Changing The Game: Socialize Founder Akanksha Goel On The Evolution Of Her Digital Media Agency
For a company that started out as a one-woman show, Akanksha Goel, founder and Managing Director of Socialize, centers the company’s accolades to its team: “The truth is, an entrepreneur starts a business, but it is the team that makes it successful.” In 2010, Goel recalls launching the company at a time when social media was dubbed as “Web 2.0,” and social networks weren’t considered as marketing channels. Socialize sought to fill the gap in the market by being an agency that “could help brands connect with the region’s increasingly digitally savvy consumer, and harness the untapped potential of the then-emerging social platforms.”
With a clear vision of the solution, Goel set out “transliterating the vision into a tangible service offering that clients could understand.” The founder emphasizes on the significance of choosing the right people to “maintain the integrity, the purity, and thus the success of the Socialize value proposition,” and thus, has been closely involved in recruiting and onboarding talent. This selectiveness also extends to clients the company works with: “To win in a world that is rapidly changing, due to the disruptive forces of technology, brands need to be nimble. Nimble brands need agile agencies, and agility is impossible in an environment constrained with hierarchy or predefined bureaucracy. Our tight selection of clients and people enabled us to create an ecosystem of like-minded individuals, that came together to do great work, taking Socialize from just a startup to becoming one of the region’s most widely recognized independent agencies.”
The company’s first-mover advantage, says Goel, was the catalyst for their growth to being a one-stop shop for a client’s digital marketing needs. Building a strong foundation of “processdriven operations” was essential: “We’ve adopted a full-service-agency business model and built a truly integrated offering that covers everything from planning and ideation, to creative and technical execution, to social strategy and digital media buying.” With a 40-person strong team and a regional client base including Sony, General Mills, Mercedes- Benz, Bioderma, GEMS Education and Singapore Tourism, Socialize rose at a time when social platforms were being perceived as a way to interact with customers, and not as critical tools to drive business.On its strategy, Goel explains, “Everything we know in marketing today started with the introduction of radio, and then television. These were the tools that allowed us to reach millions of potential customers, and we believed that if we could get our message in front of people- that motivational, emotional message that caused people to change their minds, that would create business results. Today, that is still true, but the platforms have changed. The message, the creative [content] is still important- but the single platform is no longer available for the single message. The platforms are fragmented across different digital and analog tools, with brands needing to tailor their message for the target audience and for the platform."
So, how has Socialize actually gone about doing this? Goel reveals its strategy to be something she calls “ART + SCIENCE.” “ART stands for thumb-stopping creative,” she says. “In a region where people spend so much time on mobile, a brand’s content/message/story needs to stand out while their audience is scrolling. Our creative team specializes in creating this content that is built for the mobile newsfeed. SCIENCE stands for innovative media, harnessing the power of real-time social data to target audiences with military precision, allowing our personalized messages to be seen by the right people, at scale– driving measurable business growth for clients.”
An example of Socialize’s modus operandi can be seen in a recent project it did for a client. For Mercedes-Benz Cars Middle East, Socialize created an automotive bilingual chatbot called Kamal that “brought the car showroom directly” to the Messenger app. Their target was the younger consumer who’d rather scroll through a newsfeed than through a showroom, while also placing a high importance on speed and convenience of communication- which is why Socialize decided on making use of a messaging app like Messenger for this project. Using AI and natural language processing, customers were able to make use of the chatbot to virtually explore the full range available from the automaker, and get model recommendations based on habits, among others, to get real-time personalized engagement.
And what Socialize has been doing has caught global interest too. We Are Social, the global socially-led creative agency, announced in June 2018 that it had acquired a “majority stake” in Socialize. The acquisition would extend We Are Social’s reach to the MENA market, adding to its 11 offices across nine countries, while also increasing its employee count to over 700. As of writing, the transaction is subject to regulatory approval from relevant UAE authorities. Socialize would continue to operate as an independent brand under Goel’s leadership, while leveraging We Are Social’s global infrastructure and agency ecosystem.
Though the company has been approached for acquisitions or partnerships over the years, Goel noted that they had sought for a fit that would “complement our vision, escalate our brand, and provide growth opportunities, while also valuing Socialize’s unique strengths and culture.” It was important for the team to bring on a partner that would help them scale, and not someone who would “rescue” them. Key criteria, says Goel, was finding a partner that would “give us the freedom to continue being Socialize,” and We Are Social’s leadership team was someone they’d share similar passion and vision for the future with.
One’s leadership prowess is exemplified by the qualities one tries to live by, and when asked about the kind of qualities that have led to where she is today, Goel lists three main ones. First, having a constant desire to know more. As someone who loved to study and research how tech changes consumers’ lives, Goel says she’s also compelled as to how companies and brands respond and react to such changes. Next is having attention to detail, which Goel says, drives her and her team forward as their business involves building brands.
“It takes years to build trust, and one careless logo placement to shatter it,” she says. “I am a strong believer that the key to success is in the details, in these little things, and it is important, when laying out the broad strokes, to pay attention to these little details. History is full of stories where a single detail has changed the destiny of millions, and in today’s digital world, we remain conscious that it all comes down to the smallest pixel in the end.”
And finally, being a good listener is essential, says Goel, as it’s important to have an open mind to listen to her team, clients and mentors. “I’d say that half of what I know today, I learnt on the job, and the other half, I’ve learnt by listening to others. Having the humility to constantly listen and seek advice allows you to benefit the most, after all, ‘You don’t know, what you don’t know.’”
Another vital trait Goel emphasizes on is empathy: “Our business is based on fulfilling an existing need, or solving a client’s problem. It’s impossible to identify a need or a problem without the ability to put oneself in in another person’s shoes; be it client or employees.” And her mantra to leading her teams and achieving targets? Goel believes that the key is for every team member to “understand the bigger picture and the importance that they personally play in the achievement of this target.”
No detail should be left unnoticed, says Goel, as even the most menial of tasks contributes to the success or loss of a campaign. She also says that her other principle is to “never let evolution slow us down.” With the changes in the industry, Goel says, “As we grow, we need to maintain our agility. So, I regularly encourage my team to think on their feet and make decisions quickly. Being able to pivot on a dime is a quality that wins games and evolves business strategies.”
Akanksha Goel, founder and Managing Director, Socialize
What’s your advice to early- stage entrepreneurs?
“My first tip is simple: dare to try. Only those who dare, succeed and only those who succeed make a difference. While it is comfortable to continue doing what you have always done, the way it has always been done, you need to have the audacity to follow your dreams if you wish to lead and create. Do not be afraid to say you do not know. We cannot know everything and as strong as we may be at our skills, we are as easily brought down by refusing to accept our weaknesses. Surround yourself by people who are passionate and believe in your cause and values. It is easier to teach someone technical skills than to teach them to care. Listen. Information is everywhere. Knowledge is power and in every piece of knowledge, there is an opportunity, which could make your (next) success. My last tip comes from Sir Richard Branson, ‘If you don’t know how to do something, say yes and learn how to do it later.’ Opportunity favors the bold.”
AKANKSHA GOEL’S FIVE STEP PLAN TO BEING SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR INDUSTRY
1. OBSERVE Everything you need to know is already out there and never before have we had such easy access to information.
2. PLAN It is important to have a plan, but equally important to know sufficient planning is enough planning.
3. LEAP Innovation is what happens outside of your comfort zone. Take the first step and trust yourr team/agency to be able to learn and improve along the way.
4. IMPROVE Test and iterate constantly. Accept data with an open mind, even if it means going back to the drawing board.
5. REPEAT Innovation is a virtuous circle. You are never finished- you’re just at the start of something else.