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With WhatsApp's acquisition by Facebook, 'Word of digital' is here

Friday, 21 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

There are brands and brands. There are brands that are physical, and there are brands that are digital.

The one big question PE Investors and CEO's who run digital brands ask me is whether money is the base currency that helps build powerful brands in digital space. The second question that invariably follows: How much of this money must I spend on physical media and how much on digital, if I want a truly killer proposition of a brand?

My considered opinion is that brands can be built on digital and social media platforms for sure. Very powerful propositions with equally powerful revenue possibilities can be built using a cusp of digital and social.

And my answer to that top question is that money is needed, but it surely is not money alone that helps build digital brands. Digital brands are different. They cater to an audience that is digitally empowered. It caters to stakeholders who are that much more educated, that much more savvy and that much more critical in their evaluation of digital products and brands. The rationality index of this consumer is different from that of one who buys a toothpaste and pantyhose.

On that point, lets also remember that digital folk largely live and trust digital and social media space. They are very comfortable out here. They trust what is purveyed and touted out here. They discover, seek out, try, use regularly, and help propagate digital brands in their own unique and viral manner. Discovery out here is a process that is big on its own merit. Dissemination of what is discovered is even bigger.

Take the time when someone first tried out WhatsApp in its beta phase. And that one guy actually gave it a good review. Now, if WhatsApp was to be a relevant and ubiquitous product, others in his peer group needed to have it. The early explorer of WhatApp therefore did his two bit. He cascaded the good news to his network. And then the network did its task. The anarchy of the Internet took over, and WhatsApp is what it is today. A killer buy for FaceBook Inc. and a cash and stock-trove of USD 19 Billion for Jan Koum and Co.

Money is needed to build brands in physical space. I do not believe money is needed to build brands in digital space. I propagate the concept of 'Digital for Digital'. If you are a digital brand, just focus on the electronic, the digital and the social. Why must you use the crutch of physical media to build your brand? I have isolated models where money spent on physical media such as print, television, radio, and Outdoor, is money driven into the drain of a fantasy. And money driven mostly to build fancy valuation numbers rather than money that actually helps you build a digital brand.

WhatsApp did not use money to build its brand. WhatsApp used 'Digital for digital'. WhatsApp used the format of what I have dubbed WOD! Just as we have Word of Mouth (WOM) in physical marketing, in digital marketing we have WOD: Word of Digital!

Word of Digital is a powerful tool to build brands in digital space. WhatsApp is a classic example.

--The writer is a brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults

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