Building brands in a digital age

Building brands in a digital age:

This piece is an extract from a conversation with Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Mirum – A WPP group agency. We have added a few pieces from our research and knowledge to make the article more useful.

Brand Building in the Digital Age:

This is Sanjay’s third entrepreneurial journey. The first 10 years were spent in a rather traditional business. Later he started an E-commerce platform for selling ethnic Indian products to a global audience. A lot of efforts were put behind making that platform big and getting the kind of funding that would have really resulted in the platform reaching its true potential. However, despite his best efforts, they missed the bus. As a matter of fact, all the heartache and all the learnings from the university of hard knocks are documented in his book – ‘If I could do it again’. Sanjay exited the venture and he took a full time job. But the entrepreneurial bug, or rather as we call it in Hindi – the ‘keeda’ refused to go. So he started again, his third coming – Social Wavelength – this time as a social media marketing agency. This time, though, they got it right. They were at the right place and at the right time. Social Media was indeed booming. And within a few years itself, Social Wavelength made enough waves to attract the attention of the WPP group. JWT approached Social Wavelength with an invitation to be a part of the group. Sanjay and Hareesh Tibrewala, Sanjay’s partner accepted the offer. Social Wavelength became Mirum, and an exciting journey began. To Sanjay’s credit, rather than losing steam after having sold stake, his fire in the belly only doubled. Mirum grew to 3 times the size of Social Wavelength under the leadership of Sanjay and Hareesh. Sanjay generously credits this success to how the Network has structured the relationship with founders, after they took over their companies. The remuneration structures are structured in such a way that there is still a huge upside for them if they deliver on growth. In addition to this, thanks to the fact that these are global networks, the exposure to Sanjay and Hareesh was immense, and they only capitalized on it to spread their wings.

Sanjay’s journey: Age No Bar. Failure no Bar

Quite counterintuitively, Sanjay debunked the excessive credit given to the digital medium in brand building. He clearly called out that brand building is a process. Brands aren’t built in a day or even months. At the end of the day, there is a funnel that exists for most brands – It begins with salience, building preference, seeking information, making a choice and then fulfilment. The first two, for most of the big brands still happens offline. Attribution is given to digital media because the fulfilment nowadays happens online. But indeed, the preference building in lots of cases happens offline. He gave the example of search – The difference is between searching for bags and searching Samsonite. Branding is everything you do to enter the prospects mind to type ‘Samsonite’ instead of ‘bags’ in the search window. But how do new age brands who are digital first brands build brands in the absence of big television or print ad budgets.  Let’s look at a couple of things here. There are some distinct advantages of digital. Firstly, digital is not a carpet bombing medium. For example, it would have been media planners wet dream to have his television spots delivered to only television sets watched by women between 25 to 29, who are not yet married and who love yoga and wellness and who stay in Mumbai suburbs. This is what digital can do. So a small brand interesting in selling only to the above cohort can easily do so. Take the example of Aishani Chowdhury, all of 16, who started baking professionally (see our story) was able to launch her lil baking enterprise to appeal to baking aficionados, cater to her south Mumbai neighborhood and later expand all over Mumbai through lil to nothing in terms of marketing spends. Great product, an identified niche, some nice pics and a smartly crafted Instagram and Facebook strategy.

Secondly, Digital is a dialogue, unlike conventional media which is a monologue. Your customers can talk back to you. And if you talk back well, a conversation starts triggering off a virtuous cycle. Lastly, Digital is all about community – one happy customer can get 10 more – thanks to his posts, feedbacks, shares etc. This is the viral effect. Smart brands make use of these features of digital. Thanks to this, brand building is possible in the digital age without the big bucks.

But yes, that brings us to the most important question:

Digital Medium gives us a very smart ‘How’ but it doesn’t yet give you the ‘Why’ And to get to that ‘Why’, its going back to classical advertising.

So Mr. Porter, and Mr. Kotler, we still need you. No matter how digitally savvy you are as a brand, you need to identify your niche – who is your customer – why does he need you? (Relevance), How are you different from the competition (differentiation) and how are you uniquely posed to deliver? (Honesty). All the digital first brands which are successful got these basics right. We can challenge anyone to find a successful digital first brand, that’s faltered on these basics. This is a subject that needs a deeper exploration. We will be coming up with a separate blog on Brand Purpose soon. Stay tuned to this space.

