Dhiraj Soni is a Business Marketing professional with 26 yrs of experience with Japanese, European & American multinationals in Consumer Electronics, Telecom & IT sectors. Dhiraj had assignments in Category Management with P&L accountability, Business Strategy & Planning, Marketing, Brand & Campaign Management, Digital led integrated Marketing communications, and Retail Marketing.
Excerpt From The Vision Board Interview With Mr. Dhiraj Soni.
So, my first question is that you know, you work with different segments, brands like Sony, Sony Ericsson, HP, now Logitech. So, you have seen that you know how marketing domain has evolved over a period of time and especially in the current situation you know that when everything is going digital. So how you know, what's your experience, what are the key areas those transformation is happening?
So, traditionally till a few years back itself a typical consumer marketing -plan entailed a Tvc, Print, Radio and an out of form to sustain visibility and similarly a customer marketing plan for an enterprise or an Smb campaign would revolve around presence in business magazines, events, seminars, road shows and the primary assumption for all this was that the customer journey is linear, that he or she actually moves from awareness to consideration to preference and eventually purchase in a linear manner. With the advent of digital and especially in this pandemic period of about a year and a half, digital is no longer an add-on for a very long time and in this one and a half years it has actually become the lead media. So the adoption of digital as a media has further accelerated many faults in the last one and a half years. The other thing which is there is that most often earlier brands used to talk to their consumers and customers, so it was brand talking their value proposition whether it is in terms of communication or the product offerings. While today it is actually consumers and customers speaking about the brands they use, they admire and they want to be seen and that actually becoming a part of what the brands are amplifying in their communications. So, what we put across as influencer marketing is actually gaining even further attraction because of the authenticity and credibility that it brings to the table and thirdly i would say it is no longer about that traditional way of looking off above the line, below the line, online, offline or road shows, events and seminars. It is actually become omni channel and Omni presence. See a lot of times we randomly talk in the context of saying always on marketing and the way i look at it is it’s always on marketing because there is an always-on customer. See with the advent of digital and social media you and me as consumers and customers can access information anytime anywhere & with Etail and E-com, both from brand and E-com marketplace perspective enabling you to transact at any time. It is actually an always on customer which is making the marketers look at opportunities which allow them to be always on. Typically, the communication excites us or conversation excites us and we look at looking for the brand or the solution and that is where uh performance marketing where search comes into play allows us to actually move the needle from discovering about searching for the product discovering knowing more and then eventually making purchase so i think these are three fundamental shifts that i can envisage which have happened and digital clearly from a media which was an add-on to media which is essential to now the lead media is what has happened over a period of last couple of years.
You know, especially in India that you know there's one more challenge the marketer most of cases they face is that, you know if they're selling the product which is across you know the different region and uh India is a very diverse in nature that you know you know we have so many languages, so many culture and especially you know when it comes to the you know b2b side of the marketing that you know different city has a different kind of business or the vertical. So, one of the key factors that you know you think that one marketer should keep in mind whenever they're asked to create a strategy uh to you know uh to sell their product or to market their product in multiple geography?
I mean looking at the diversity of India, I would say we are a federation of 29 states rather than a single nation because of the diversity that exists across the shared width of the country. So, fundamentally Arindam marketing is all about actually, connecting with the customer and the consumer. So, if you really ask me, it is like staging a performance which emotionally and rationally moves the consumer and to happen it is the content which is essentially with what you are reaching out & what you want to say and the context, so as to in what context are you reaching out to this potential customer or your consumer and very importantly the local relevance of that. Since, you talked about the SMB perspective to this now if you were to just look at uh taking this same conversation of content and context into the SMB space it is about the vertical specific propositions which appeal to a more region specific or even a state-specific audience. An example being like Gujrat right, I mean you have the diamond cutting business which is big in Surat, you have textiles also which is big. Now if you are in that space you need to look at communicating and engaging vertical specific solutions, not just propositions i would say it is more of vertical specific solution led engagement that you need to have and there if you can bring in a local partner itself because locally becoming important is from an SMB perspective what is most critical for them is “KAAM CHALTA REHNA CHAHIYE” irrespective of whatever products services offerings they are deploying in their in their businesses their underlying requirement is that the work should not stop, that can happen when you actually have a vertical specific solution with a local partner and it is not a pure hardware solution but it’s a hardware software solution and even services solution. So, I’m not saying just hardware software but even services which actually gives the SMB the space to focus on building the business.
So i think in this whole Ad tech Mark tech don't miss the wood for the trees, don't make technology your end game point, your end goal point is always about reaching the consumer with the relevant message communicated empathetically and solving a real problem. How you use it smartly with ad tech and mark tech is what will make sure that your message is delivered right but the importance of your message and the importance of the quality of the message is absolutely paramount.
