and auditory elements to provide multiple cues to trigger consumer responses. However, what is important to understand is the changing preference and behaviors when it comes to video on digital media. And that I think has been a big revelation for advertisers today, because digital has taken time actually to become popular. So, within that, trying to understand how video influences and impacts consumers, has been something that has required a bit of evangelization.
Building up to that, there have been a few macro factors that have influenced consumer behavior with the 4G adoption and smartphone accessibility, which has made the availability of video that much better. So, these macro factors have played a huge role in not just popularizing video per se, and making consumers think it’s something that I can clearly afford. It has therefore also brought a lot of consumers from TV on to the new medium of digital.
Given that we are now connected, so the question is how is the digital consumer behaving, right? The age of information overload has basically inculcated a behavior of either discovery or search. People are continuously sifting through the content overload and therefore there is a resultant decrease in attention spans. Microsoft research had shown that there was a decrease in attention span from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, just between 2000 to 2017.
So, how video content consumption is different on digital – is exactly what every advertiser is trying to understand and use to their advantage. Facebook moved from a text or image-based feed completely to a video feed and introduced a new video section. Videos mean huge dwell times for advertisers.
What InMobi does is actually helps advertisers’ leverage mobile video to the fullest, by actually designing mobile-first creatives. The same commercial used on TV on a mobile platform definitely will not work – 15-30 seconds works well on mobile. The biggest learning that we have had is that 10-15 seconds is the most optimum duration of video ads that anybody should be creating on mobile. We’ve been actively trying to evangelize this for the past 2-3 years, with our Doing Mobile Video Right campaign.
We started with North America, which is one of the more advanced ad economies, where we saw the adoption kick off really in a big fashion. Then we saw that there were other elements to video, also the fact that interactive videos worked really well. Wherein, within the video, there could be several pauses, where people could actually click.
Towards the end of 10 or 15-second video, and this is very different from what happens on television, there can be end cards. Through end cards, people could probably play an interactive game or browse through a carousel of latest products which on clicking direct people to browse the web – which means there are ways where we can attach more dynamic interaction with the brand. Therefore, it becomes very imperative for advertisers to start thinking of mobile-first video, and not just think of it as a one-shot commercial that is being transferred to mobile.
Another change or altered consumption we see in digital is the vertical format video. Snapchat or IGTV or TikTok are the platforms where it is really big. We’ve actually seen a 99% growth of vertical video adoption among advertisers in the last quarter itself! What that basically means is that advertisers are waking up to the fact that the way the phone is held is vertical. Unless it is for gaming, but otherwise vertical is the way to go. The majority of the time is spent in the vertical direction.
Therefore, we’ve also been trying to help our advertisers build vertical videos, which again means being mobile-first. Figuring out how they can best transpose their videos and actively use it as a vertical video. That is something that we have the expertise to provide them with.
When it comes to video advertising, one of the hottest app inventory that we see in the industry is gaming. It has been widely used by mobile app install campaigns, and even more by gaming brands themselves. But what we’ve been seeing with COVID, is a rise in interest in using gaming inventory for branding campaigns as well.
Say, for instance, a shampoo brand wants to see how we can target women on casual games such as Candy Crush. Because a lot of casual and hyper-casual games are actually played by women, which is a huge, huge target audience for personal care brands. So, we’ve seen a huge adoption of people buying gaming video inventory.
What we are therefore trying to do is provide these advertisers the right kind of comfort in terms of saying that this is brand safe. It’s not going to appear against ISIS or COVID-19 or death related videos, so you don’t get any wrong associations. At the same time, we are also helping them use this inventory through more programmatic and automated channels which puts transparency and control in the hand of the advertisers, as compared to conventional ad networks.
In one of your recent interviews, you were discussing the millennial segments. Are you also segmenting your customers based on age, and if so, do you have specific cross-sells based on it?
Meera: In Medlife, we realized that customers could be segmented into two sets, one who are buying for themselves versus the ones who are ordering for their parents. So, the people ordering on behalf of their parents tend to be more from the millennial category. However, the broader audience category that we have at Medlife is fundamentally the older generation as compared to other eCom platforms/players in the market in general.
That’s really insightful. You mentioned how you’re helping marketers with vertical video. Is there a video production option with InMobi or you’re giving them guidelines in terms of the right size, format, etc. of video, that they need to create as an ad?
Rajesh: Great question. Where InMobi is different is the value-added service.
