AVP - Digital and Direct Marketing
You did Mechanical Engineering and got placed at Convonix. Were you happy to get placed in a digital marketing agency or you wanted to explore the mechanical engineering field?
To be honest I was overjoyed that Convonix happened to me. At that stage in my life, I could not ask for anything better. I always felt that I had a flair for marketing but did not know what digital marketing was at that time. Getting placed at the largest digital marketing agency in India at that time was a real blessing and I never felt that I would miss out on exploring anything because the role offered was to manage digital marketing strategy and execution for a variety of international and domestic businesses.
You have worked with a lot of brands as a digital marketing consultant. What were the challenges you faced as a digital marketing consultant and how did you overcome them?
The number one challenge that you face as an external consultant is that people often are not in favour of a change. While an external consultant can help you with better perspectives, but those perspectives need to translate into new processes for a long term sustainable positive impact for an organisation. The moment you are able to convey the impact of change into qualitative/quantitative benefits, you start overcoming the above challenge.
Your LinkedIn says that you have worked with NPCI too. How difficult or different it is to work with a government body? What were your key takeaways from this project?
With larger organisations (government or private), marketing is often looked at as an expense rather than a revenue driver. Also, you are constantly challenging the notion that Indians still prefer to be communicated via traditional marketing vehicles and that digital is just for the younger generation. Having said this, if you are able to bring the measurability of digital and marry the same with business growth KPIs large organizations are willing to invest in a long term digital strategy. With larger organizations, you got to make them realize that it’s easy to make noise on digital but doing it with relevance just increases the magnitude of that voice.
You implemented a content marketing strategy at Care24 and your strategy reduced the bounce rate by 50% and helped a lot in the SEO. Would you like to share a generalized version of your strategy which can be applied to any business?
I think I have said this time and again over the last three years. Content marketing is a new form of SEO. And what I mean by content marketing is not just writing content that your target audience is looking for in your domain. Of course, that is important. However, it is equally important to optimize the user experience. Getting people to your website is just 50 percent of the problem solved. Getting them to engage and move across the buying funnel is the other 50 percent. The moment you start optimizing for user experience, you will start influencing metrics like bounce rate, click to lead conversion rate, etc. I am also a firm believer in optimizing key sections of your website based on content that people in different stages of the buying cycle would want to consume. For instance, you would want to optimize blog content for people who are in the awareness stage of their buying cycle while your product pages should ideally be optimized for people in the preference/consideration stage.
What according to you is the future of digital marketing in India?
Three things in my opinion that will define the courses of digital marketing in this decade: 1) Use of 2nd party data to better optimize all your paid media campaigns and reduce cost of acquiring customers. 2) Consumption of content in vernacular language and different formats – text, video, and voice. 3) Increase the allocation of branding budgets to digital as measurability becomes stronger.
How has digital marketing helped in direct marketing activities?
For a successful business, direct and digital marketing need to go hand in hand. Take the example of you requesting more information for a life insurance policy. While it is fair to say that digital marketing contributed to you coming on a landing page and expressing interest that you want to buy life insurance, however you rarely make the purchase decision then and there. In order for you to convert from a prospect to a customer, direct marketing (email marketing in this case) needs to play an essential role in nurturing you. In a nutshell, use digital marketing for acquisition but use direct marketing for retention.
Rohit, how can one begin his/her journey as a digital marketing consultant?
By remembering that irrespective of your job role, you are always a digital marketing consultant because you bring in a perspective which most organisations in India lack even today. It doesn’t matter whether you start from an agency, brand marketing role, or with an ad platform, always keep an eye out on how you can bring about positive change and you will start on a journey of being called a digital marketing consultant/go-to-guy/expert.
You would be using a lot of tools for digital marketing. What are your favorite 3 digital marketing tools?
I do use some growth hacking tools. My top three picks: 1. Phantom Buster 2. Audience Insights 3. SimilarWeb
Rohit, I know that you read a lot. What books would you like to recommend?
My top three business picks: 1) Hooked: Creating Habit-Forming Products 2) Marketing Unplugged: Spotting the Elephants in the Room 3) Stories at Work
What skills do you look in a candidate while hiring for any digital marketing role?