You've been instrumental to launch so many award-winning campaigns.You spend two decades in the marketing space, do you remember any of the campaign that you know that you want to share with the audience and where you know that initially you face certain challenges & how you overcome those challenges and what is the final goal that you've achieved?
One particular campaign honestly which comes to mind and which has relevance both from a consumer perspective as well as I would say a start-up perspective was the “Bend the rules” campaign with the Hp and the entire genesis of that campaign was there was a product proof in terms of the brand promise being bend the rules there was a manifestation of this promise in the product which was we were just launching the Pavilion X360 which rotates complete as a device. So, the product offering was delivering on the brand from this event rules literally and we wanted to take it beyond that because there were other competitors who were already there in the market when we introduced this product and we wanted to tap into the start-up buzz that was happening at that point of time and this was in 2014 and 15 and we looked at we were fortunate that we were working with a brand ambassador at that point of time and she herself in her life had actually shown what bend the rules was all about moving from a badminton player to a model to a film star and having her own fashion label also and the entire thought in for that campaign was Big before 30 which was in a way a reflection of this generation which did not want to pursue the conventional path to success of saying okay our father’s, grandfather has grown from ABC to being a general manager to a VP of a company at about 50. This generation is more about creating success now and there. The clear proposition was appealing to a generation that wants to make it big before 30. And so, while we had the communication on a broader platform including television commercial wherein the twist was that actually this celebrity brand ambassador of us is actually a fan of a millennial who has moved from investment banking to baking. So that itself was a twist that okay the celebrity whom everyone otherwise looks up to but the celebrity was looking up to this young millennial who had actually taken un-conventional path. But more importantly, I think where the challenge was around them to be very honest was to figure out authentic stories of such instances which were happening in the market and I think that is what was brought about beautifully with the digital and the social team by bringing out and getting hold of authentic stories and in the process of those authentic stories uh I distinctly remember there was a gentleman from Rajasthan’s Vijay Singh Rajput, who was doing custom bikes and each of these millennials was actually using technology to actually bend the rules of success whether it was Chayos or whether it was Chumbak, all those real-life examples were brought to life wherein technology has had enabled these young millennials to start up and make it big for 30. And I think it is something which i personally very well enjoyed being a part of the campaign and that had a significant impact on the brand connect with the young members as well as impacting the business.
Now I will take this discussion into little you know that uh lighter side of the you know conversation like in the beginning we mentioned that you know uh so there's a community of young marketeer you know they're from you know from Startups and Smbs they really would like to hear from the leader like you. If you want to hypothetically you want to hire a fresher or a junior level marketer in your organization. What are the top 3 questions that you're gonna ask to him?
Good one, so since uh it’s a fresher I would possibly look at getting to know the person he or she much more, it would be like what does he or she enjoy the most and what is the most frustrating for them & how do they deal with it. The second would be how do they respond to feedback & the third would be what does success looks like for them. So, it’s more about checking out their aptitude because whether it is if you are getting actually into a start-up, your ability to actually get your hands dirty in every stage, and your ability to take feedback both internally and from external potential customers partners vendors and i would say if i would put it a vicious cycle of excitement and frustration that you put in a day itself, how well you can manage yourself in that scenario is what will be important.
You know that the students who are coming out of the management college now, start-up is a buzz you know, once the startups the unicorn are approaching them to hire, at the same time you know that company like Microsoft or IBM they want to hire. So, what do you suggest to those young students who are basically on the verge of passing out of MBA course?
I mean to be very honest Arindam, this can vary across individuals and it is i think uh what the way i would look at is play to your strengths. Each individual would have their own preferences in terms of career and life, work styles and if i may say so the appetite for uncertainty. Having said that, I personally would encourage the young marketers to actually be more exploratory in the first five to six years.
The set of challenges, opportunities you get in a start-up and a smaller company, see that allows you to at the same time get your hands dirty day in and day out and that gives you learnings and at the same time the because of the small size of the start-up or the company you have access to the decision makers also. So, you are exposed to the in a way with width and depth of the company functioning, it’s functions, it’s right from pure brass track executions which is daily rigor to actually sitting in a discussion with the decision makers and saying which way the business is going so the exposure is immense and what you learn in these early stages would eventually help you in my view to become more of an appreciative and a humble leader as in when you reach and go there. So, it’s not only about the functional skill set if I put it that way but it is about the individual skill sets also as an individual you would evolve in a very different way versus and no good or bad choices like it depends on individual’s view of his or her life and career are excited by the constantly changing direction which changes possibly three or four times in a day that excites you be a part of a start-up be a part of a small company because that is going to happen and you will learn to manage ambiguous situations and uncertainty far more maturely. And you get into a structured setup like a bigger organization like an IBM, Microsoft and Hp, there it is all set in, you will follow the process and you will keep going. Exactly nothing right or wrong about it but yeah personally if you ask me, I would encourage people to be a little more exploratory in the first few years of their career.