A Digital Perspective: Ravi Prasad, Head of Strategy, Topia

A comprehensive and insightful view into the future by Ravi Prasad, Head of Strategy at Topia.  One of my favourite minds in the industry. Definitely somebody to follow.

Ravi has put together some great thoughts here, and you’ll notice the reoccurring theme of change.  This is at a fundamental, strategy, and the user level.  We have many lessons to learn, and many companies are still going to learn the hard way.

Best digital memory of 2008?

I have two:

1. Judging at the AIMIA Awards – I saw some really thoughtful work, even in traditionally dull categories. There are some really well considered individuals working in digital advertising, some smart clients and brands making well informed decisions.

2. I remember attending the AFR conference on the ‘agency of the future’ where a few dinosaurs unearthed themselves in the general discussions.

I was left with the impression that many major agencies, brands and media groups don’t yet ‘get it’ or are resistant to the evolution of the media space – this resistance was sometimes at very senior levels and within groups of powerful decision makers. For me, encountering this resistance raised some interesting questions, but I’ll come back to this at the end.

What’s the best lesson the industry could learn?
The biggest lesson to be learnt is that by 2013 advertising agencies, brands and marketers will have caught up to what consumers were doing in 2009.

Ok, it’s not exactly a lesson, but there is a lesson in it.

And sure, not all of us will be playing catch-up and some are already moving ahead of the curve, but by and large consumer behaviour (what we do and how we interact with technology, content and media) is well in advance of what advertising agencies, brands and marketers are doing – they’re trailing behind the consumer, sometimes by more than 18 months.

You can see the divide; with radical change in the media space landing on top of them, some agencies are playing a hasty game of ‘catch up’, while others are already consolidating positions as the agencies of ‘now’.

So the lesson is? Take a position on the evolution of the media-space or risk declining relevance to your clients or your consumers.

What’s emerging for 2009?


Google is still emerging. We all know Google is already pre-eminent, but there are lot of people who are not admitting ‘defeat’. We will see a lot of online business stop resisting and adopt positions that resolve better with Google’s dominance – it’s begun, I head Yahoo!7 executives’ talk about their redefined position as the ‘starting point’ for the user, (there are others you can take) and I anticipate more tactical positioning exercises to come.

Advertising as content becomes ‘advertising as channel’. It’s happening now – advertising that is indistinguishable from content. This will change as our understanding of what that content can be evolves.

The next evolution will be what I call ‘advertising as channel’, whereby the channel itself will be the advertising.

It’s the inverse of McLuhan’s the ‘medium is the message’ as in 2009 the ‘message becomes the medium’. And it will be huge.

You can see it in its nascent form with sponsored communities such as KCA’s brilliant clubs (look at the Huggies ‘mothers-to-be club’ – kca.com.au) but this is only the beginning of what is possible.

This is directly related to a concept I call ‘brand as channel’ where brands deploy their own media ‘assets’ in ways not too dissimilar from ‘traditional’ media channels.

Social Media Optimisation (SMO)

In my work for agencies (specifically Topia) I advocate this to clients as part of their ‘mix’.

SMO is really about strategies to utilise the natural conversations and interactions within the social media ‘landscape’ to direct traffic or conversation around a brand.

It works, and we’ve been able to make it deliver a healthy ROI. I expect that by mid 2009 what I do now will be seen as somewhat ‘quaint and old fashioned’ as new, novel and more inventive strategies emerge -  we’ll also see SMO strategies as accepted practice pretty much everywhere.

In 2009, look for more platforms defined by target market demographics (and dispositions) and less by USPs or other brand propositions.

Social media, in general will evolve with speed and we’ll see a lot of new utility from existing platforms.

Second Generation Collaborative Platforms

We’ll see a lot of evolution in the area of collaboration. There is already a lot going on, but as portability increases and platforms evolve, we’ll see it much more and in more places.


Portability – sharing and remixing data using open standards. There are heaps of examples and many different dimensions to this.

My current favourite is posterous.com

With posterous.com I can update my blog, my Facebook status, my flickr, my Twitter status (and a whole lot of other stuff) simply by sending an e-mail.

2009 is when portability becomes a central issue.

What else?

What else will be emerging? What’s emerging for 2009 will be big in 2013, so let’s jump forward a few years.

What will be big in 2013?

For this question I looked at 6 key drivers and extrapolated from the present:

  1. Convergence of content
  2. Convergence of channels
  3. Availability of bandwidth
  4. Price of bandwidth
  5. Processing speed
  6. The emergence of enabling technologies (technologies that enable services by enabling any or all of the above).

I also threw one special criteria into my process:

I looked for ‘platforms’ that are consistent with and sympathetic to human behaviour and interaction. (Basically, this means that for something to work, it also has to give people what they want, and make functionality and usability really simple.) Unless it’s a ‘natural’ fit, it won’t take off.

I know things have been converging for a while and it’s self evident that channels and platforms will continue to converge at an increasingly accelerated rate with the utility of these platforms growing as enabling technologies evolve.