If you look at something like a Facebook Ads Manager. What it does is it basically gives you a certain template. It asks you to input 6-7 images and ends up creating an automated video. While it does help a lot of the smaller advertisers and is definitely very useful for kick-starting campaigns, I think for the big spender, they need some hand-holding, to help them bridge the gap between conventional advertising and digital. And so, what we provide is the value-added service of our creative service teams.
So these teams sit with the brands right from the time of the creative brief to say, this is the larger concept and this is why you should think, or how you should think about it when it comes to mobile as a medium. And how can you better engage people or derive ROI from this particular medium.
One of the examples is with L’Oréal which was an award-winning case study we have done. L’Oréal was looking at one of the biggest problem statements, which is how do you drive consumer engagement at scale. Looking at the problem statement from the audience standpoint, we wanted to see how you can reach millions of people, and also get them to try something at the same time.
What we did was we created a video that played showcasing how Deepika Padukone, it’s brand ambassador, is endorsing it and immediately after we would have an AR augmented reality unit within the ad. This AR unit would capture the contours of the consumer’s face. And there would be a catalog of lipsticks at the bottom and people could try different shades of lipstick, exactly fitted to the contours of the lips. That had a phenomenal engagement for L’Oréal. So, these services are a huge value add I feel, and it really opens up the eyes of advertisers.
As someone at the forefront providing solutions and also observing how markets are responding, what sort of AI implementation have you seen as far as the use of marketing is concerned. And what kind of solutions do you have in that space?
Rajesh: If you look at the role of AI, I feel it is to enhance experiences for clients and help them build personalization at scale. So that is the biggest role that AI can drive, and as a result of this, every marketer will be affected by the basic formula – profit = revenue – costs. Trying to make sure that they increase revenue as much as possible, reduce costs as much as possible. AI by building a great experience, drives revenue up, but also by driving personalization at scale keeps costs low.
What we’ve been trying to do especially on the creative front is we’ll look at a few experiments over the course of last year where we analyze millions of ad events. Because we serve millions of ads on a daily basis across the globe, we can put that data to work on the creative itself. To see how AI could basically provide a guide to advertisers, or recommendations to advertisers when it comes to their creative.
What we saw was that there is a highly optimal ratio of creative size to CTA type, which basically helps people identify the CTAs in the first place, and also drive people to click. And what ended up happening was people just ended up showing the creative and uploading it onto the platform to get a score.
Within the CTA, there are a couple of elements – one is the font size or color, and the other is the placement. We started giving people different CTAs which apply to different verticals. So, if you look at a lot of the consumer science behind it, which a Procter & Gamble has been practicing for years. These are the first moments of truth that they basically call out.
For example, why do we need to have a Tide in both orange and green packets? A more price-conscious consumer basically looks at Green, as more suited to value-for-money kind of product, whereas orange is something slightly premium. For example, we noticed in the vertical of food, orange, and red CTAs was something that worked really, really well, and people actively engaged with it.
Similarly, in the taxi vertical or transport vertical. In India and every other market across the globe except China, black was supposed to be something that people associated very easily with taxis. But when it came to China, we saw that yellow was the preferred CTA color.
Getting these kinds of insights without AI is definitely not possible. And I feel that AI can basically summarize a lot of these things beautifully and give you direct action items in a very short span of time. But I think what has really sealed the role of AI for marketers today, especially in e-commerce or the app vertical, is product recommendation, or dynamic creative optimization.
If you look at any Amazon ad for instance it is dynamic, based on if you are somebody who’s installing the app or are at various stages of the shopping journey. People who visited specific pages or a certain category will see an ad that has the catalog of items and in the price range that you are searching for, so it’s important because we are able to narrow down on those particular segments, and then also personalize it for you.
At the same time, if you are someone adding things to a wish list or adding things to a cart, and then probably forgotten, or thought of postponing your shopping activity. Dynamic creative optimization picks up that you are actually part of a segment that is very close to finishing their shopping journey, and you can probably be nudged to take that step right now.
At the end of the day, I think dynamic creative optimization combines both segmentation and creative, in a very beautiful fashion to drive maximum impact. And, in fact, to directly drive revenue for a lot of advertisers.
Do you have any observations on how marketers are optimizing or changing strategies in the current Pandemic scenario?
Rajesh: Definitely. I think it has been one of the key things that we should be at least working on, is to enable advertisers as quickly as possible with insights, given that we sit on data from across the globe. We’ve been trying to deep dive into second-party data as well as consumer surveys. We need to understand consumer sentiment and also app usage trends so that advertisers can get the messaging right, but also get the distribution right.
