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  • Research NXT
  • March 12, 2019 07:21:45 AM
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Content marketing continues to have a very impactful influence on the decision to purchase a company’s product or services. Marketers are increasingly using content marketing tactics, along with technology, to better engage with their buyers to educate, update, and guide them. To understand the buzz around the growing popularity of Content Marketing we at Research NXT will be conducting in-depth market research to compile key data points to learn the current state of Content marketing in India. Also, the study will focus on understanding the top content marketing tools in the market and where are the marketers investing for the desired revenue growth.

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Rohit Srivastav on maintaining a delicate balance between marketing science and art for business growth

Rohit Srivastav, the Head of Growth at Netcore Solutions, talks about his observations on the evolution of online-first brands' digital journeys. He also mentions how this pandemic expediated the digital route for brands and the importance of maintaining the delicate balance between marketing science and art. The post Rohit Srivastav on maintaining a delicate balance between marketing science and art for business growth first appeared on Research...

Rohit Srivastav Netcore

In this Research NXT Interview, Rohit Srivastav, the Head of Growth at Netcore Solutions, talks about his observations on the evolution of online-first brands’ digital journeys. He also mentions how this pandemic expediated the digital route for brands and the importance of maintaining the delicate balance between marketing science and art.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • How he had seen personalization capabilities evolve and transformed as of today.
  • How has Netcore been working with its customers to put some light in the darkness during the pandemic?
  • Why marketers have to realize and include even non-transactional aspects back into marketing?

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Rohit.

Research NXT: You have been working with some of the leading solution providers in the Martech space; please share your journey and observations on how technology in marketing has evolved in India.

Rohit: In 2015, I was with WebEngage, and we had a food tech client, which was still a new concept in India. As a digital-first brand, when they launched, they wanted their website visitors to click on the targeted pop-ups, and back then, even targeted pop-ups were a breakthrough product. That means the bar was so low that even bland targeted pop-ups were acceptable. From then to now, i.e., dynamically changing every app screen, I think it has been a crazy journey depending upon how much of a micro-targeting or micro-stitched experience it has become. In perspective, website, app, push notification, email, any of these are; at the end of the day, only mediums and brands have always focused on enhancing the end consumer’s experience with whatever tools or platforms are available. So, the philosophy has not changed since day one, so we keep on hearing personalized experience as a tactic for some time. 

Thus, personalization is more of a journey and not a destination. While the philosophy of enabling personalized experience has been the same, the strategies have taken various shapes, starting from targeted pop-ups to change the app screen and elements on the website dynamically. Hence, this has sort of been the journey for personalization and end-consumer experience for all online-first brands. This digital journey has been at a certain sophistication level only for them. 

Personalization is more of a journey and not a destination. While the philosophy of enabling personalized experience has been the same, the strategies have taken various shapes.

Research NXT: As you mentioned, personalization has been there for a decade, and the definition has kept evolving. Please share some examples of personalization when you started your career and how it has transformed today?

Rohit: Sure. As mentioned earlier, the personalized pop-ups used to appear, and one of the breakthrough features that I saw being built was having dynamic tokens in the messages you show on the website. For example, back in the days, while making a website payment, the user could be shown a pop-up that said that by your IP, we know that you landed here from Mumbai and with this browser, etc. In those times, we could best target the pop-up and the web messages based on that. It then moved into using dynamic tokens into our web pop-ups, sending emails, and now that journey has become such that every click is used to determine the next click. Accordingly, the interface changes based on that previous action/click. That is the level of evolution that happened in the personalization journey from having using individual tokens. 

From personalizing just the name in emails 2013-14 until 2020, it has come a long way where every word in all communications and experiences is tailored only to the intended individual and not just someone like the individual. This kind of segmentation has finally been achieved on a personal level.

Research NXT: This is very true for the online-first companies that started with an e-commerce platform. But what about the traditional companies that now have shifted to the digital business model? Was the journey the same for them?

Rohit: The way I look at traditional companies is that they have survived the test of time because of having strong fundamentals. And while digital might not come naturally to them, but the real deal is, they have always been customer-centric. And that is why they have seen decades of metamorphosis and evolution into what they have become. In the tech revolution, maybe they were not at the forefront. But they saw that change that the consumer’s default place has become online rather than offline. And hence that transformation. They were never opposed or apprehensive about adopting tech. Hence, I think all of the traditional brands, such as the jewelry segment, have started coming online and going the D2C route. All of these old-world brands like Marico or Wagh Bakri tea, founded in 1915 or so, have gone digital and, for example, if you search for buytea.com, it is owned by them. If they have come online and have such a strong supply chain around their brand, I don’t think we can look at or undermine these traditional brands’ digital-first efforts.

The one thing that tied all of the brands together in this crisis situation was the personal empathy and the personal touch they had about understanding the end-user situation.

Research NXT: In the current scenario, and as someone working very closely with these eCommerce brands, what are the top use cases that you’ve observed where personalization has impacted?

 

Rohit: 2020 did not come with a playbook, and it threw all the playbooks brands were using out of the window. I think, in the end, while working with my customer-facing teams at Netcore, I figured that all of these brands are trying to touch the lives of people, at least in a meaningful way. Because when the entire world is going through a pandemic, and everybody is under a crisis, I think empathy becomes the biggest cornerstone of all communication that you can have. If you side-line empathy at any level, it becomes detrimental to any communication that it might have. And that empathy became a pillar to all communication that went out across brands. 

 

I have seen examples of FinTech and finance brands, giving out yoga tips to customers; I have seen digital-first brands offering newspapers to customers. So, they pivoted the entire personalization strategy based on the users rather than just the connection or the transaction they had erstwhile with the brands. For example, if I am a ticketing platform, I know that people are not going out and are not buying tickets, but there has to be a brand connect in an empathetic way. What I can do is maybe I could promote whatever virtual concerts that people are voting for free on YouTube and other streaming platforms for free. Because it’s not about buying the tickets now, it’s about the connection of entertainment with that business. 

 

So they pivoted the branding based on the new world that they were pushed into. And a lot of the brands that I talked to were either capitalizing on the moment so for example; a famous OTT platform went heavy on figuring out what is the point of view and the kind of content that people like and then creating a personalized homepage based on every week’s release. So based on analytics, they planned the weekly releases. This helped in such a crisis scenario, and then they went to personalize their offerings based on that. Different brands had very different approaches because, for some, the pandemic was a situation where their audience was more engaged, and for some, the connect was almost zero. So we served brands on both ends of the spectrum and utilized many strategies, which were very different. But I think the one thing that tied all of them together was the personal empathy and the personal touch they had about understanding the end-user situation. This level of personalization is more important than just using rules and tokens. Tech becomes a medium to achieve it, but I think the overall understanding of the brand and that theme was much more important than how it wasn’t earlier. 

