Mind your Marketing

Provide the wow factor

| Updated on June 13, 2019 Published on June 13, 2019

Asha Kharga, Chief Marketing Officer, Axis Bank

Asha Kharga, Chief Marketing Officer, Axis Bank, believes great brands can spark conversations and advocate for change. They can be a source for growth as well as a force for good. This week we delve into the world of banking and FinTech, taking you one step closer to understanding the way bankers wear their marketer hats.

Have Millennials and GenZ transformed the way businesses approach marketing?

Millennials and GenZ are unabashed digital natives. Their view of the world has been through the World Wide Web and a motley mix of digital screens have been their constant companions while growing up. It is a no-brainer then that marketing to Millennials and GenZ customers will require a digital and mobile-first strategy. Then again, it is not just about how they consume, but what they consume. They look for products and messaging that reflect the reality of their lives, a transparent and 24x7 affair, and brands that treat them as partners who can help co-create innovative solutions for their persistent problems.

What are the best ways to connect with and sell to this audience?

These people are looking for companies to personalise solutions to fit their lives. And therefore, to them all brands in every category are on par, as they are all measured on the basis of their digital experience. But reaching out to them is not as simple as targeting all social media channels, as the brand has to find the most relevant one that allows it to be contextual, engage in the right conversations and win the customer over. They also value authenticity and simplicity and are always on the lookout for brands that make their lives simple.

What are the specific technologies that have driven these changes?

Smart devices, voice-activated aids, wearable gadgets, fulfilment solutions and ad blockers have all contributed to making the lives of millennials and GenZ simpler yet more connected and efficient. Besides, emerging and cutting-edge technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, quantum computing, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, drones and autonomous vehicles are all shaping a future that fundamentally changes the way business is conducted.

What do you need to win in the marketplace - better technology or better ideas?

It is not really a case of one or the other. What is crucial is a great tech enablement of a powerful idea that adds value to human lives. That is the key to winning. For instance, Facebook was not the first social network, but it successfully re-interpreted what it means to be connected socially through a digital medium. Similar is the case of Uber which brought GPS navigation and cab-hailing service together, creating massive impact. So the re-invention/re-interpretation of ideas to suit evolving customer needs and truths through the use of technology is what makes an idea powerful.

What makes customer experiences the differentiator of the future?

Customer experience will essentially become a 360° experience. It will involve digitally tracking the customer’s journey end-to-end, ensuring a total change in the way they perceive the brand and engage with it.

One, personalisation: customers will prefer brands that can anticipate their needs and engage with their data in real time. Two, omni-channel experience: this provides an integrated experience, whether one transacts online through a desktop or a mobile device, by telephone or at a brick-and-mortar outlet. And three, human quotient: the critical thing for brands is that, even in the age of robotics and AI, investments in human capital and connections are even more critical in ensuring successful inter-personal customer experiences.

How do you bridge the gap between expectations and experiences?

If brands need to be customer-centric in the future, they need to set up a continuous feedback loop with their customers to bridge the gap between expectations and experiences. And this responsive feedback system can garner more value, integrity and credibility, as customers connect better with such brands that are willing to listen to them and respond quickly to their needs. One way to do that efficiently would be to take advantage of radical data analytics and artificial intelligence to generate insights in real-time. And acting upon those insights expeditiously, to streamline product and service experiences matching customer expectations.


a) One strategic change we plan to execute by 2020

We plan to offer our customers the power of ‘One Axis’ – leveraging the entire group’s service offerings to create a holistic solution that will cut across all their financial needs. We plan to strengthen this by focussing on our three priority areas – Growth, Profitability and Sustainability

b) My top three marketing mantras for 2019

Hyperlocal, Hyperbundled or Omnichannel/Multichannel, Contextual Marketing

c) Three concepts I believe define a hot brand Brand

‘Purpose’, Brand ‘Ecosystem’ and Brand ‘Loyalty beyond reason’

d) A powerful ad campaign I liked from 2018

Samsonite’s ‘Kerala is open’ campaign. Simple. Insightful. Authentic.

What does it take for brands to stay competitive in today's dynamic economy and market?

The economy today is characterised by the convergence of globalised commerce. To sustain and grow international competitiveness, brands should focus on widely available information, rapid technological progress, innovation and an entrepreneurial flair in every marketing activity. Brands need to go beyond conventional wisdom and think outside the box. Technological aids are all fine, but very often, many customers may not know what they want. In the world of financial services, brands need to reduce jargon, simplify processes and be transparent, to build a strong level of trust with their customers.

What are the three secrets to successful branding?

One, be at the leading edge of the testimonial or the testament economy; informed buying decisions are more often made on the basis of peer reviews and comments than on the basis of the brand’s communication. Two, be the brand that believes branding is beyond positioning; look for ways to provide the wow factor to the brand in terms of experiences, in addition to distinctive messaging. If we make customers feel good about themselves, that is of greater significance than just communicating a brand promise. Three, be authentic: a brand should always stay true to itself and not try to impersonate someone else.

Can a one-size-fits-all approach work in a differentiated market such as India?

That paradigm is no longer relevant today. Customers these days demand personalisation, and that is not always so easy. It requires a great deal of listening, adapting and innovating. A brand needs to address the requirements of diverse customers. In the world of financial services, we are moving to a segment of one, i.e., treating each customer uniquely, at scale. Hence, a truly customer-centric brand will attempt to play the role of a trusted advisor rather than a mere transactional vendor.

Why and how should brands think local?

Local marketing is about creating marketing opportunities for a local audience by leveraging local connections and messages. The danger is to treat millennials and GenZ as a universal commodity, without national, cultural and even local affiliations. The important thing is to recognise their differences, as much as their similarities.

For instance, teenagers in developed markets get their news from social media platforms whereas a vast majority of those in the same age group in India still consume news from traditional media such as newspapers and television. This factor cannot be ignored when creating content for millennials and GenZ in India.

How does your brand approach the Southern market when it comes to branding and consumer engagement?

Axis Bank deeply believes in serving every community that it resides in. We celebrate various regional festivals consciously in our branches because it strengthens our sense of that particular community. In the South, festivals like Onam, Ugadi, Pongal, Vishu are cheered with much fanfare with our customers. In Hyderabad, during Ramzan, we invite our customers for a special Iftar in branches. This may not seem like ‘glamorous marketing’, but the power of human connections on such occasions transcends transactional relationships and builds lifetime customer value. We are privileged to be the banking partner of the people in uniform. We partner with the police across the country to land ‘safe banking’ messages. We have now partnered with the Chennai Police and very soon, you’ll be seeing some new messaging on that front.

What is unique about the South India market? Do you see any difference in consumer behaviour from the North in your category?

From experience, the South Indian market adopts new habits, products and services, and technology faster than the North. Brands should not look at the South and the North as one homogenised market. The South consists of five States, and each one of them has a distinct culture of its own. The same is true of the North too. It just goes to show that in a hyper-local and hyper-connected world, brands still cannot afford to ignore a customised approach.

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

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Published on June 13, 2019
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