However, it’s worth stating that a lot of what we see in 2013 will be new expressions of this convergence.

Cogent Search

Ok, I just made up that term, but here’s an example of what it could look like.
It’s emerging now, but by, by 2013, search will be fully customised to each individual user’s idiosyncrasies. Search will learn and learn even more about you.  Your search engine will be your own – your own cogent search engine (and ad server as part of the deal.  I think all of this is part of Google’s current vision.)

It will also be enabled in your Navman, so not only does it know about you, it also knows where you go.

This mash up, a Navman GPS, with your own cogent search engine goes everywhere you go, serving information and ads (and geotagging) along the way  – for example, if you like tropical fish, local aquariums will be indicated; if you like Lebanese sweets, local restaurants will be indicated (along with reviews and feeds from things like online communities and heaps more).

And it will all be on a little converged device that looks a whole lot like your iPhone.

Is plurk the new Facebook?

It probably won’t be, but something will.

Because of portability, the barriers to migrating, switching or using multiple platforms will be diminished. It means it’s going to be easier to move from platform to platform, which in turn means that the ‘next Facebook’ is going to happen fast – it will come out of nowhere. Whatever it is, the next Facebook will be characterised by a high degree of portability.

Your own TV network

By 2013, TV networks are in full blown crisis.

Video sharing platforms will now have a bigger share of audience than some networks.

Networks would have turned to a raft of different things to stop the haemorrhaging. All those cool things that the ABC Digital department are doing (think of what they did with programs like the Gruen Transfer to foster online interaction with the show) will be standard practice across most of the programming on most networks – including drama.

Mobile carriers and mobile devices now get nearly as much time as broadcast does, so you’ll see more novel and creative deals done with mobile carriers.

You’ll see a greater convergence between traditional print media and broadcast platforms.

We’ll see TV network services, starting with cable, offering full customised programming – essentially, you’ll have your own personalised network.

Nested technologies and platforms

At least I call them nested technologies and platforms and they are characterised by an interdependence of content, channel, and interface and revenue integration.

A good example is the iPhone. Apple gives you the hardware and the applications – and derives revenue from both.

Consider this: when you own an iPhone, your relationship is really with Apple and not with your network service provider.

When your relationship is with Apple and not the network provider, why would you be loyal to a network? They just become the provider of your bit-pipe. It’s a nightmare for mobile phone companies because it then becomes all about price – people want as much bandwidth and want it for a little as possible. For these guys it’s going to be a race to the bottom and 2013 is when they hit that bottom.

There are, however, a few strategies they can use to hedge their position, but as of now none are set to be emerging by 2009. If you’ve got stock in a network, sell it today.

Anyway, look for more nested technologies and platforms, there are a whole new class of business set to emerge around this model – also look out for a better way to describe them, there’s a buzz word looming.

I’ve got about 20 more predictions, but I’m going to stop at this point and pose a question: If the media space is changing, it will necessarily change business models.

Given resistance to change from senior brands, agencies and marketers, and the inevitable necessity that change has to happen, I think my final prediction is this: by 2013 there will be a massive change in leadership underway amongst senior brands, agencies and marketers. This will be driven by a crisis or relevancy. We will see, among other things, entirely new classes of marketing, strategic and creative businesses.

Jye Smith is currently Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy & Operations, Asia Pacific at Weber Shandwick. Ranked in B&Ts 30 Under 30, Jye a regular keynote speaker and workshop facilitator who specialises in digital and social media strategist.

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Laurel Papworth at 2:08 am

    Wow lot’s of stuff here! :)

    My addition:
    I sat in a meeting with a “Big 5″ company and watch them tell one of the top international agencies ‘ we are cutting your budget drastically and going with social network marketing’. Which means we won’t hear about a lot of campaigns from media agency industry organisations. They will come directly from company to consumer.

    I think Mogulus (real time citizen tv) and TalkShoe (real time citizen radio host) have a lot of potential and their revenue share back to content creators is an exceptional model.

    I could go on – but shan’t :P

    Except- thank god iPhone apps are free from the control of the telcos! Walled Gardens FTW – NOT! Heh.

  2. Stephen Collins at 9:21 am


    Wow! Thanks for publishing this. It’s a great, forward looking piece.

    I think most of this is very prescient. I shall have to reach out to Ravi – he sounds like someone I could have a great chat to.

  3. Pingback: The future of digital from Ravi Prasad « Who’s in control of your brand?
  4. Jye Author at 11:18 am

    Thanks, Laurel :) Some great points.

    Trib: Reach away!!

    Simon — thanks for the ping back. Glad you enjoyed.

  5. Andrew Simms at 11:59 pm

    Great thinking.
    One of the questions it raises for me is:
    if change is inevitable, will there be more consolidation of agencies, or more fragmentation? My bet is: more fragmentation.
    As the emerging layer of SMO agencies grows, they’ll cherry pick talent from ‘traditional’ agencies to help them craft really big ideas.

  6. Jye Author at 7:31 am

    I’d say more fragmentation — and then those working closer together in collaboration.