Marketers, in specific, have to realize that everything that is non-transactional and non-scalable as well needs to come back to marketing because marketing is not just science. It’s a mix of art and science.

Research NXT: As a marketing technology provider to all these companies, what has changed for you during the pandemic? Considering how marketing was done before, how has it changed for Netcore now?

Rohit: So, at Netcore, serving the multitude of clients across the spectrum over the years, we had to understand their businesses, and I think there was no other option. There is an entire team that does it, and we have a very talented team of experts on the customer success team who have vertical wise insights. Now, these guys always knew what’s going on and what works in that particular segment. For example, the OTT segment customer success team has worked with the top OTT brands in India. When a new OTT brand is onboarded, the team already has the playbook and knows exactly what is to implement and how to get the results that are the KPIs that we promised through the platform. It becomes a co-dependent relationship, and the brand always looks forward to what Netcore has to suggest in any situation. 

Again as an example, if a brand needs an uplift in retention metrics, they will come to Netcore and talk to their account experts and success managers about how to go about it. The success expert would then come up with a few campaigns, which will be approved by the brand, and we help them execute it. Similarly, when the crisis struck, they were naturally looking at us with a bit of expectation about how we could help them in this scenario because we were the trusted partners for them for so long. However, honestly, for some time, we also had no clue at all. So, we got on calls with all of our large accounts and accounts that were passionately involved with Netcore to understand how we can create a playbook for this particular time. We made notes, videos, created blogs, and finally, based on all the learnings, we released a best practice plan and shared the learning that we bought from different accounts and different brains working for different companies, which is an ideal world would not talk to each other. But we accumulated all those insights and created a playbook for the 2020 crisis. Netcore circulated it to all our customers and prospects, stating that it might assist in their strategy, and it helped put some light in the darkness.

Research NXT: My last question is on your perspective on the future? How do you see marketing is going to change for you and your customers? Though we are all talking about the new normal, I think we’re not sure about what the new normal has for all of us. So what’s your perspective on it?

Rohit: The easy answer to that is talking about the trend stagnation spans will increase, and digital will be the future. However, we all knew that digital would be the future. Maybe 2020 expedited it. I want to have that long term bias because I have no clue about the short term. I cannot create a label for the short term because the world is like changing so fast that I cannot predict what would happen in the next quarter or so. The long-term bias of mine is that marketing is doing a full circle; marketing is coming back. So with digitization taking the control, everything that could have been measured started being measured. That sort of threw everything that is non-scalable or non-measurable out of the window. And, when you throw all of it out of the window, what you are also throwing away are the emotions that the brand sort of invokes in customers. Everything measurable is technically a transaction. And when you have a transactional relationship, it doesn’t matter how much your consumers will remember you in times when they don’t need you. That is what 2020 brought with itself. Consumers now don’t need brands as they are on a bare minimum, in survival mode. The only brands that they still recall are the other ones that they had an emotional connection with. 

Marketers, in specific, have to realize that everything that is non-transactional and non-scalable as well needs to come back to marketing because marketing is not just science. It’s a mix of art and science. And we need to accept this truth and work on it. We need to work our way back into creating that emotional connection, putting the customer in focus, creating brands that people want to associate them with even in crisis times. If this world ever faces this kind of crisis or even if not, this is the long term view of marketing that I have, and it was materialized more by the 2020 crisis.

The post Rohit Srivastav on maintaining a delicate balance between marketing science and art for business growth first appeared on Research NXT.


Kalpit Jain, on embracing contextual engagement and personalization at scale.

Kalpit Jain, the Group CEO of Netcore, talks about how the marketing world has evolved to embrace contextual engagement and personalization significantly. He also mentions how this pandemic made businesses focus on investing in marketing technology tools to create better customer journey programs to retain their consumers. The post Kalpit Jain, on embracing contextual engagement and personalization at scale. first appeared on Research...

Kalpit Jain Netcore

In this Research NXT Interview, Kalpit Jain, the Group CEO of Netcore, talks about how the marketing world has evolved to embrace contextual engagement and personalization significantly. He also mentions how this pandemic made businesses focus on investing in marketing technology tools to create better customer journey programs to retain their consumers.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • How can businesses acquire revenues from their existing set of clients with better communication and engagement?
  • Why has Netcore made significant investments in the AI space and AI-enabling their offerings?
  • How Netcore aids its customers to build a truly unified view of their consumers and leverage them through the platform?

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Kalpit.

Research NXT: I recalled in 2017; we interviewed with you discussing the evolution of marketing automation in India. We are a long way from there, and in 2020, marketing automation is the norm in every organization, and Netcore has been at the forefront of this journey. So, as someone working with some of India’s largest organizations, what are the shifts you have observed? What kind of transformation journey you’ve seen within your customers?

Kalpit: I think since 2017, a lot has changed. Companies earlier were not as focused on customer engagement at an individual level or segment even though they were sending out communications to the consumers. Then with COVID19, companies have started realizing that there’s a lot more they can acquire in terms of revenues from their existing set of clients with better communication and engagement. This pandemic also made businesses slash their advertising budgets and focus on investing in marketing technology tools to create better customer journey programs to retain their consumers. Apart from that, I think businesses now don’t look at individual digital channels or silos anymore. Way back in 2017, businesses might have been looking at different vendors for their marketing requirements. However, businesses now have no issues with a single solution provider that can help them create the customer journey and engagement programs across multiple digital touchpoints and build a unified view of their consumers. With this, data is also getting a lot more important for brands as it helps them power a lot of these engagement programs and connect with every digital interaction of their consumers. Not just the digital interaction, but brands have also started taking count of offline interactions of their consumers and started putting into their customer data platforms to create a unified view of the consumers and create multiple segments, customer journey so that the communication is very contextual and relevant.

That’s all I think I’ve seen change over time. When it comes to contextual engagement, personalization becomes very logical as consumers of these days want brands to engage with them personally. Personalization is becoming a clear need for consumers, which eventually becomes the need for the brand. We’ve seen how the Amazons and Netflix’s of the world operate with personalization, which is the best in class. Brands now have started seeing the role and importance of personalization and helping them create better consumer engagement.

Personalization is becoming a clear need for consumers, which eventually becomes the need for the brand.

Research NXT: Looking at the broad industries that participated with us in this particular initiative, like BFSI, OTT, and D2C eCommerce, we’ve seen certain specific trends. Like traditional organizations getting to digital, and digital-first organizations implementing the best practices you said about Netflix. Are there any trends that you have observed while working very closely with these organizations on the personalization front?