The only skills I look for: 1. Demonstrated success 2. Research orientation 3. Attention to Detail 4. Ability to challenge norms using data
On a lighter note, what does Rohit Onkar do in his free time?
Answered on a lighter note, things change after marriage – I spend time with my Wife.
Your tagline is “Helping Businesses Scale using the power of Digital”. 3 secret tips that can be used by any business to scale easily.
1) Define your goals and keep them measurable. 2) Be open to experimentation. 3) Don’t do too many things too quickly, stick to what works, and discover other digital platforms that work.
Would you like to nominate 3 relevant industry experts/leaders for Expert Speaks?
Yes. Speak to Pranav Parekh, Suman Srivastava and Isaac Jacob.
What message would you like to give to the readers?
1) Avoid reading too little or too much – it’s important to implement more than just accumulating knowledge. 2) Nothing comes easy – while growth hacks are good, look for things that are long-term and scalable. Think big, think processes but don’t lose the innovation touch. 3) Stay away from clickbait content that promises you exponential growth in a very short time. Stay ethical, success will follow.
According to you which are the companies that have done path-breaking stuff in the digital industry in the last few years?
I believe that companies that do path-breaking stuff stay humble and don’t go after trying to win every second digital marketing award. It’s also important to understand that a digital strategy is only path-breaking if it influences an end business metric and is sustainable. In the last few years, 3 brands have caught my attention: 1) Amul: Every so-called “social media expert” will tell you that social media should be used as an engagement tool and not as a tool to talk about your product. It’s ironic however that their own brand tries so hard to sell to people on social platforms. Amul is one of the few Indian brands that has understood social media and uses it to truly engage existing and new customers. Take a look at their Facebook Page to understand why I feel that they have done path-breaking stuff 2) Reward Me: Seldom do you see an Indian company get content marketing right. P&G has created a portal that not only attracts a lot of traffic but what’s interesting to note is that the majority of their traffic is from organic search. It’s great to see this portal rank for “how to” keywords – “how to remove tan” and competitive keywords like “dandruff home remedies”. Now that’s how your growth hacks free traffic! 3) GoDaddy: Most Indian brands don’t understand that paid marketing is a double-edged sword. I meet a lot of CMOs who often tell me that their teams are doing a stellar job with their paid marketing campaigns. I hear stuff like – “Re-marketing works fantastically well for my brand”, “Xyz DSP has reduced my CPA by 50%”. However they fail to realize that the majority of these campaigns end up targeting people who are already at the bottom of the funnel – they have spent enough time on your website and have recently visited your website. A high percentage of such users will come back and purchase from you irrespective of what you do or do not do. It’s pointless spending your advertising money on them. What does work, however, is personalization. GoDaddy has been doing a stellar job in re-marketing to users based on the user’s exact search term on their website. If you are looking for a domain and it’s available and you don’t end up buying it, GoDaddy will smartly re-market to you with an ad copy containing your domain name. Now that’s the sort of re-marketing that works – personalization ahead of cash burn!
Where do you see the Indian social media marketing industry as compared to its global counterparts?
It’s definitely more exciting. I see a huge opportunity for social networks that are designed specifically for a linguistic group. I think over the last 10 odd years we have only seen social media from an English speaking audience perspective. The next 10 years will see more focus on overall inclusion. Globally companies use consumer data in a much better manner to attribute an increase in sales from social networks. With social networks knowing so much about an individual, I see Indian companies using big data in a much better manner in the years to come.
“Content is King” This is the most cliché line in the marketing world. What are your thoughts on that?
Though the line is clichéd, there is a lot of truth in it. However content without data is nothing. If the content is King then data is the Queen. You need to look at data to understand what kind of content works and be prepared for surprises.
Do you see voice search assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant overtaking traditional search by the end of the decade? How will the industry cope with these changes?
Not by the end of this decade at least. Voice still has a long way to go in the Indian context. There is a need for products that understand different dialects, vernacular words, and emotions. As far as the industry is concerned, whenever the shift happens to voice, you will see a lot more focus on brands trying to grab the user’s attention for long-tail search queries.
