BankBazaar’s Chief Marketing Officer Aparna Mahesh was recently in conversation with The Hindu Business Line to talk about the recent shift in the narrative of marketing and how brands are coping with it.
As someone who started her career in marketing in the pre-millennial era, and now having seen a couple of generations, the differences are very stark and very interesting as well.
If you look at how things were a decade ago and how they are today, you will see that the narrative is moving from the hands of the marketers to the consumers. A lot of marketers are grappling with the fact that they no longer control the narrative and it is in their interests to just participate and be part of the conversations. This is the biggest shift that has happened.
Millennials and GenZ are demanding and quite unforgiving. They keep you guessing whether you’ve got it right all the time. This is another big challenge for marketers. You never know if something has worked or not because there is continuous feedback from that audience and you need to keep adjusting. The pace is another by-product of the way these generations work. Given where we are today, the sheer pace at which marketers keep turning things around, the need to constantly have their ears to the ground and react is a huge change as well.
What are the best ways to connect with and sell to this audience?
These generations are very demanding and unforgiving. Interestingly, they also hold brands to very high standards. This is causing a lot of brands to re-think their brand values and think beyond just the product or the proposition to analyse the values they are communicating. The rest of it, of course, is hygiene: superlative customer experience, the quality of service and the consistency in messaging. If you don’t get there, you’ve pretty much lost this audience. All of these become part of the package. But above all, the core is ultimately the brand values: what the brand stands for and whether or not that generation identifies with it. That is where it all starts.
What are the specific technologies that have driven these changes?
Obviously, it is the internet and mobile in a way, but in the last few years, Jio has just suddenly opened up the floodgates. The amount of data consumption that is happening and the kind of statistics that one sees on mobile internet data is just mind-blowing. A lot of this is due to Jio.
What do you need to win in the marketplace – better technology or better ideas?
It is the recipe that wins. Everything needs to come together – the idea, the platform and the execution – if it is to make an impression at all. Nevertheless, a unique distinct idea is very important. That is the starting point. How you deliver this idea is also equally important given that consumers are very demanding today. Ultimately, the idea and the execution have to come together to deliver an impact.
a) My top three marketing buzzwords
Conversations, data & intelligence and vernacular
b) Three concepts I believe define a hot brand
One that is interesting, one that is consistent and one that offers superlative experience.
c) A powerful ad campaign I liked
Amazon Alexa’s ‘Laila main Laila’ and #FlauntYourFlaw by Titan
d) One strategic change we plan to execute by 2020
Invest heavily on vernacular content because that is where the next wave is. Also, get heavily into video because as you get ready for the GenZ, that is pretty much where the entire focus is going to be.
What makes customer experiences the differentiator of the future?
Again, this goes back to the audience. What used to work well for marketers earlier, which was a push strategy, no longer works. When you are talking about predominantly pull strategies, customer services are at the heart of that. The kind of word-of-mouth that goes around, the kind of experiences that they have got from your brands, whether they are willing to talk about it, whether they are willing to become advocates for your brand, all these factors become super-critical to achieving success with this audience.
How do you bridge the gap between expectation and experience?
We constantly need to have an ear to the ground because we are faced with a rapidly changing generation. What may have been true of this generation a year ago is probably challenged today. That is the nature of the beast. As marketers, it is very critical to have a constant ear to the ground because things are changing by the minute. It is amazing how companies are still grappling with it even today. Break down any silos that exist within companies to share the kind of data that you are getting. Constantly re-valuate your own offerings to the audience in light of the data that you are picking up from the ground and keep doing it all over again. So, it is about going back to the drawing board every single day based on what you are learning and re-purposing what you have for this audience.
What does it take for brands to stay competitive in today’s dynamic economy and market?
This is something that everyone is grappling with. One, always keep the customer at the heart of everything that you do. Make sure that they find a very strong connect with what you stand for. Again, and again, it comes back to the brand values. What does the brand stand for? Are the consumers relating to that? Are they appreciating that?
The foundation of success for strong brands would be somewhere in that realm. Then you add on everything else to it to build the edifice.
What are the three secrets to successful branding?
At the end of the day, it is all about great storytelling. The first is about how strong your plot is, which comes back to the brand value. The second is how consistently and interestingly you deliver on that plot. The third is the media. How are you reaching out to them? How are you putting your story out there? That is very critical as well. Ultimately, it is a combination of these three.
Can a one-size-fits-all approach work in a differentiated market such as India?
Yes and no. India is extremely diverse, but it is also surprisingly homogeneous when it comes to certain aspects like the online behaviour or our need to get the best deal. These are a part of the Indian DNA and these traits cut across regions and States. Likewise, there are certain ideas that can give you great scale and still have an appeal to a very large population base.
Why and how should brands think local?
Localisation is all about appealing to the local culture and ethos. There is nothing more alien than suddenly seeing a Sardarji speaking in badly dubbed Tamil. It doesn’t tug at the heartstrings of those who are seeing it. Since the core idea that drives brands and marketers is that they want to make the connection with people living in a particular locality, it has to be much more than taking an idea and dubbing it. There you need to appeal to the sensibilities of different regions, beliefs and ethos.
How does your brand approach the southern market when it comes to branding and consumer engagement?
Our target audience is the millennial, urban customer who is very comfortable looking for a personal finance product on the internet. So, we don’t see too much of a difference particularly between the South and the North. However, one important thing that we have started doing already and would be doing a lot more in the coming year is creating a lot of vernacular content for the West and South markets.
Content has different roles to play in different industries and so does vernacular. When you look at Fintech, the biggest play is in the information gathering stage where the people are doing their research. There are a lot of questions that the customers have, a lot of uncertainties in their mind. We are working on developing video content, especially in the southern languages, to help the audiences in these markets arrive at the right decision based on the correct information.
What is unique about the South Indian market? Do you see any difference in consumer behaviour from the North in your category?
When we completed 10 years in July, we did the first edition of a study, the BankBazaar Aspiration Index, and what we saw is that, behaviourally, there might not only be differences but when it comes to things like aspirations and ambitions, in some ways the southern markets are ahead. Chennai was right on top of the chart when it came to the aspiration index. But at the same time, when it came to the smaller towns, you saw that Lucknow was leading the pack with the non-metros. So, to that extent, I might say that the opportunities and levels of education seem to be slightly higher in the South, and so they lead slightly when it comes to their aspirations as well as the belief in their ability to realise those aspirations. But otherwise, when it comes to internet behaviour, we are seeing the same kind of traits across the millennial urban audience.
This article was first published in The Hindu Business Line