Kalpit: Digital-first businesses would adopt some of these things quickly because all of their consumer data is already available in a digital format. They have the consumers’ digital identity, which could be the mobile number or the email address or the app token. It was very apparent for them to adopt these technologies early in their business and customer life cycle processes. But we are also seeing many traditional businesses are moving very fast after this pandemic situation hit us. Most companies realize that digital is the way ahead, and all the traditional companies are now moving many of their businesses on the digital side. I think they are also equally catching up fast as we have seen many offline retailers coming up with their online digital properties. We want to see how we can leverage whatever data they have from the offline part and use it online. Though they might not have all the consumers’ digital handles, they are still trying to move in the right direction. For example, the retail business collects the consumers’ mobile numbers to engage and interact with the buyers on the digital channels. They might have taken time to adopt digital technologies, but this pandemic has fast-tracked the initiatives.

Research NXT: Yes, maybe in hindsight, the pandemic has expedited the process of companies getting digital. Now, Netcore has made significant investments in the AI space and AI-enabling your offerings. So how are you positioning yourself in the industry? What is Netcore’s current positioning, and what’s the way forward? How do you see Netcore a couple of years down the line? What are the segments you’re playing in, and what kind of new offerings you have for your customers?

Kalpit: At Netcore, we always believe in offering a full-stack to our customers. We’ve always been very good when it comes to the delivery of the communication. Be it how well we can deliver an email, an SMS, or an app notification. Hence, the message’s delivery becomes the most important layer, and we’ve always been very good at it for many years. At the same time, we believe in offering the full stack, as it’s not just the delivery of the communication. It’s about who should be communicated to, what content should be used to communicate, what time is right for the communication, and what channels would work best using the whole automation layer, the segmentation, the customer journey, and all other layers. On top of that, when we look at many machine learning models, the marketer is assisted by the machine to make decisions based on segmentation and behavior. For example, the machine suggests the marketer target a particular audience group on the weekends and another group more through app notifications instead of emails.

It’s about how the intelligence layer is put through machine learning into the AI model. That’s why we at Netcore are investing a lot in the ML and data science initiatives. We also realized that many brands in countries not just like India and Southeast Asia, but also in the US and Europe consider services as very critical. Since marketing tech platforms are quite complex with many features and capabilities, services in developed markets have become very important. So we are offering a solid layer of customer success management team on top of the entire stack for handholding the customers resulting in better product adoption and feature usages.

Further, we identified that while all of these were important, the most critical layer beneath all the layers is the CDP (customer data platform) layer. Customers now want to invest in data from different sources.

Earlier companies used to keep and use only the marketing data. But now marketers realize that consumer data is not restricted to marketing data; there’s a lot of transactional data, social data, and a lot of offline data, which are equally important. So, they are looking at integrating all these data across all of the other properties into a CDP. The trend currently is that our customers want to build a truly unified view of their consumers and want a platform that can help them do that.  Another interesting trend we are also seeing is that companies also realize that not every customer is the same. For example, out of the million subscribers they might have, there are segments of most loyal customers who give them the maximum business. And hence, marketers now want the marketing tech platforms to identify these critical consumer segments and suggest the best engagement tactics based on their behavioral data across touchpoints. Again, it’s in line with the 80%-20% rule, where 20% of your best customer gives you 80% of the business. We also studied with our data and found out that 20% of our top customers give us a 200% profit for enterprises.

So, it’s about how we help enterprises identify the new best customers through the unified view of the data and then create marketing programs, customer engagement programs for those customers to treat and engage them exclusively to give the larger share of profits. Hence, we also came up with this concept of water collars or velvet rope marketing, where we treat your best customers somewhat differently from the rest. We even use these best customers’ digital footprint and leverage it to get the next best customer through best customer data intelligence, run advertising campaigns to showcase success stories, etc. I think this is also becoming an increasingly important aspect because marketers don’t want to spend money on acquiring customers who will not be their best customers.

Hence, I think this whole marriage of marketing tech and advertising tech is now coming up and becoming a reality. Marketers willing to spend money on acquiring new customers wish to spend it optimally to get to the best customers.

The whole marriage of marketing tech and advertising tech is now coming up and becoming a reality, and marketers are willing to spend on acquiring their best customers optimally.

Research NXT: When we last interacted way back in 2017, we spoke about the shift of technology-related marketing budgets from a CIO organization to a CMO organization; India, of course, lagged on that shift compared to other regions. So, what have you observed, considering 2017 to 2020 now? Have those budgets shifted from the CIO organizations to the CMO organization, and is the CMO organization now a well-integrated technology plus marketing organization?

Kalpit: I think the shift has happened in the CMO organization as well as in the CIO organization. At least many traditional companies have started collaborating a lot to ensure that they can implement the right marketing technology tools, which will help the organization become better in their customer engagement and retention programs.

While we’ve seen more collaboration, maybe budgets might not have moved. Because the two teams and the two functional units are collaborating, their budgets are available, and they know where they need to be investing the funds. In many digital-first or app-first companies, I think an interesting function that probably three years back might not have existed as much is called a growth function. These growth and retention heads are becoming a very critical role because, in many cases, they report to the Founder or the COO instead of the CMO.  So this can be an exciting change we’ve seen in the app-first and digital-first organizations, where product and growth teams work very closely to make decisions on platforms like ours. They are calling the shots, and in many cases, this is a new avatar of growth marketer who is making the decisions on marketing technology selection. This role evaluates how a new martech integrates into their app or website and how good the platform would let them know, engage, retain, and make more revenue from existing customers. We’ve also seen some of this happening in traditional companies; however, I think it will take some time to become a formal role. This is an obvious investment since companies are now starting to allocate funds towards marketing tech or customer retention engagement platforms.

Research NXT: The last thing I would like to touch upon was when we spoke earlier; you had a very different schedule. You have your Thane office and Lower Parel office, and you had many meetings across these offices. However, things would have changed; the whole landscape would have changed for everyone. How is Netcore operating now when it comes to operational management? How are you adapting to this whole new normal?

Kalpit: Honestly, when it all started, we were not very confident about how an organization of our size can, with almost 600 plus people, operate remotely. Then we are had our own set of apprehensions when we got into the lockdown. But I think we’ve come a long way, and I think the teams have really evolved and transformed very quickly to manage things remotely. There has been a blessing in some form, given that now we can do more customer meetings across geographies sitting out of where we are. I can speak to all of my customers in Indonesia, Africa, and the US sitting out of India, whereas earlier, I had to fly down to customer locations. I think we were all operating remote, and that’s just the reality today. Still, I think we’ve become a lot more efficient in doing customer interactions using technological tools and engaging with our customers. And at the same time, given that we were in Mumbai, travel used to take much time from for many people. Now we are saving at least two to three hours a day on travel, and the stress related to it,’ it has completely kind of gone away.

We do try to have some work-life balance through a lot of employee engagement sessions and programs. We conduct a fun exercise break week where we refrain from any official communication for a short period, and many interesting things are happening. I think organizations like ours would benefit from working from home, though on the whole in-person meetings allowed us to get to know each other, the customers better.

The post Kalpit Jain, on embracing contextual engagement and personalization at scale. first appeared on Research NXT.