A couple of thoughts that came from the insights is that we feel brands should not stop advertising. If we look at consumer sentiment, we think that brands should not stop advertising. Brands should help people in their daily lives, or at least communicate and let customers know what they are doing to ensure business continuity, or help the community at large.
When it comes to app usage, we saw it skyrocket for a majority of apps. News, of course, is huge – with people checking the news on a day to day basis. Gaming has increased in a big fashion, especially in India it has shot up because our average age is 65% under 35, so there are a lot of mobile-savvy people. Mobile is their primary screen and, in fact, the first screen that they go to. Huge spikes in gaming, but also in addition to that, we see OTT, image, and video apps, and also the new wave of social apps such as TikTok gain a lot of popularity.
We are working with a lot of agencies and advertisers alike, to drive a lot of purpose-led brand communication, because nobody wants brands to seem insensitive or creepy at these times.
So, what has happened is purposeful brand communication has become front and center.
But also, there are two categories of brands. Brands that are relevant and not relevant to consumers. By relevant, I mean, these guys are to be a part of the daily lives of consumers. And, and within relevance, there are two types – one is the very essentials – cooking or food, ready to eat, disinfectants, sanitizers, etc. which are essential. The second category is the relevant, but not essentials. Relevant in terms of helping you with your productivity, collaboration, or your daily stress-relief, which is video or OTT brands.
When it comes to the essentials, I think the biggest thing that they are talking to and they should do, is driving reassurance – both in terms of business continuity and in terms of making sure that consumer safety is important.
What is really happening is through this period is that whoever has purposeful brand communication with the idea of alleviating a core concern, providing important info, or providing stress release is something that has really stuck with consumers.
On the publisher side, also, how are you enabling publishers for monetization? Are there any similar insights like what you’re sharing with your advertisers, are you also doing that for your publishers?
Rajesh: Definitely, like you pointed out at any point in time, we are working with both sides of the market. We need good publishers to garner high demand.
With publishers, we help monetize their real estate with the best kind of ad service and the best kind of ad format, relevance, etc. If you look at the example of gaming – some of our most finicky publishers are gaming publishers. If you look at how gaming app developers work, they know their consumers better than anybody else. Because they exactly know when to place a payment gateway, when to place a certain kind of obstacle in the game, and so on. So, they are great at how they actually understand consumer behavior. Therefore, they are really finicky about the kinds of ads, and how consumers are shown ads.
It means that InMobi, as a monetization specialist, should be able to drive significant revenues for our customers, and revenue is a key part of the conversation. Then we can work with them in a more consultative manner and help them understand where it will be a great point to introduce ads and why would a particular ad format be preferable vs. another.
You need to help publishers derive more value out of users at the end of the day. Similarly, be able to be over a period of time, help them maximize ROI by providing them a better medium to all the data and insights in terms of audience.
Very similar to how brand safety is important for advertisers, the ad quality is highly important for publishers as well. And we basically use all the technical capability (sellers.json, ads.txt), which enables publishers to ensure that the ad is of quality.
From a marketing technology perspective, what are the top three trends that you see going forward. During the pandemic/post-pandemic. What would be the top three trends that marketers should consider?
Rajesh: I think one of the biggest issues we are seeing on a day to day basis, is the meme becoming a reality. The meme is about – What catalyzed digital transformation in your company? Was it the CEO/CFO/CMO? No, it was COVID-19! Sadly, that’s the truth today. COVID-19 has brought people to a new reality to say that if you are not digitally equipped enough, then you might not have a chance to be in front of the consumer in the future.
So digital transformation has become a huge, huge project for every brand today. Every good retail brand is today trying to see how they can get e-commerce set up ready for themselves. Website projects are some of the biggest projects happening today, for a lot of these firms. You will see growth across every ITES company, every consulting company, with a lot more of these digital transformation projects taking place.
The other trend is of course marketing automation. Specifically, in terms of the programmatic ecosystem evolving and growing across several regions. In America today, 80% of the advertising is programmatic, led by automation. Even in regions like India/Southeast Asia, it is actually being driven by programmatic. That’s what is actually going to drive a lot of personalization at scale, and even the big brands, who are focused on traditional mediums, are now starting to look at digital as a big trend.
Final trend – so while advertisement will remain a mainstay, lock screen marketing is becoming a very subtle and natural way of brands, basically driving better responses from consumers today. That is becoming really huge. In the content marketing space, a subsector of that is the micro-influencer market that’s becoming big – with something like a TikTok, which is growing huge in the consumer consumption segment