So WTF is Agile Marketing?

The term Agile Marketing comes from the software industry, a large project was broken down into smaller and smaller chunks with very frequent checks and controls. The point was to trap errors early, course correct and ensure that the project does not derail too much due to errors. Likewise, Agile marketing is breaking down the marketing budget in smaller parts. The objective remains the same. But instead of betting all your money on a single large idea, one puts the marketing monies on A/B tests where one tries and tests hypothesis on smaller budgets. The idea is the same. Sharpen hypothesis, keep tweaking communication basis analytics and results and keep bettering the ROI on your investments. Agile marketing works best with digital marketing because everything is measurable, thanks to data and analytics.

Marketing Automation: Putting it all together

Our conversation also led us to decode marketing automation. What is marketing automation after all? Marketing Automation addresses a scenario where all the data with regards to your customer is scattered across various touchpoints. Some of it at point of sale, at the website, at your various social media handles, at the customer service kiosk etc. Marketing automation enables you to get a unified view of the customer by bringing together all this data points together. When collectively viewed across all customers, one begins to see cohorts and personas. Each persona has a specific set of behaviors. There can be a finicky mommy persona, there can be the bargain-hunting housewife persona, or the value conscious uncle persona and so on. Marketing campaigns can be different for each of these personas. So what was almost impossible in yesteryears was customized campaigns for so many personas. This is possible in the digital age thanks to marketing automation. Marketing automation also has implications for future careers. So menial tasks will be taken over by AI. Humans will have to focus on creative solutions and softer skills like intuition, which will yet be out of reach for AI for a few years.

Macro-influencers vs Micro-Influencers:

When speaking of influencers, we spoke of 3 types of influencers – Mass Influencers, Domain specific influencers and social influencers. Mass Influencers refer to mega celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan or any of the big Bollywood names or for that matter cricket. They can endorse or try to influence any product purchase and the chances are that it will work. Domain specific influencers refer to influencers for specific domains like automobiles, cosmetics, lifestyle, sports etc. Domain specific influencers work only for those domains. And then there are social influencers who appeal to specific social communities – like someone may be a teenage influencer, or an LGBT influencer or Mommy influencer. Brands can use influencers as per their strategy. Sometimes a brand may use a mass influencer to create the overall impact and the use a combination of domain specific and social influencers at much smaller budgets to spread the message and also for fulfilment.

“Hey Siri, what’s the forecast for the future?” Hmm… I think its voice all the way.

The rise of voice is the most exciting part of the digital business today. Already homes abroad are full of devices which will happily listen to you and do their stuff at your bidding. Alexa, Siri, Google Home et al. Our phones will soon be adept enough to listen to us rather understand us through the keyboard. Majority of tier 2 tour 3 searches on Google today are on voice – far higher than text searches. The best part of the voice journey is that it breaks the literacy barrier. This is very, very exciting for a country like India – for Bharat, where people don’t have to type but can ask for directions in their native language and google maps will happily lead the way. This throws open a massive opportunity for platforms to migrate to voice if not voice first when they are defining their customer experience strategy. I personally have Siri and Alexa in my home and I ‘listen’ to the economist. I don’t read it. I consume the economist on my walks, when I do household chores etc. Hope you are ‘listening’ to this big trend.

Hey Bharat! We are coming.

The big opportunity for India is not in big cities. It’s in the tier 2 and tier 3 cities. That for you, is Bharat. Big cities are saturated. And with digital crossing the language barrier and voice crossing the literacy barrier, the time for Bharat has come.

Full episode here.

– Sangram Surve

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


MSMEs: Surviving, Thriving & Driving the Markets

MSMEs: Surviving, Thriving & Driving the Markets

Many a times we have heard entrepreneurs lament – ‘the government says that MSMEs have been offered loans and support – but I have not got anything.’  Samir Sathe EVP, Wadhwani Foundation Samir spearheads the MSME program at Wadhwani (which has both grant program called Sahayata and a mentoring program – Advantage SME) had a very candid say on this! Any money is not to delay a certain death but to give a renewed lease of life. And the two are very different. The former alludes to the owners, that latter to their entire ecosystem.