Lloyd Mathias on the positive side of AI and the importance of data privacy

Lloyd talks about his journey as a marketing leader across big-name brands, the significant change MarTech has brought to core marketing why marketers should safeguard and ethically use consumer data. The post Lloyd Mathias on the positive side of AI and the importance of data privacy first appeared on Research...

Llyod Mathias

In this Research NXT Interview, Lloyd Mathias, Angel Investor, Business & Marketing Strategist, talks about his journey as a marketing leader across big-name brands, the significant change MarTech has brought to core marketing why marketers should safeguard and ethically use consumer data. Additionally, he discusses the advent and usage of AI in marketing and how marketers can now tweak every element of communication-based on consumer preferences.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • Significant changes MarTech has brought about in the core marketing practices.
  • Importance of using consumer data ethically and effectively.
  • The disruption that the COVID-19 crisis has brought upon the business ecosystem.

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Lloyd.

Research NXT: We would like to know your journey as a senior marketeer across organizations, including HP, Tata Docomo, Motorola, some of the industry’s leading brands. What has been your journey like a marketeer, and what are your observations concerning how the use of technology has evolved over the years in marketing?

Lloyd: In the past 25 years that I’ve spent on the corporate side of Pepsi, Motorola, and more recently with HP, I think one has seen that the extent of technology usage has grown in leaps and bounds. To give you a sense, in the ’90s when I just started my career, much marketing was about turning out a 30 second TV commercial and then, of course, putting media behind to create large-format ads and billboards, etc. Technology’s role then was very limited. However, now everything has moved to the digital medium, from short commercials to artworks. But more importantly, I think it’s the pace that has changed.

To share a perspective, back in my Pepsi days in the late ’90s, we spent at most on three big campaigns yearly, which included a “big summer campaign” starting March, then the “back to school campaign” in June, July, August, and another one was the “Festival/Diwali campaign.” Fast forward to my last stint at HP recently, where we ended up doing 40 to 60 campaigns in a typical year. This is because the consumer attention span has shrunk; campaigns have become smaller, targeted, and less expensive. Today a video commercial can be accomplished digitally for about 10 to 15 lakhs INR as compared to the big-budget and format campaigns with Bollywood celebrities that were priced at whooping corers price-tags.

To sum it up, the following are my observations:

  • Firstly, the usage of technology in marketing has increased at a faster pace.
  • Secondly, marketers can segregate and segment their audiences in a tighter way enabling them to have a much better sense of your budget utilization.
  • Third, thanks to the wider spread of digital, marketers can now zero in on audience communication almost to a one-on-one level, and therefore, tweaking of marketing communications are more focused. It’s no more a spray and pray approach anymore.

So, I’ve seen a great improvement in technology. Largely for the better, because now you have a much better sense of your budget utilization, you can pretty much track down what how hard your marketing is working in terms of how many customers are being reached, and when it comes to digital you’re able to pinpoint. You know the positive action. Whether it’s the click, or the engagement, or the time spent or whether it’s a customer who’s actually bought from you. You get the entire value chain. So, I think a significant increase and positive and Martech has started dramatically impacting core marketing.

Thanks to the wider spread of digital, marketers can now zero in on audience communication almost to a one-on-one level.

Research NXT: Now, you are an investor, and you have many startups under your portfolio, where you’re working very closely with them on their marketing strategy. What’s your observation concerning the startup ecosystem building in India, and what kind of New Age marketing is used amongst these young organizations? Do you see a difference considering the conventional way how we used to do it, and how startups are now able to have the same level playing field?

Lloyd: Great question. So I would say two things, firstly for startups, given the ticked size, and a lot of them are early-stage companies, I think digital is a lifeline, unlike large companies with deep pockets who can invest in mass media and print. For many startups, digital is the primary marketing medium to reach out to consumers, which makes digital very critical. And that’s where they spend a lot of their marketing budgets.

Secondly, there has been a dramatic evolution in inbound marketing. Until about a decade back, no one had heard off, which is really about how you attract consumers to visit your site, how you might put a lot of interesting articles and links out there. And the moment you see a consumer having some interest, you’re able to zero back to him with more in-depth product information. So, marketers can guide the consumer through the entire purchase cycle. And today, there are in-bound marketing tools like HubSpot or Eloqua available to do it through which you can guide the consumer through the entire purchase funnel, starting with his interest to his attention, and then getting them to interact a little bit more, and then possibly make a direct sales pitch to implement it yourself.

With these aspects, digital has ensured a more democratic level playing field where even a startup can compete with the big corporations because the size of the budget doesn’t matter so much now when it comes to buying a Google search or targeting a consumer on a social media site, etc. The cost of making a lot of creatives, whether it’s a digital, a meme, or a Facebook/Twitter post, isn’t too much. So in that sense, it has made the whole kind of marketing world flat and easier to access.

This is a very positive aspect for the startup ecosystem primarily because consumer attention spans are shrinking, and very often, they say a good brand is based around emotion and telling a story. So I think many marketers today cannot get that consumer time attention and thus cannot build a long story. So to look back at the last two decades, some of the lines that are stayed the longest, like “Yehi hai right choice, baby!” or the “choice of a new generation” by Pepsi, that were used for years and even longer are no more the case now. The typical campaign duration has reduced from a high budget and longer time frames to just a few months.

We, as marketers, need to recognize and realize that there’s a very fine line between targeting a consumer with personalized communication and bothering them to the point consumers drop out of the buying journey.

Research NXT:  You’ve touched upon a critical point on consumer’s attention span. What recommendations would you suggest for brands who are planning or using AI and personalization to throw the right content at the right time? Moreover, how can they personalize their communication with each of their consumers?

Lloyd: For any business leader, understanding and identifying the right consumer and relevance of his product is very important. The moment I know my target audience and I know the relevance of my product, I can target him accurately. However, if I get my audience targeting wrong, and then I use sharp digital tools to direct communication at them, I will irritate the audience who is not my consumer. Or if I’ve got my consumer segmentation right, But if my communication is not relevant to the consumer; Then I’m again going to get a very irritated audience because I’m targeting someone who is not relevant. So, I think the two elements, one is relevance, and the other is the ability to target.

What has happened nowadays is that thanks to AI, marketers can tweak every element of their communication, which means if I’m out to sell you an automobile. If I know that the prospect is an outdoorsy person, follows the English Premier League, we can determine their reading or viewing habits. And with the use of programmatic to buy relevant channels, a marketer can serve the relevant automobile advertisement, depending on their lifestyle and other parameters. This capability ensures that marketers do not make the mistake of serving a consumer looking for a luxury car with some low-end car instead. You are avoiding the wrong communication.

