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Chapter VI – The Experts Roundtable I Changing Marketing Dynamics

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We heard the Managing Directors, and now it’s time to hear the front line ‘Brand’ Warriors. All marketing leaders are facing challenges in generating demand and keeping the conversations salient. We speak to heads of some of the most influential brands in India today, understanding the challenges they face, how they overcame them, and what have they planned for the future. 

Panelists for The Experts Roundtable Chapter 6

Vivek Srivatsa, Head Marketing, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors
Shreyash Sigtia, Head of Industry, FMCG, Google India
Pallavi Singh, Director, Marketing, BMW India
Siddhant Narayan, Head of Marketing, OnePlus India

Moderator: Ramesh Somani- Chief Editor & Publisher, BBC TopGear India and Exhibit.

[Ramesh Somani]: Pallavi, I have known you from Harley-Davidson, then MG Motor India, and now BMW India. These are the time when we can’t be silent but salient, what’s your marketing strategy going ahead, in these challenging times when both the demand and supply are restricted.

[Pallavi Singh]: I think the times are unprecedented, and they need extraordinary measures of course. Automotive has been very traditional for a long time, and we are trying to upscale the digital transformation. From a strategy point of view, I think the next few months are going to be very critical, we really need to understand how the consumer behavior is changing, we are looking at first-party data, third-party data and really looking at what’s happening on our own platform and tracking how the customer journey is changing.

Digital transformation is going to lead to digital commerce, and that is something we really need to put forward to our stakeholders, our dealer network, and our customers. I think this a time that requires new learning; there is a lot of skill that we require to live in the post-COVID19 reality.

[Ramesh Somani]: Siddhant, you have worked with some of the most prominent brands – Nike, Daniel Wellington, and Jio. So tell us, how does your previous experience merge with your current role with OnePlus?

[Siddhant Narayan]: I consider myself very fortunate to work with very consumer-centric brands, a lot of youth-focused names. From a personal standpoint,

I have to come to realize whether it’s an Indian consumer of a global consumer, the consumer actually has more similarities than differences.

Whichever industry you look at, these young Indian consumers have more similarities than differences. A lot of this starts from consumer insights, and that’s my approach as well – looking for customer needs and answering them with our products and marketing strategies.

[Ramesh Somani]: We know the markets for automobiles are opening up as the relaxations are rolling out, what are your top three priorities from a marketing standpoint? 

[Vivek Srivatsa]: Priorities are pretty straightforward in times like these. The first is to ensure customers feel confident in visiting our showrooms once again, a lot of work is needed and not only from Tata Motors but from the industry as a whole. Second is the overall concept of safety and wellbeing, how this has significantly gone up in the customer’s minds and as an industry we need to talk to them. The third point revolves around the difficult 15-18 months that the automotive industry has been facing, and we need to work together and get the ball rolling at the right speed. 

[Ramesh Somani]: What are the user trends you are seeing during the lockdown Google? 

[Shreyash Sigtia]: To sum it up in a few words, we were going online till February, now we are living online. I’ll give you a very simple example of how the transformation has taken place – my dad now pays his electricity bill online, my wife now buys groceries via apps and my kids go online to get educated. We would have had this panel face-to-face with the audience sitting in front, but here we are doing it virtually with the audience now coming in as viewers. These are some of the most picked up trends in the past few months. The last two and a half months has forced us to learn new skills to be more relevant in the current times. And now that you have forced me to speak about some really big trends, there are a couple of interesting commonly searched things. People are now looking up groceries near them, and I’ll give one thing from the automotive industry –

people now want to know if it is safe to visit dealers and they are looking up ways on how to sanitize their cars. People will use their mobile phones for a lot more things, and smartphones will become their lifeline in the coming post-COVID-19 era.

[Ramesh Somani]: What’s your source of marketing ideas? Any books, website how do you come up with marketing ideas?

[Pallavi Singh]: One thing that I go back to is 9GAG, and secondly, I have started playing a lot of video games because there is a lot you learn when you look at Call of Duty or you look at Far Cry – how intense these games are but it’s a team’s work together. If you collaborate your spirit, you can implement any idea, especially in times like these when ideas aren’t all that different, they are generally the same ideas but how do you reinvent the idea, how you can communicate them with your customers, those are the most important things. I think it’s all about the team spirit. The idea can be great but if you don’t have a team that can work it through, then it can fall flat. Also, I read a lot of books by Malcolm Gladwell, he writes a lot about business strategies and ways to approach markets. 

[Siddhant Narayan]: I consider myself very fortunate to be working with a young, energetic, and tech-oriented team who are always high on energy, extremely passionate, and very committed. A lot of my ideas are actually my teams and a lot of credit goes to them. I’m also in constant touch with my professors and my ex-bosses and we discuss ideas and market trends. Also, since OnePlus is a community first brand and we have a lot of discussions going on our forums, I just stay in constant touch with the conversations there and bring up ideas from these forums to work with.

[Vivek Srivatsa]: As marketers and people on the commercial side of the business, we have been through a range of books that teach us a few tricks but today there is so much happening around in the world, I consider myself fortunate to live in this world where information is freely available, and the way I approach is to train my mind better to learn from what’s happening around us. This kind of learning probably doesn’t come from books, but we should probably train ourselves on how to take these learnings from things happening around us.

