Expert View: 'Engagement Rates Are The Most Important Metric To Me When Measuring Success'

We sat down with Sipra Thakur, Former Head of Digital & Mobile Marketing at IMAX


Sipra Thakur has 14+ years experience focused on digital marketing. She has held start-up roles within established organizations, such as IMAX, The Wonderful Company, and Universal Music Group, in which she has led organizations' digital strategy. Based on this experience, Sipra has established her own consulting agency, One Thousand Suns, to help more businesses create successful digital strategies in an ever-changing landscape.

Sipra was also named a 40-Under-40 marketer in 2016 and in Women to Watch for marketing in 2017. Ahead of her presentation at the Chief Marketing Officer Summit this May 24-25 in San Francisco, we sat down with Sipra to talk all things digital marketing, from social to personalization. 

Marketing leaders have had to adapt time and time again in recent years, for you, what has been the biggest change?

Having spent nearly my entire career in digital, it has been a continuous cycle of change. From the rise of mobile to ever-changing social platforms, it is keeping up with the changes that have been the excitement of and challenge of working in digital. Given this, the biggest noticeable change has been the adoption of digital in overall marketing plans. The role of Chief Digital Officer existed in few companies years ago, and it has gained increased presence in companies of all size in recent years.

What approach have you taken to social media and how are you measuring your success? (brand awareness, clicks, shares etc.)

Although numbers are important from an aesthetic point of view, engagement rates are the most important metric to me when measuring success. It’s easy to buy followers and boast large social media numbers. If those people aren’t truly an audience you can create a relationship with and potentially convert to a sale for your brand, product, or artist, I don’t see much use in having those high numbers. When views, likes, shares, and comments are high in an engagement-to-follower ratio, that’s when I know I’ve done my job in reaching the right audience and creating value for a brand.

How are you successfully managing (and optimizing) a multichannel brand presence?

As a (good) marketer, you have no choice but to optimize for a multichannel brand presence. It is planning for and considering the differences between channels to create complementary marketing collateral. For example, with the same campaign, for print you may want an image and message that is large and concise. For online media buys, a snippet of video may better serve as an effective communication tool to reach your audience. Using the same font, color scheme, characters, etc. creates a unity across channels while using different content formats also respect the strengths of each channel. Together these lead to an integrated marketing approach for a multichannel presence.

How crucial is the role that data plays in your decision-making?

Data is important in that it quantify fundamental truths, such as the best time to post for your audience, what may have caused spikes in web traffic or email opt-ins, quantify ROI on media spends, etc. Data alone, though, isn’t enough to build the right marketing strategy for your product. Simply because one strategy worked on one campaign does not mean it’s going to work the same on the next.

As an example within the same superhero genre, take Deadpool and Batman vs Superman. I can use data to know when the audience may be online, as well as a best time to post on social, but what is communicated for each property would vary greatly. Deadpool took on a darker humor skewed towards an R-rated audience while Batman vs Superman aimed towards more general fanboy/fangirl audiences. As a blatant demonstration of this point, holding a sweepstakes giving away a year’s supply of chimichangas was part of the marketing strategy for Deadpool (for those of you that don’t know, Deadpool’s consumption of chimichangas is a love of the character, and we were not just trying to contribute to America’s increased cholesterol levels). Using only the resulting data from the promotion for the same or similar giveaway for Batman v Superman to replicate the success would tell audiences that you don’t understand the properties or their likes. The data along with nuances between the properties need to be taken into consideration when planning for the most effective marketing strategy.

How are you tracking your customer journey and have you seen a change in browsing behavior? (e.g. move to mobile, two-screens, etc.)

Over the years, not surprisingly, there was a pronounced move onto mobile devices for discovery and ticket purchase. This customer journey helped structure digital marketing efforts. It dictated a redesign of and resulted in producing content more noticeably suitable for mobile consumption.

In terms of the site redesign, we evaluated how customers were using the site to make it easier to know what was playing and to purchase tickets. Content was also made into snack-size pieces to make it friendlier to consume content on mobile in terms of shorter time and data lower usage.

What measures are you taking to personalize your outreach? (localization, customer profiling etc.)

When you are evaluating and creating a plan for your product, personalization is key to reaching the right audiences around the globe. For many with a global brand, this includes localization of content. With global audiences, what may work in the US may not translate in terms of language and content to audiences in Brazil. If this expertise doesn’t rest in-house, this can mean hiring agencies versed in different markets to tweak content to speak literally and metaphorically to best cater to audiences in that country. It’s that added touch that makes local audiences feel special and in-the-know about your brand.

What strategies are you using to increase your customer lifetime values?

Listening. It sounds basic, and it’s easy to forget when caught in the day-to-day shuffle of our jobs. When you see a trend across channels or customers reach out with similar complaints, listen to them and use this as your own market research to evaluate if something may need to change. Respond to customers wherever possible and make them feel heard to increase the value that you provide and, in return, get increased return from your customers.

New technology adoption and transforming staff practices can be a tricky process - what tips do you have to make this a success?

Throughout my career, I’ve been in a unique position of holding start-up roles within established organizations. With it, I’ve seen extremes of internal resistance to technological change or the other end of wanting to jump on absolutely any new technology. In either case, there is often warranted justification for the emotions. One the one hand, change is hard and it can be intimidating. On the other, you don’t want your brand to fall behind, so when you see an opportunity, you want to seize it.

A way to provide a balance for these extremes is through education and communication of new technologies and changes to stakeholders. It’s easy to dismiss either side (and, yes, there have been occasional times when it feels much easier just to say, 'because I said so', and feel done with it), but that wouldn’t get you far in creating adoption throughout the organization. Once the information is presented and questions answered, the goal is to have stakeholder buy-in. These stakeholders can then set an example and proliferate the message to their respective teams for a more widespread adoption of the technology across the organization.

How do you maintain brand loyalty and meaningful engagement in the over-crowded digital space?

As touched upon in previous questions, listening and personalization are major components of brand loyalty. When reaching out to a brand, most people do so to be heard. When they see a real person is responding, posting, and interacting with them, they do feel heard and know someone is listening. It’s this human touch that helps foster loyalty.

When you have it, how are you personalizing the content for fans?

By producing more of this type of content, you’ve listened to what your customers want. Even using subtle differences for the same content when debuting content, like the spelling of 'color' vs 'colour' in copy for US versus UK, you’ve also created a sense of personalization for customers. These efforts add up to nurture brand loyalty with audiences.

What do you foresee to be the biggest area of growth in marketing through 2017?

If the $24B IPO wasn’t a dead giveaway, Snapchat will continue to be a force to be reckoned with throughout 2017. It’s still in its infancy, and it has proven its value in terms of user engagement. The audience will only continue to grow this year as parents and grandparents learn about the tools their kids and grandkids spend countless hours on each week. Even if the massive audience were to remain the same, Snapchat is an expanded growth opportunity for brands and artists to reach their audiences through their continually developing ad platforms and stories.

It is still relatively expensive to do a lense and can be challenging for brands to maintain a channel presence on Snapchat. There still are other ways to participate in the platform, like ads in between stories and filters, that can let you reach a new audience more economically. As 2017 progresses, I wouldn’t be surprised if Snapchat continues to offer more ways for brands to interact on the platform. 

You can hear more from Sipra, along with other leading marketing executives, at the Chief Marketing Officer Summit taking place this May 24-25 in San Francisco.

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