As marketers need to recognize and realize that there’s a very fine line between targeting a consumer with personalized communication and bothering them to drop out of the buying journey. One of the reasons this way of targeting is possible is a shift in media buying, which has moved to programmatic buying. There was a time as a marketer if you were looking for a male audience 31 to 45 age group with higher income. You with a very clear definition of the persona, zeroed in on a city, on a particular media like the economic times or one of the airports’ lounge, etc. With programmatic buying, what’s happening is once you have a consumer profile, you can target and serve ads depending on the best cost. For example, if display ads in an airport lounge are costly, you can alternatively target that same consumer in the stock market website like moneycontrol.com, with a fraction of the budget you would have spent on the airport lounge display. But like I said, relevance is the essence, and I think that’s the part that marketers need to spend a lot of time and attention on.

Research NXT: In one of your articles for Times of India, you mentioned AI, ethical issues, and data usage. Are there new standards that have been followed and AI safe enough for marketers to communicate with their target audiences to be more relevant?

Lloyd: I think the data safety aspect was never doubted, and marketers need not to worry about that. It’s also positive that we, as marketers, are moving towards an interlinked AI world, and this disruption is only accelerating the process. Likewise, every big disruption starts with reluctant change, which ultimately becomes a norm. For example, an extended family Zoom or a Google hangout call now is a norm; digital payments after demonetization in India are also a norm these days. So, the point that I was suggesting in the article is that AI is inevitable and good. Consumers welcome relevant communication and don’t see it as an infringement.

Having said that, there have to be certain norms since this space is evolving very fast. These standards should safeguard a consumer against spamming with irrelevant communication and ensure that consumer privacy is not compromised.

Another example is of the younger generation, who are far less conscious of privacy. They often put out things in the public domain through social media, which are personal. However, as you grow, you recognize that your digital footprint remains and may come back to haunt you. Some of what you have committed to the net could impede your next job interview. So as long as data is collected anonymously and used to target consumers in a general sense, all is well. However, when you link that data back to a person, and if their privacy is being compromised, it’s a serious problem.

So my point is that AI is positive, and there’s no stopping it. It is the future. It’s the direction we all are headed towards, but good norms and standards need to be built and agreed upon. And the same yardstick has to be used all across.

Another big advantage of AI is in medicine: for instance, remote diagnostics is now a reality. Even more important is the realization that a machine can interpret results – whether a CT scan, an X-ray, or a blood report by learning from millions of other reports in a manner that’s far more accurate than an expert physician. So, the world’s best heart specialists in their own life might have watched 60,000 ECG reports, but the machine could learn from 600 million reports. Of course, there is always the human judgment element that cannot be ignored. But the fact is that in areas like this, the role of machine learning can improve outcomes tremendously. The benefit of this is going to be significant.

So my point is that AI is positive and there’s no stopping it. It is the future. It’s the direction that we all are headed towards, but good norms need to be built and agreed upon. And the same yardstick has to be used all across.

Research NXT: That’s a valid point you have there. Our next question is around the current disruption that COVID-19 has practically on all businesses, some on the negative side and some positive. As an investor and a marketer, how do you see this changing the landscape for marketing in the upcoming business world post the COVID-19 era?

Lloyd: Every change presents an opportunity for improvement. In this context, there are two or three broad opportunities in this crisis. They are:

  • Accepting that technology is now an integral part of our lives. And keeping aside the importance of social connections, we all have started to relook at the need to have large physical office spaces. This will also be driven due to the associated need to reduce traffic and fight pollution.
  • The second big disruption is that of the remote working culture, which will be a big fillip to the gig economy. We now realize that many of our teams can work remotely and yet very effective. This realization will safeguard those in the workforce who had to earlier take a gap from office due to their inability to attend office regularly in person. This kind of shift is also possible because there has been a great improvement in data bandwidth and speeds, and video conferencing has become a way of life. 
  • The third and most important thing is more in the context of organizations and startups. The pandemic has reinforced the value of resilience. All of us had business continuity and contingency plans. However, none of us were prepared for what came upon us. So I think the biggest realization we have is the need for resilience to withstand any big disruption across our personal, professional, and social lives.

The post Lloyd Mathias on the positive side of AI and the importance of data privacy first appeared on Research NXT.


TV Naarayan on how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service

TV Naarayan, Head of Marketing, at PayPal India, talks about how the payments space has evolved in India and how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service. The post TV Naarayan on how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service first appeared on Research...

TV Naarayan PayPal (1)

In this Research NXT Interview, TV Naarayan, Head of Marketing, at PayPal India, talks about how the payments space has evolved in India and how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • TV Naarayan’s observations on the evolution of digital payments in India.
  • How Paypal is using AI & Data Science to understand the customer and their life cycle to pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it.
  • How digital Payments have become a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers now.

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with TV Naarayan.

Research NXT: We would like to start this discussion with your journey as a Marketing leader in the BFSI space and observations on how marketing has evolved in this space with the changing and evolving business models.

TV Naarayan: The BFSI space is in a constant state of flux and continues to evolve. In terms of semantics, we’re moving from Financial services to what we call “FinTech”. About 15 years back when digital marketing meant creating banners on websites and (having a decent website meant you were savvy), the standard of good work for most organizations was having the lead collection fields in the banner itself- the standard fields being Name, mobile number, city, etc. From those days, we’ve moved onto Search, Programmatic display campaigns, mass -personalization, and much beyond. Today, marketers are not treated as the guys who do only creative work in the nebulous territory. A marketer drives growth by virtue of the fact that they bring a great understanding of messaging combined with tech to drive productive conversations with customers.

Campaigns are analyzed in so many ways because there’s so much data out there. You can segment customers into multiple buckets and serve your audience with relevant messaging that genuinely benefits them and gives them a personalized experience.

One of the big shifts is the change in the way marketers are taking to technology and data. Right from the ad platforms we use to the central data repository that exists internally, we can pick from models that can project what’s ideally suited for a customer in terms of product/service needs. In that sense, it’s no more a blind push of products, it’s a conversation that’s constantly evolving based on how a customer reacts to a piece of communication. Increasingly marketers are looking to talk the language of “Full stack”, “DSP/DMP” and more and that’s a great place to be in. In what could’ve never been predicted about 15 years back, a marketer is today supposed to understand technology, manage communication & develop a creative strategy. Even within marketing, this is turning out to be an age of specialists. You can’t have a dentist treat someone for eye-related issues. Similarly, conventional brand marketers may not handle say performance marketing. So, as a marketer, its more choices to make but it’s also great from a learning perspective.

It’s heartening to see that the models of doing business are also constantly metamorphosing from competing to partnering. If you look at the new business models, marketers have come to accept revenue sharing to be able to grow mutually, partnering on certain shared goals with players who in the conventional context would be perceived as competition. Today the biggest players in the Fintech space partner with start-ups and early-stage firms to develop solutions that are great for consumers. I’ve always been fascinated at how aggregators and banks work together to drive reach. Similarly, how players in the payments space are able to democratize payments across different sections of society.

The pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service.