The Wadhwani Foundation is a philanthropic organization founded by Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, whose mission it is to “accelerate economic development in India and other emerging economies.” The Wadhwani Foundation principally works through partnerships with like-minded individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments.

Growth is the base survival plan!

Einstein once remarked, so long as you are on the bicycle and pedaling, it will continue to be stable and will move, but the moment you stop pedaling it is a matter of time when it topples over. MSMEs’ need of the hour is not just cash alone but growth. Today SMSEs seemed to be needing money for keeping themselves afloat. This increases a big risk of them getting into a debt trap. Simultaneous shoring up of local demand is equally important. In short, growth is the base survival plan and if the plan is in cutting costs or managing cash alone, then it is a very risky plan.

Disruption needs to be managed across Industry, Firm, Individual

Headwinds for MSMEs need to be managed at three levels and each of the three will need differing interventions. If an entire Industry segment is facing disruption, for example travel or hospitality, or is slowly limping back e.g. cab aggregators or dining, then the problem needs to be solved at the systemic levels. Firms from such specific industries needs to be handled collectively e.g. peer learning sessions across firms at the entire ecosystem level needs to be catalyzed. Learning from each other becomes critical as success elsewhere can and should be rapidly replicated.

If a specific firm has been disrupted, then there could multiple reasons for it – whether it was competitive or not, the behavior of employees within the firm – whether they lacked collaboration or were hoarding critical resources, or they just lacked skills to manage the current crisis.

Many a times it is the individual who needs to ‘unskill’ and reskill and in those cases attitude counts. Focus is to build on very specific roles and skills in the immediate future for the needs of the firm. Hence a 360 view has been adopted by Wadwani Foundation to support the Industry across levels.

Layoffs – good, bad or ugly

Can layoffs be avoided in the short run? The unfortunate answer is, no! In facts layoffs provide managed reset. About 30-40 million people will either get laid off or will have their value that they command, get diluted. To overcome the poor impact of layoffs in the short run 

  • Unskilling and upskilling will be required
  • Survival Anxiety, which we are all going through today, accelerates learning. This thus seems to be the is the best time for employees to learn.
  • This also is a catalyst for people to perform tasks and undertake responsibility beyond their current roles and grades making organizational platform more stable.

The truth is that these are tough times and It is quite fine to focus on those employees who the firms believe are good for their organization and look at a spring cleaning those who don’t make the cut.

Innovation is equally critical.

With shrinking employee base, firms tend to focus on their short term needs and immediate problems. Entrepreneurs need to have a bifocal vision – to look at immediate term for sure, but also set aside a small modicum for innovation or investing in the future. Entrepreneurs sometimes get limited by their view of

  • They know it all.
  • Not asking for help. In-fact asking for help makes them smarter and tougher; it is like playing cricket and in the interdependence of the team mates lies the key to success.

Finally, who will be the winners in MSMEs? Likely those who have already built their trauma centres before this crisis descended. The trauma centre demands quick and clinical decisions. Entrepreneurs treat their businesses as children and hence are less likely to take clinical decisions.  Thus, the centre needs experts surrounding the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs must thus have complementary skills in their teams, they themselves don’t have. For example, most can spot opportunities but may not be adept at spotting risks.

The hungry, inspired, ethical and committed takes it all!

Impromptu creativity within broader economic rules creates winners because responses need to be quick and lie partly in deterministic domain and partly ‘exploristic’ based on gut. Musicians and vocalists do this so often! Entrepreneur usually display growth mindset looking out constantly for silver linings during any crisis situation.

So, who can get help from Samir at Wadhwani Foundation? Entrepreneurs who are 

  • Hungry, inspirational, committed to the process of transformation and ethical.
  • Believe on a 5x or 10x growth (not 10% growth)
  • And never say die!

India does more of such people.

For the full interview, click here..

– Alok Sinha

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.