What would you advise to the young minds aspiring for a career in Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is the only field where irrespective of the number of years of experience, you can go up to anybody, at any level, and challenge them with data. Over the years, I have realized that in order to be successful in digital marketing, you need three qualities: 1) Ability to research, research, and research. 2) Ability to admit that YOU are not the consumer – allow data to remove your biases. 3) Ability to share what you know – never hold back information.
How has the digital marketing industry evolved in the last 5 years (in India)?
A lot. For early-stage businesses (less than 10 years in existence), digital marketing is now the primary source of generating leads, sales and spreading awareness.
What has been the game-changing aspect that worked in the evolution of this industry?
Two aspects have significantly contributed to the evolution of the industry in the last 5 years. The first one is digital advertising platforms using machine learning and AI to help brands meet their objectives. Automated bid types is an example of this being done extremely well. Secondly, the emergence of newer platforms like TikTok and Telegram which can be used by almost anyone looking to reach out to a new set of audiences.
What digital marketing trends were pretty much successful last decade but would fade away this decade?
One very significant change that will happen in this decade is the shift from third-party cookies to first-party data. For most advertisers, who do not have significant first-party data, this would mean two things: 1) They harness the power of contextual advertising. 2) They get into 2nd party data partnerships to have access to quality data.
What new trends could rule the digital marketing industry this decade?
I strongly believe that voice will become an integral component of how we interact with digital platforms in this decade. I also want to see more regional focussed content as more and more first-time internet users start embracing digital platforms.
With the emergence of influencers on various social media platforms, how has the relevance of digital marketing changed in 2019?
To be honest, the influencer marketing space has become too cluttered. While influencer marketing has seen a shift from traditional influencer marketing to micro-influencer marketing, I think the area to focus on instead is strong customer and employee advocacy – these two categories should be your influencers.
Google has been prioritizing rich ‘visual search’ snippets across all their platforms and devices. How is that affecting the digital marketing efforts and how should that be used in a beneficial way?
Google has been doing this for quite some time now. Fundamentally, nothing has changed. Content is still king – in all formats.
With brands becoming more conscious about enhancing user experience, how does the role of digital marketing become all more crucial for a brand?
With most brands becoming digital-first in their revenue generation activities, it is imperative for digital marketing professionals to focus on User Experience (UX). A lot of digital assets today are not designed for “Bharat”. It is not just about translating content from English to Hindi. The entire UX needs a lot more for a “Bharat first” digital brand to succeed in digital.
How should an organization go about deciding the ideal budget for its digital marketing purposes?
An organization should always look at customer lifetime value to decide which digital platforms to put money on. Have strict OKRs (objective & key results) in place in terms of CPL (cost per lead), CAC (customer acquisition cost), Conversion Percentages, and ATVs (average transaction values). Feeding this data back into your advertising campaigns to decide the ideal CPM is the Holy Grail for budget allocation.
If you have to explain the importance of Digital Marketing to an organization which is unsure about investing in it, how would you do that?
Any digital marketing activity today influences your top-line revenue growth. How much ever the digital marketing fraternity talks about the sheer opportunity of reaching millions of people over the internet, a business that does not understand the power of digital will only realize it if you can translate all fancy digital marketing metrics into actual business metrics.
If someone wants to make a career in digital marketing, is this an ideal time to do so? Why?
It’s always an ideal time to pursue anything, provided you are passionate about it. Having said that, the opportunity in digital marketing is greater in the top and middle of an organization pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is seeing a reduction in the talent demand and supply gap.
How should someone start making a career in digital marketing? What would be your advice to them?
Get an internship. Get trained. Get a job (even in the broader marketing function) and start moving up the ladder. As you climb the corporate ladder, you will start realizing the dearth of digital talent (and the need for it) existing across most industries, if not all.
What skills should an advertising professional possess?
How was your experience with your first job?
What motivated you to choose this career?
What was the most challenging moment in your career?
How do you see your job evolving in the future?
What are the 3 things every successful advertising-professionals must-have?
Do you think a creative campaign overshadows the advertised product or adds value to it?
What is the best way to get into the profession of advertising?
How does an advertising professional learn the art of media planning?
What do you do if an ad campaign is unsuccessful?
How do you measure the effectiveness of an advertising campaign?
Can you tell us the key to building a creative strategy?
How do you handle dissatisfied clients?
How has your job evolved over the years?