Research NXT: PayPal has been in India for over a decade focusing on the consumer segment and the maturing digital payments market, Please some marketing initiatives that worked for you to in a market with massive competition in this space.

TV Naarayan: The truth is that the payments space in India is in the early stages of infancy. And yet, there’s been so much innovation that we’re ahead of payment capabilities than most developed markets. At PayPal, we’ve always believed that the race we’re running is a marathon and not a short sprint. India is such a diverse market that marketing tends to feel like running campaigns across multiple geographies. There are commonalities but also vast differences, the cultural subtext of what works in a state may not work in another one.

If you notice, the consumers in India took to digital payments after demonetization but then cash still reigns supreme. The appreciation that digital payments offers convenience and security was probably lost in the game of discounting the price point of goods or services. So, yes, the consumer market has a lot of players in India which is good as the opportunity is hugely untapped, and more players mean deeper and wider penetration and more innovation.

The pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service- right from ordering groceries to say watching movies on an OTT platform. And this is where I think payments will see a new baseline in terms of growth. The fact that customers in India can buy confidently from the largest and also the smallest merchants from across the globe with PayPal is a testimony to the faith reposed in us. Also, our focus is on offering a safe and seamless payments experience to our consumers. We have a base that’s very loyal to us and they see us as a trusted way to pay across the globe. Our segments start with the young digital natives who pay with PayPal for gaming and ordering food to the ‘silver tech’ generation to whom digital is still new but essential in these days. What’s great is that we see such unique use cases from the working professional who uses PayPal to upskill himself on an Edutech platform to the business segments like SMBs and Freelancers who wish to target audiences in other countries.

At PayPal, our focus is on becoming a Champion for SMBs- helping small businesses and freelancers leverage the global opportunity. It’s a shining example of #support local. Over the years, we’ve literally built the freelancing economy or the Gig economy enabling freelancers to sell their goods and services to a global consumer base.

We see SMBs and mid-sized merchants shifting their focus to a digital-first one and hence thriving even in these very trying times. Very recently, we launched a “Spotlight” campaign” where we’ve showcased and supported SMBs that’ve overcome challenges and built successful businesses even during the pandemic. We’ve been able to create awareness for these businesses and help and inspire other businesses.

To us, it’s not a one size fits all and hence understanding the customer and their life cycle through data is what helps us pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it.

Research NXT:  Considering the scale at which you are operating, I am sure you would be leveraging AI/ML and Data science to optimize your marketing and personalize user experience. Please share some use cases where you have implemented personalization at scale.

TV Naarayan: PayPal has revolutionized the way customers across the globe pay for anything from food to fashion. As we evolve and become more efficient, and artificial intelligence learns to better emulate human intelligence, businesses benefit from the increased process and operational efficiencies. AI and Machine Learning (ML) is being utilized to gauge risk and assess fraud cases. Here, analytical tools are used to collect evidence, and data is analyzed, wherein AI tools learn and map out user behavior and seek patterns that can be used to identify potential fraud attempts. Over time, AI systems can learn and adapt to wean out undiscovered cases and refine fraud and risk detection capabilities to better protect consumers.

In as far as marketing is concerned, we do a lot of tests and learn. Our teams believe in the champion-challenger concept where we put several hypotheses to test and then scale what works best. Right from having separate experiences for prospects and customers, we are able to leverage Machine Learning to be able to show what makes most relevance to them. Another example is how we are able to showcase the right product to the right customer segment depending on their evolution with us. For example, let’s say someone whose hobby is baking cakes may want to test waters. They are most likely to start with PayPal via email payments or PayPal. Me which is a customized link to receive payments. At this stage, they may be new and not an established business in terms of scale. In fact, they may not consider themselves a business. However, as they mature and start seeing the scale, we are able to offer them solutions that will help them grow. To us, it’s not a one size fits all and hence understanding the customer and their life cycle through data is what helps us pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it. The same logic holds true on the retail consumer side as well.

Digital payments are looked at as a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers since it helps conform to the social distancing norms and removes the risk of handling currency.

Research NXT: In times of the COVID-19 crisis and even long after it, do you think digital payments will overtake the most used payment mode, i.e., cash in India? How is Paypal helping the customers and merchants adopt this shift?

TV Naarayan: Covid-19 is what we can call a ‘Black Swan’. The spread of coronavirus has turbocharged the world of digital payments. For merchants, moving online is existential and it is how they will stay in business. So, for all the pain it has caused, I do think that Covid-19 will fundamentally change the way we look at payments. Payments will definitely have a new baseline in terms of growth. In many ways, the earlier generation used to write out cheques or use demand drafts. Today, you ask the millennials what they are and they’ll only get you blank expressions. So, payments is evolving. But it’s not going to be an overnight journey where, once things become normal, people will suddenly stop using cash. That will depend on a lot of factors – data connectivity(which is improving as we speak) in remote places, educating the masses on benefits of digital such as safety & fraud controls, smartphone penetration, the ability for payment companies to manage risk and offer customized experiences, etc. If anything, we’re seeing the older generation ( or Silver tech generation) also take to digital these days. That’s a welcome change.

Digital payments are looked at as a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers since it helps conform to the social distancing norms and removes the risk of handling currency.

At PayPal, we believe in enabling businesses to go online and grow by reaching a diverse set of consumers across the globe. The fact that an SME can take their business global with PayPal is a great validation in itself. What can beat the joy of seeing a young website designer or artist making a sale to someone in the US or UK. That to us is truly #SupportLocal

The post TV Naarayan on how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice to have to an essential service first appeared on Research NXT.


Uber using self-improving AI-based recommendations compounding its ability to predict & empower marketing communications

Sanjay Gupta, Marketing Director, India SA & APAC Rides Brand Marketing, Uber, talks about his journey as a marketing leader across consumer-facing brands, the intersection of the physical and the digital world, and how marketers should leverage AI to ensure its ability to self-correct predictions over time. The post Uber using self-improving AI-based recommendations compounding its ability to predict & empower marketing communications first appeared on Research...

Sanjay Uber

In this Research NXT Interview, Sanjay Gupta, Marketing Director, India SA & APAC Rides Brand Marketing, Uber, talks about his journey as a marketing leader across consumer-facing brands, the intersection of the physical and the digital world, and how marketers should leverage AI to ensure its ability to self-correct predictions over time.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • How Uber is leveraging technology to personalize every rider’s experience at such a large scale.
  • How Uber has continuously updated its app to prioritize user safety makes it more accessible and easier to use.
  • Sanjay’s observations on the state of marketing in the current scenario, and how it would evolve in a post-COVID world

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Sanjay.

Research NXT: You have led marketing in B2B and B2C segment in India and are now are leading marketing for Uber in APAC. Let us start this discussion with your journey as a marketer and your observations on how the marketing technology landscape changed?

