Is marketing crippling the e-commerce growth story

By Shveta Singh

The phenomenal growth of ecommerce in India hardly needs a preamble. It is a very fast paced, evolving context that has transformed not just the way business is conducted, but how brands are conceived and positioned. Intuitively, a similar impact should have been visible on the existing marketing structures supporting this ecommerce growth. But the reality is incremental change rather than transformational so far. We are still playing the catch-up game. So, the big question marketers on both the brand and agency sides should be asking today is ‘Have we reached the tipping point to trigger a big shake up yet?’

Large scale transitions in business environments mimic a trajectory similar to any big socio-cultural change. A typical lifecycle is – mushrooming of ‘The New’ in small pockets, followed by makeshift, unstructured, siloed ways of bringing ‘The New’ to life, ‘The New’ reaching a critical mass big enough to have a considerable impact and finally the convergence of various pockets to make ‘The New’ more embraceable and implementable at scale. Look back at how digital marketing emerged as an outsider and took years to become mainstream. Or for that matter how many years ago social media management used to sit with PR teams rather than brand marketing teams.

Similarly, commerce marketing at the moment is on its path to maturity. This gets even more complex given the fact that commerce marketing goes beyond the realm of media marketing into go-to-market and business management spaces as well. There is no templatised, universally acceptable way of working on both brand and agency ends. A variety of marketing models can be seen, primarily dictated by the stage and scale at which a brand is.

Brand eCommerce Approach Brand Stage Brand Challenges & Requirements eCommerce Marketing Model
I know it all Nascent D2C brands High level of control
Limited budgets
Lower funnel tactics
100% in-housed model
From tech and platform management to performance marketing
I know it, but you can supplement me Mid-sized D2C/ eCom first brands Diminishing returns through performance marketing
Faster scale-up
Mixed model
Retain ecommerce strategy, operations, and rest of the core functions in-house.Agencies help drive efficiencies and scale through media
I don’t know, you do it New to eCommerce emerging brands Limited understanding and resources for in-house set-up
Lack clout to deal directly with marketplaces
100% outsourced model
eCommerce is a single task from GTM to Media Managed by small ecom specialist agencies
I know somewhat, need multiple specialists Established, traditional brands Large marketing set-up, not necessarily geared up for shift to ecommerce
eCommerce function may/may not be consolidated with the brand marketing team
Lack of one stop ecommerce solution with most big agencies
Mixed model
Multiple specialist agencies working on various ecom requirement from content to analytics Few core functions in-housed

And till now, catering to these varied brand eCommerce needs is an equally diverse supply side:

  1. Small independent agencies managing end to end ecommerce management for SMBs
  2. Specialist niche players with scope limited to only content or proprietary technology & tools
  3. Digital creative agencies for brand communication
  4. Media agencies for performance and brand marketing
  5. Marketplace B2C model that claims to eliminate the need for an agency

Like a typical chicken and egg story, there are arguments from both sides on why the eCommerce marketing model is still at an immature stage. Neither are brands asking for more, nor are the agencies building enough incremental value and a sense of urgency. “The New” is happening in pockets, but not big enough yet for a seismic shift. In the last couple of years, major ecommerce initiatives have been announced by a few big agencies including GroupM, aimed at consolidation and holistic offering. We at Motivator, have been one of the first integrated media agencies in India to offer full funnel, end to end ecommerce solutions from onboarding, content and ecom strategy to operations management and commerce media management. Given our packaged solution we have managed to scale up several eCom first brands across industries such as health and hygiene, packaged foods, automotive and many more.

Having said that, the scale of change is still not large and fast enough to keep pace with the dynamic ecommerce ecosystem. The industry needs convergence of the various existing pockets for a consolidated ecommerce marketing model to emerge. And this necessitates restructuring at a fundamental level.

  1. Restructuring of the narrative – “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This phrase holds very true for marketing on eCommerce. Content, audits, business strategy and media approach can only achieve so much when sitting separately. There is a massive interplay between media and non-media functions of ecommerce in order to achieve business goals. The narrative agencies take to the brands therefore needs to go beyond – we will do your performance marketing, or we will do your A+ content. There is a need for an outcome driven approach instead.
  1. Rephrasing of the value of integration – For any brand to take a leap, all of its marketing channels should ideally work in synergy. Yet, most brands still view eCommerce channel in silos, with no true integration with brand marketing. The onus therefore lies with the agencies to educate and demonstrate the value of synergy. It is time we frame value not just in ACOS and ROAS, but cross channel integration and resulting efficiencies.
  1. Reshaping of the brand trajectory – The world today is divided between D2C brands wanting to gain scale and established brands wanting to gain traction on ecommerce. Both cohorts operate with a very different, fixed view of marketing, resulting in the difference in ask from the agencies. This convergence can only be achieved if they learn from each other. While established brands need to learn use of data and agility from digital first brands, D2C brands need to learn the importance of brand building.

The clock is ticking. It is time to consolidate and integrate ‘The New.’ It is indeed time to transform our existing marketing models to sustain the phenomenal ecommerce growth we are witnessing.

The author is chief digital officer, Motivator, GroupM

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