[Shreyash Sigtia]: I would really want to agree with Siddhant, a lot of ideas and creativity comes from the team. Especially in the COVID-19 times, people really come up with ideas that would be otherwise considered wacky but they make so much sense in today’s era. A lot of ideas also come when you sit with your partners and brainstorm for ideas to tackle the challenges that they are facing. My bias would be towards actions, a few months down the lie

I don’t want to be thinking I had this idea but I never got around to try it. I would rather try a lot more things to move the needle. 

[Ramesh Somani]: How effective is “Influencer Marketing” in terms of promoting luxury brands digitally? 

[Pallavi Singh]: BMW is an experiential brand, a lot of our customers can vouch for that and we design and engineer our cars very thoroughly. A lot of our influencer strategy is built on real people, people who use our cars whether they are celebrity chefs or lifestyle influencers in the fashion space. We work with them because they truly understand the brand, and they personify the brand because they are also using them. Some of them have helped us sell cars within their circles, and that is the kind of relationship we build with our fans – we call them brand fans and they are not really influencers they are fans of the brand.

[Ramesh Somani]: We saw a few influencers being associated with the launch of the Tata Altroz. How was the engagement like, were there any lessons learned that you would want to share with us?

[Vivek Srivatsa]: The way we approached the influencer engagement with the Tata Altroz was quite different from what we would have done a year or two back. We have to extremely clear with what we require from the influencers, and we need to cater and align our content to what the influencer does, what’s the audience he or she caters to. Today we are far more nuanced in the way we approach influencer marketing, we align our products or an aspect of our product with that kind of creator or audience and that really helped us. It also helps us dive deeper into our product proposition and it’s been a very fascinating journey so far. 

[Ramesh Somani]: Domin8 has been seeing really good traction, how has been the campaign response?

[Siddhant Narayan]: We are still very fresh from the event that happened on the second. Summer is India is synonymous with cricket, this is the time when consumers are used to turning on their devices and watching the biggest premier leagues. A lot of these top cricketers also play computer games in their off-pitch time and while brainstorming with the team, the idea came up. It was actually something that we took a very big risk on, and as far as the measurement of all of this is concerned, we have got an incredible PR coverage around it. We also got a lot of organic engagement and coverage because something like this was never done before. 

LIVE AUDIENCE POLL:  – Will you go back to buying and reading print magazines?

RESULTS :   57 percent say yes, touch, and feel matters. 35 percent do it with e-mags and 8 percent are yet to decide.   

[Ramesh Somani]: In this new normal, digital marketing has taken the front seat. How will events change shape the future?

[Pallavi Singh]: Well most recently it was Rihanna who did the live concert during the lockdown time, I think there has to be a hybrid model between online and offline. Traditional events like music concerts or even with automobiles where people come to look and feel the automobiles and hear it go for the first time – it’s always been about the physical touch but moving forward things will change. Hybrid models haven’t entirely been innovated in the COVID-19 scenario, they existed before as well. We will have to bring out more ideas and opportunities on the table, try combinations, and focus on technology integrations.

It’s too early to say how events will look like in the future, but we sure have seen virtual launches by various manufacturers using AR in the most recent times.

[Ramesh Somani]: Now local brands are being pushed to help recover the economy and many campaigns have been launched by the government. Do you have any marketing strategies aligned in line with this new #Vocalforlocal

[Vivek Srivatsa]: One point in that is that we don’t have to look for a slogan, it’s smartly ready. But I think as Tata Motors we don’t have to stress more on our local parts. As a brand, we are as Indian as it gets, and the community-building activities that we conduct need no introduction.

We do not wish to piggyback this slogan, we don’t want to push our cars to people because they are local. We want people to come to our showrooms or experience our cars from their homes and then want to buy them.

Our brand has the safest range of mass-marketed cars, and as a cost to features and value for money ration, we sit in a sweet spot. It’s a good sentiment that people have currently, but we do not plan on riding our products on those waves.

[Ramesh Somani]: Tata Motors was one of the biggest sponsors for IPL, with such a big percentage of your marketing budget parked towards it. Since the cricket league has been canceled for now, where else are you going to try and advertise your brand?

[Vivek Srivatsa]: I think IPL will probably happen later towards the year, but generally speaking in terms of the marketing budget, companies have shifted their focus on the digital space. That’s where customers are going, and that’s where the business lies. There are endless opportunities and possibilities in digital ways. Many companies have already broken the line of doing conferences online, rather than spending on those huge travel expenses which ultimately reduce the global carbon footprint. Opportunities are immense, and I am really excited about the times ahead as they are as challenging as ever.

Because of time Constraint – We could only take one Question from 565 Live Attendees :

Esha Mishra from MG Motor India  & her question When the COVID-19 curve flattens, do you think the current marketing challenges will stay or completely fade away?

[Pallavi Singh]: The challenges will be there, digital transformation has to kick in really quickly. There were will huge challenges because there will be new skills and talent required to push the digital transformation. It is important to get the right people and work with them.

But one question to ask – who is it that bought the digital transformation to the industry –was it the CEO, the CTO or the COVID-19.

We really need to understand what a consumer wants, and not what the brand wants. It will be challenging, marketing will have to reinvent itself and it’s going to be a roller coaster ride ahead.

[Ramesh Somani]: That’s right, this is a one in a hundred-year phenomenon and while the challenges are difficult, they are also very exciting. Let’s try and work towards our goals better by reinventing each of our brands while riding the digital transformation wave. Thank you for your wonderful insights! I’m looking forward to seeing you soon, take care of yourself & Stay Safe everyone.

Also Read:
The Experts Roundtable – Chapter 5 with Gary Shapiro, CEO – Consumer Technology Association [CES]

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