Sanjay: First of all, thank you for having me on your AI-led personalization series. About my career, if I were to use the Uber lingo, I would say I have had a 5-star trip. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love. Over the years, following my passion has led me to opportunities that have worked out well.

I started my career with Marico, a well run, innovative consumer goods company in India. Marico gave me a very strong foundation on both the functional aspect of marketing and the core principles of general management. I have had the privilege of working on strong brands like Parachute and Saffola as well. Post that, I went into the eCom sector and moved to Urban Ladder, which revolutionized the way we bought furniture in a very customer-centric manner. It was my first startup experience, and the energy level and passion were infectious. It was also my first exposure to data-driven marketing, where we focused a lot more on insights and how information was synthesized. As you come into the data-driven world, you start looking at personalization, personal storytelling, and how technology enables us to share it with the world. 

So I think that was my first experience with data and it was very enriching.

I then moved to Uber, which has been my most exciting and fulfilling role so far. Like most others at Uber, I am very passionate about our mission, and truly believe that we can reimagine how the world moves for the better. Every day, I get to work on complex problems with the brightest minds, which is very energizing. 

So, it is not only skills, but a majority of it has to do with just being there at the right place at the right time.

Uber is a Phygital business, as we play at the intersection of the physical and the digital world. And in this world, experience trumps advertising.

Research NXT: In your earlier interviews, you had mentioned you want the ride in Uber to be an experience for every rider. With such a large global rider base, are you able to provide that experience consistently? How are you leveraging technology to personalize every rider’s experience on Uber?

Sanjay: Uber is a Phygital business, as we play at the intersection of the physical and the digital world. And in this world, experience trumps advertising. Your own personal experience on the platform has a far greater impact on your perception about the brand and your propensity to use it in the future.  So right from the start, we have strived to deliver a magical experience for both our riders and drivers as we see ourselves as an intersection of the two.  

To bring to life the concept in terms of how it impacts and how technology plays a role, let me take safety as an example. Safety has been the number one priority for us right from the start. At the very core, we believe that technology should enable safer travel. To this effect, we have continuously updated our app to prioritize safety and make the safety features more accessible and easier to use. I would like to mention in particular four different features, two of which are more contextual to the COVID world, and two are our evergreen features:

Mask Verification: We had our existing feature of drivers having to take a selfie and upload in the system to ensure an information match before starting any trip. Now we have modified the feature to ask the drivers to take a selfie with a mask on before initiating any trips. Uber’s new technology will verify if the driver is wearing a mask on all trips. 

Go Online ChecklistsBefore a driver can go online, they will be asked to confirm, via a new Go Online Checklist, that they’ve taken certain safety measures and are wearing a face mask. A similar checklist has been built for riders where, before every trip, they must confirm that they’ve taken precautions such as wearing a face mask and washing or sanitizing their hands.  By doing this over multiple trips, we try and keep the platform safe in the current COVID context. 

Apart from these COVID related features, there are two more features that I like a lot:

GPS-tracked rides from start to finish: This feature, though not very technologically sophisticated, makes the rider feel safe. Through this feature, riders can see their route clearly marked, and view the real-time dynamic location of their car, on the app throughout their journey. So they know exactly whether they are on course, making safety come alive on every trip.

Share your trip feature: This feature allows a user to share their trip with a loved one, and they will know where you are at all times in real-time. 

So, those are just some of the ways we leverage technology to ensure a better, safer, and in-the-moment customer experience for our riders in a very personalized manner, and this has been very critical at Uber.

As a marketer, I define AI as something which can be used more efficiently to make predictions about future outcomes based on past behavior in a way where we are self-correcting or improving all the time, so that we can compound the advantage.

Research NXT:  I see that Uber is testing out the driverless car and many other things from an AI standpoint and an innovation standpoint. What is the progress on that front? I think our audience would be keen to know what’s going on next at Uber?

Sanjay: Uber has been at the forefront in the use of AI with driverless cars. However, it’s safe to say that both as individuals and as professionals, we are in uncharted waters now with the COVID crisis. What we knew about customers and some of the things that we took for granted have changed dramatically. And as custodians of the brand experience of the business, we need to adapt and relearn quickly. As a marketing community for the next three or four months, we need to understand the new normal to win our customer’s minds and hearts. I have three things that we should introduce. They are:

Start with the consumer, and seek to understand what’s changing – What we knew about our consumers’ behavior, their lifestyle and their priorities have changed. The insights and knowledge we gained in the past will need to be reexamined. For us, as marketers, we need to identify our new early adopters and understand from them the new category codes, the new use cases, and new benefits. And reimagine our product portfolios to cater to the evolving new normal. 

Win on the new category driver, i.e., Hygiene Safety. Our consumers have added a new attribute to all categories, its call hygiene safety. For any business with physical interaction with the consumer, hygiene has assumed a new meaning and moved up in the attribute hierarchy. What’s interesting about this new paradigm is that in the absence of clear hygiene markers, consumers are evaluating hygiene based on their own safety standards. The lockdown has made us cognizant that our actions, both responsible and irresponsible, have a material impact on others. This has, in most cases, made us more responsible and thankfully so. As brands, it is imperative for us to assume greater responsibility, to ensure that our standards are high, and we deliver on them consistently. However, the key is to distill what’s really important and not get lost in the myriad of signals that we are receiving.

And the last and most important is to “Lead with actions and not ads.” There will be a premium on #ActsNotAds. It’s time for marketing to be more meaningful. They say leaders are judged in times of crisis, and our consumers will judge us based on what we did and not what we said. It is the time to be meaningful in your actions and thoughtful in your communication. 

What we knew about customers, and some of the things that we took for granted, have changed dramatically after the onset of COVID. And as custodians of the brand experience of the business, we need to adapt and relearn quickly. As a marketing community for the next three or four months, we need to understand the new normal for us to win our customer’s minds and hearts.

Research NXT: What’s your observation of marketing in the current scenario, and how would it evolve in a post-COVID world?

Sanjay: I think a couple of things that won’t change, like:

– Companies and brands that are customer-centric will still do it. And I think companies that promise what they deliver and deliver what they promise will do well. 

– However, what will change is that we will have more opportunities for leveraging tech and insights to create meaningful personal experiences. We have changed markers, in the category, or at the very least the priorities of what’s important to our customers have changed. So if originally, ‘a’ and ‘b’ were more important in a category, today, there’s an attribute ‘c’ that is more important and allows players to win, share or do better. Whoever is more customer-centric and can leverage data and insights in a better manner, has the chance to win that particular category.

– Thirdly, we will need to be very thoughtful in how we communicate. It’s not time to rush for business by leading with discounts and trying to drive usage. People are having a difficult time, and we, as brands, need to be very thoughtful, very empathetic towards what our customers need. Instead of getting the maximum out of customers as brands, we should try and give our customers the maximum. I think of this as a time to invest in that relationship and enable each other to just move forward from this crisis.

