Mind your Marketing

Prioritise personalisation

| Updated on July 18, 2019

Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer, Aditya Birla Capital

With over three decades of expertise in consulting and financial services marketing to Aditya Birla Capital, Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer, provides strategic direction and leadership to the brand and its subsidiaries. He has consistently won recognition through coveted marketing awards, on domestic and international platforms.

How important is it for brands to focus on personalised marketing against category-based marketing?

It is not about marketing as much as it is about the product. If you have a product for an audience, you need to market to them. If you have a product for multiple audiences, you need to have varied marketing strategies for them. Start with – which generation is the product targeted at? Is the proposition targeting that generation? Only then should you ask yourself – is the marketing and the communication targeting the generation? And there could be products that are relevant to people from nine to ninety years. Then how do you position that product? For example, a mobile phone is a great example of a product which is relevant for everyone but has different connotations.

GenZ or NextGen or any future or past generations cannot be generalised though there may be some commonalities. I'll give you an analogy: every citizen of the globe is divided by 12 Sun Signs and if we say that all Scorpions or Librans are alike, it is not true, right? There can be common traits, and then are unique traits too. Similarly, with a generation, there could be commonalities. Yet, every individual is so different that targeting a generation as a whole is not right. Targeting a mindset within that generation is more important. Unfortunately, as a rule, we are still used to one communication targeting a billion.

How important have data and analytics become in helping marketers drive their product into the consumer’s mind?

The West and China have adopted machine learning and artificial intelligence faster than us in India. It is interesting when you hear a marketer from these markets underplaying the need for market research. They believe that they are tracking their consumers’ behavior, attitude and purchasing habits through data. That is more than any desk research or field visit can tell us. Data and analytics tell us the story of an individual, and of many like him. That is why targeting is the most important part. And it is no longer about one-to-a-billion but talking to a billion and making everyone believe that you are only talking to them.

If you look at data and analytics, when enhanced and enriched by a marketer’s experience and gut feel, those are the weapons and tools that will help you create relevance for a target audience of one, rather than a generic proposition for a billion.

How does Aditya Birla Capital differentiate itself from the rest of the market?

There are many product categories where the five senses work - the soap smells nice, the food tastes delicious, the painting is striking, but when it comes to financial services, I'm only selling a promise. And the question is, how do I sell that promise? And if I sell that promise, I have no senses to please, I only give a piece of paper. This is where the product becomes a commodity. Because today by law in financial services, I can copy any product. There is no equivalent of a magic ‘Coke’ formula lying in Atlanta in our industry. So, in an industry like ours, experience is the only thing that differentiates the brand.

The brand and the experience: Today, if I'm selling home loans and the market rate is ‘x’, all of us will be just a tad above or below that rate of interest. Why should the customer take my loan and not somebody else’s? How do you make him feel for and about the brand? The quality of engagement and experience is what matters. Experience is something brands can own and appropriate in a market where distribution, products and people may not be a differentiator. After all, there is a Burger King experience and a McDonald's experience. While both sell burgers, their product and experience differentiate one from the other.

What can brands do to keep up with constantly evolving customer expectations?

It is important and better for a brand to set the expectations right, and then deliver on it. Rather than leave the expectations open ended and never be able to deliver because everyone's expectation is different or higher. For example, Domino's says 20 minutes or free – they set the expectations. If the 20-minute standard wasn’t set, I would be happy waiting for longer and others may not be happy waiting even for 5 minutes. Once the expectation is set, then you work on the backend to deliver that promise. That creates the differentiator that you can own and that you can appropriate.

Until yesterday, we used to say that if you own the product and the distribution, you can own the world. In today's world for marketers, it is key to first know your customer and own his world. And by his world, I'm repeating, own his heart and his wallet. First, you must know your customer and then tailor-make the product and proposition for him or her, be they nine or ninety.


a) My top three marketing mantras for 2019

Personalisation – personalisation of product, personalisation of channel, personalisation of medium and personalisation of service.

b) One strategic change we plan to execute by 2020

To try and know my customer better, to personalise better and to achieve scale with speed

c) My definition of a hot brand

When you have customers who want you, customers who endorse you.

How can brands be successful?

My secret is “he who knows the customer, owns the customer”. Decades ago, David Ogilvy, Founder of Ogilvy & Mather, said, “Know your customer’s business better than the customer does himself.” Steve Jobs said, “It is not the job of a customer to tell you what he wants, it is your job to find out.”

Let’s take the first person who invented or thought of an ATM machine. No customer came to him and said, “I want an ATM.” No one even imagined that he can get money on the move. But somebody heard that the world is moving, people are moving and with movement they want money any time and any place. Then somebody said, “Hey, what if I can give him money where he wants it rather than where I have it?” You’ve got to know, not what he says, not what he asks for, but what he doesn't say or doesn't ask for. That is the one secret sauce for all secret sauces.

What are some of the things that marketers fail to see while designing the communication?

In the past, people thought ‘Karva Chauth’ worked across India. Then, there was a realisation that ‘Karva Chauth’ works in the North but not in the South. My added layer to that is, it does not work in the North or South, it works with North Indians and not with South Indians. It works wherever the North Indians are, which could also be in the South. And that is a trick which people miss, India is a diversified culture and on top of that you have people who are spread out everywhere. Labour migration is a way of life, not only at the lower end of labour, but at the high end too. Today, everyone is mobile, and therefore, to assume that all clusters are homogeneous is a big fallacy.

How should a marketer approach localisation of communication?

If you know who your customer is and you know where your customer is based, you can do anything. If your customer is a South Indian, you reach out to him in every possible way, wherever he lives you have to surround him with your message. Now, I can go to local kitty parties and I can do it with national TV campaigns, or I can do it using cookies and understand the customer on the digital medium, that is all up to me. Today, technology allows me all the personalisation that I want, if I know, who I want, and where he is. Localisation is key but localisation does not mean locality.

Three steps brands should employ to connect with local audiences.

The obvious way is to first speak his language. Second is trying to capture his emotion. The third is don't patronise him in your effort to speak his language.

This article is part of a brand initiative by The Hindu BusinessLine to profile marketing professionals from across India.

Published on July 18, 2019

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