“In The Past 20 Years, The Challenge Has Been Re-inventing Every Day”: Roshan Abbas on #TrendingAt20

Industry Watch | March 23, 2018 | Interview

Geometry Encompass Roshan Abbas

Geometry Encompass Network recently completed 20 years in India and the brand custodian, Roshan Abbas, talks about the journey of the brand over the past two decades and highlights the plan for the next twenty.

Starting off in the year 1998, Encompass was founded by Roshan Abbas and Sukrit Singh. The company has pioneered and led the experiential marketing space in India and partnered with Geometry In 2015, leading to the formation of the Geometry Encompass India network. The collaboration has made it the only agency in India that is a part of a global network and strengthening their geographic coverage and service offerings to become the largest full-service activation agency in India.

In a discussion, Roshan Abbas, Managing Director, Geometry Encompass takes us through the journey that led to the agency becoming a leader in its space and envisioning the way moving forward.

What has been the biggest learning in the journey so far?

That innovation is the only pillar on which the industry can move ahead. What’s really kept us going is the fact that we have been able to scale up and penetrate vending entirely according to what has been the need of the brand. It started with launching paging for Motorola and Moto’s brief to us was, “Can you not have a press launch but can you actually go out to consumers?” We did everything from creating a roadshow to a street theatre as well as a tie-up with HMV to launch three audio-cassettes! We were not behaving like a traditional event agency or an activation agency but we were on the cusp of creating unique experiences. We went on from that and have been challenged by our clients saying “If you can do X for us, why can you not do X+?” So today, be it a deep unique activation done for an international brand or for the government, we always innovate.

What is the biggest change you have observed in India over the past two decades?

The revolution in India is happening now with shopper marketing, deep rural penetration, brand re-activations. These 20 years have really helped us create consumer-led engagements for the brands we have worked with. We are at the cusp of what a brand really needs and in the digital world we are at the place where you can touch the consumer directly.

How have you measured the successes of the past years?

While we need to measure success, it is also important to learn from your failures. For us at Geometry, it is fundamental to measure everything we do and we are learning from the challenges. 10 years ago, we got together and we said, “Let’s do something different.” And we tried every model that is known to measure the traditional medium. But what we have seen off late is that technology is becoming more and more integral to the business. The events are now all streamed live. Since we are interacting with people, we are getting live feedback. We are interacting with people in internet dark areas as well. The model that is developing is organic. Hopefully we will see more growth in the future. There are some things that are not measurable – like you cannot measure the opening ceremony on IPL but as we are going more and more into the last mile, the small towns, it is critical to get feedback.

The client and the agency should sit together before the beginning of any project and have a set of measurements that can be implemented. We do that, we follow it up. In China they have certain rules and they monitor them – this is better than any research where they come back in a couple of weeks, this is immediate. We are interacting with 30 to 40 lakh people each year and measuring feedback is largely now reliant on technology.

How has the thought process of the clients changed over the years?

Last year was a blip for the entire industry because of demonetisation and GST. These two big blows have made the market careful. The first thing that goes out is the spend they do on marketing and experiential. However, that is a thought that is changing now with brands. The services provided by us were tactical, instead of being strategic. We have different communities and we customise for every community. So, what we do for a client in Singapore is very different from what we do for a client in India. However, with brands entering newer markets, the need is now to go glocal.

What are the biggest challenges you anticipate in the upcoming 20 years and how do you see technologies changing to adapt to them?

There are a couple of things happening – 

A. We lack infrastructure and that is the biggest challenge. Technology, we can still catch up on but without strong infrastructure, there isn’t much we can do. 

B. There is no one-size fits all for everyone in India which is both, an opportunity and a challenge. Existing in a digital environment is making us socially dyslexic. After a point in time, we start seeking out social engagements. When e-commerce really hits India and when everything becomes about, “Can I get this at my convenience?”, every brand will need to own an experience to differentiate itself. That’s another huge opportunity which is there. On the positive side of technology, there are a couple of things – what blockchain is doing. Blockchain is going to change identities, about how people will do transactions, how it will be easier for us to move from one market to another using blockchain… 

The way the internet has penetrated India now, the data speeds have gone up and that allows for just one mobile phone to become a single device for communication, entertainment, and most of our other needs. The apps on the phone are measuring you. A lot of data insights are being pooled in constantly and we will benefit as an industry from that use of technology. We are also creating an experience that mixes the two – we are a hybrid between a physical and a digital experience. AR and VR is going to impact lots on what’s to happen. A lot of experiences that cannot be shared through other mediums, augmented will make that happen. It will impact sports, entertainment in a huge way. 

Is AR/VR the answer for experiential brands wishing to go Glocal?

A lot of brands at the higher end and the extreme other end are now exploring opportunities. There’s a massive gap between the two. With technology in India, the biggest challenge is going to be trust. How do you trust someone who is offering you something overnight? And that is where we as an agency will come in. Sampling, to a large degree is happening. Digitally native vertical brands, which are purely digital in nature, will also at some point of time have to get into physical activations. 

The largest deployment is in the form of an app – what is an app? An app is a tool to reach out to people. Once the app is deployed, you start interacting with that person and it’s difficult to say one experience ends and the other one starts. With AR/VR, we are at a very nascent stage. A lot of AR/VR is still in the nascent stage. It is gimmicky and a gimmick cannot last. It doesn’t fulfil big agenda. It’s the same funda like the “likes” on social media or the “trends”. It doesn’t fulfil any agenda but brands want to trend. So coming up with campaigns that strategically enhance what is the core objective of the brand and the brands need to identify those objectives. You build around the objective. 

How difficult is it to blend technology with new-age experiments in India?

In India the challenge is the different audiences we deal with. At a rural level, when we needed to get people to download an app, the first problem we had to overcome was that no one wanted to use their data. So we innovated and came up with a novel e-cube technology that was used by us, that made data free for people. There was still resistance. So, we had to start by educating – by telling them that you can download the app for your children’s education or you can use it for entertainment… The entire exercise was called a “Mela”. If we had called it a Digital Center, it would not have worked. 

Taking it to the completely opposite side where we deal with an urban audience, we want to make sure that there is a lot of technology. That the event is possibly live-streamed, put out in capsules format on the internet. And that’s going to get shares and create some excitement. That is the excitement as communication specialists that we enjoy. It’s a vast market in India and in the past 20 years, the challenge has been reinventing every day. Every day it’s a new leaf, it’s a fresh idea, but it is exciting.

Apart from technology, what is the biggest setback you have faced and tried to overcome the past 20 years?

Talent is a huge challenge because nowhere is there a repository of learnings that have been captured. It is very important for the industry to play brand ambassadors and get good talent. Talent is a huge challenge. Encompass has had an agenda to create good talent and that is helping us improve the talent in the industry. Wherever we go, we make sure a bunch of us teach in various institutes. Not only does it create an ambassadorship in the industry, it also gives us a lot of opportunities to interact with talent live. We are investing in them and it is a big investment for us in the region.

 

In a discussion, Roshan Abbas, Managing Director, Geometry Encompass takes us through the journey that led to the agency becoming a leader in its space and envisioning the way moving forward.

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