The post Uber using self-improving AI-based recommendations compounding its ability to predict & empower marketing communications first appeared on Research NXT.


HDFC Bank’s digital transformation & customer experience journey amid the pandemic

Ravi Santhanam, CMO at HDFC Bank, shares their approach to personalizing the customer experience. He explains what it means for HDFC bank to be contextual and relevant in their customer interactions, and why the use of analytics and machine learning is critical for marketers today. The post HDFC Bank's digital transformation & customer experience journey amid the pandemic first appeared on Research...

Ravi Santhanam - Updated

In this discussion, Ravi Santhanam, Chief Marketing Officer at HDFC Bank shared their approach to personalizing the customer experience, what it means for HDFC bank to be contextual and relevant in their customer interactions, and why the use of analytics and machine learning is critical for marketers today. Ravi also shared important insights into the consumer banking experience and the impact and response to the pandemic.

Revenue marketing is what I look at. I don’t look at marketing for the sake of branding or communication, or the sake of anything else is not acceptable to me.

Research NXT: You have been a senior marketing leader for over two decades. I wanted to start this discussion with your journey as a marketer – what impact have you observed of the changing marketing landscape in the industry?

Ravi Santhanam: I’m an accidental marketer. I was almost seven years in hardcore finance – working for ICICI bank on the tech side and then a UK based Energy Company on the equity side. So, I’m a business guy, and then I moved into telecom to handle multiple business roles, and then moved into marketing pretty late in the day.

Revenue marketing is what I look at. I don’t look at marketing for the sake of branding or communication, or the sake of anything else is not acceptable to me. I have defined marketing in my own language as understanding consumers, creating demand, and generating revenue.

So from that perspective, it’s more about bringing revenue on the table for the company. Obviously, we talk to the consumers, and it’s about how you solve the consumer’s problems. It has to be a win for the customer, it has to be a win for the company, and it has to be a win against the competition, and if you can do that, you’re going to be always on top.

I strongly believe that while we all have a role to play in the function we work, one needs to consider how it impacts the end delivery of a product or a service for the customer? If you understand that and can improve on that, the company does well.

Now the “talking to” had to change to “talking with” the customer – the marketer had control over the brand and could have the narrative in control.

Research NXT: You have worked in two of the most significant consumer-facing industries – telecom and banking. What are your observations when it comes to technology in marketing? What are the best practices and challenges that you have observed?

Ravi Santhanam: When we look at it from a consumer perspective, things have fundamentally changed over time. From an organization’s perspective, you want to reach the consumer. You want to communicate with the customer saying – this is what I have, and this is the problem of yours that I can solve. When television came, everybody said it has all changed, and there were big changes in terms of the one to many communication, and that’s how it was for a long period.

As a brand, I talk to my customers – the operating word is talking to my customers. I will say – this is the product I have, and this is the benefit that you may have. There is always this consumer benefits ladder as marketers where we keep on pushing ourselves in terms of – what is the rational need that we can take care of and the emotional need at the top level that we can fulfill based on what we serve the consumer with. We keep pushing ourselves in that direction.

A brand was invariably built by the company having a thought in its mind and communicating that to the customer and there was an intermediary standing in between. It could be the agency, could be the distributor through which we were communicating with the customer. That was how marketing has happened for a long, long time.

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In my view, it is no longer a choice for marketers – the use of new-age data science and AI/ML technology. This is what customers are looking for. How to use it and what technology is your choice, but if you are not going to use it, I think you are going to be irrelevant.

Research NXT:  Given that there is this massive amount of data and analytics going on, Is there any use  AI-led personalization wherein you’re trying to be contextual and relevant, and could you share some use cases which are AI-driven at your end?

Ravi Santhanam: We believe this is the directional wave, and the second aspect of being relevant is about presence. As marketers, we have always chased customers, and the choice of the media that we have always used to communicate with our customers has been the medium that the customer is actually using. As mediums continue to change – from press to a magazine to television, to social media to the internet – I need to be present in every media where the customer is present.

Presence is also about a soft presence. When you as a customer are thinking about a need, I need to be present wherever you are. So one is an aspect of relevance that I need to be relevant for you. I also need to be wherever you are, and whenever you think you need something.

How do I know where you are and what do you need from our brand?

As a bank, you have a tremendous amount of user-generated data. The first thing is to put it all together and when you put it together, you are in a position to do a lot more effective 1-1 communication – about what is the right thing for the customer to do at any point in time, and what needs to be done next.

When you have to crunch this kind of data, you need to have phenomenal computing power. We need to have human intelligence which is supported by machine language and learning algorithms. How good are you in terms of looking at a certain trend and then predicting that somebody else does it? There is a set of people who might end up doing it and when it comes to natural life, we can very easily segment and predict.

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From a brand perspective, and from a hardcore digital technology perspective, we have effectively used this time to get our models sharpened.

Research NXT: How have you ensured your consumer base was served well during the lockdown phase? As a marketer, what changes have you observed?

Ravi Santhanam: First off, it is the first in our lifetime that you’re seeing a health crisis like this. A health crisis leads to a public policy change. There are the social dynamics which change – social distancing is something that is happening. There are a lot of consumer behavior changes. Some of them are here to say, some of them will increase, some of them will vanish. These things are extremely difficult to predict as we speak. We will learn over a period of time.

One of the things we are very sure is digital will continue to increase its space. The space was anyway growing, and social distancing has pushed people to digital. That is not going to change; I think that we will get pushed further and further. The second thing is that experience is key. If the experience is not being delivered even today, people are not going to like it. They are sitting at home, they have a lot of time, and everybody is looking at the experience which brands are providing.

Now, if you look at those who are actually the winners, they are always the people who have been investing in customer experience. They’re the people who leverage technology to solve the consumer experience problem.

Today, people are very worried about personal safety and family safety. That has also slowly translated into income uncertainty, and this income uncertainty has two angles. People are thinking – first, whether I have the money, and second, how long will it last? People growing their salary or were looking forward to growth in the next three years, and this has put paid to those hopes – it may now happen in five years or ten years. This is creating a lot of worries in the minds of people.

The first thing we decided is there is no rule book. Whenever we encounter any kind of problem, we have always looked back in history. Whether it is your personal experience or the wider industry experiences or even cross-industry experiences, you will not find examples of people who have come out of this situation. So, the first thing we decided amongst ourselves is there is no rule. We told ourselves that we would break conventions and be ready for the new. Anything and everything that we need to do as the marketing organization, we will look at it. I read an interesting thing which somebody said – “Don’t Restart, Start.” Interesting coinage of words, but it is a very powerful coinage of words in our understanding. Restart assumes that I stopped something for a reason, and everything is back to normal. Whereas start means I’m going to look at what is available today, and I want to see if it will work for me or not.

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The post HDFC Bank's digital transformation & customer experience journey amid the pandemic first appeared on Research NXT.


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