InnoKOL | Mr.Animesh Narain : WOM marketing is the most authentic form of marketing

2020/09/16 Innoverview Read

On Sept.16th (UTC+8),  Innoverview had a fascinating conversation with Mr. Animesh Narain, who is the Strategy Consultant and prior Head of CRM at Dyson China, talking about his unique work experience of strategy to effectively boost business growth and deep insights of marketing and CRM innovation.


Jokia: How would you describe yourself in three words? What’s your motto?


Animesh: Empathy. Vision. Creativity.


Keep learning (Because every day is a new day and brings in its wake a new crop of changes, opportunities and realities)


Jokia: Can you please share more about your educational and professional background? And we’d love to hear what brought you into brand strategy domain.


Animesh: I was born in India and raised in North Africa and now married to China (literally), I have lived and worked in the Indian, APAC and North American (both US and Canada) markets.


I studied electronics engineering for 3 years, and then dropped out to do a double major in English literature and Psychology instead. An incipient interest in people and society honed further during this period saw me go on to take a master’s in Social Welfare administration.


I began my career working at Kantar Social on development sector projects with UNICEF, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Initially focused on research and evaluation, I subsequently transitioned to program design and behavior change communication.


Initially focused on research and evaluation, I subsequently transitioned to program design and behavior change communication. One project - far and away my favorite from this stint – entailed developing an entertainment-education program to influence attitudinal and behavior change around health-seeking behavior in rural India by creating a TV soap opera and setting it in the village, replete with characters, narratives and health and social messaging. The results were outstanding and this goaded me on to do more work in the communications space.


As they say in Chinese, 天时地利人和; in what was sheer serendipity, Y&R India approached me for a strategic brand planning role just then and I said yes. Thus began my journey in the world of marketing communications. I spent a few years cutting my teeth as it were, and when an opportunity in brand consulting and innovation at Flamingo Singapore presented itself, I relocated to work on APAC markets.


Work of course brought me to China and it was love at first sight. In time, I moved to Shanghai taking up a role at Ogilvy and Mather. Eight years on, I am somewhat ‘settled’ here (with my wife who happens to be a former Flamingo colleague) having worked on both the agency and brand side.


Jokia: With 13-year experience building brands across APAC on brands ranging from Mattel, Shiseido, Changi, Cathay Pacific, Sprite, Danone, UPS, IHG and Dyson, could you share 2-3 cases impressed you most?  


Animesh: I joined them in 2018 tasked with transforming CRM given their double-digit growth run was coming to a close and margins were plateauing not to mention operating and marketing costs rising. To maximize value to business (in particular drive CoA down and repeat sales up) and turn CRM into a value/profit generating and marketing vehicle from a cost center, I decided to focus on pull rather push, and engagement rather than only acquisition.


Besides creating new initiatives, programs and incentives, the strategy was to give people not just consistency in service but new reasons to come back to the brand.


Over and above Try Before You Buy, Exclusive Invites to Launch events et al, I also created The Young Inventor’s program/class as an extension of Dyson’s brand promise of “we solve problems others ignore to make your lives healthier and better” and the Dyson Home, an opportunity for people to experience how products enrich their everyday lives.


In addition, motivated by the 'an army 1000 advocates can do more for your brand than millions in paid media' idea, I launched a superuser program to leverage and nurture our own KOCs and turn them into advocates. This aside we brought CRM in-house from what was an agency-hosted operation, set up omnichannel analytics, tagging and tracking, and loyalty marketing.


The results speak for themselves. repeat sales are up, positive mentions have risen, and CoA has dipped (can’t share exact figures of course).


So, way back in 2016, I was working on Mattel while at McCann Worldgroup. We basically turned an advertising brief into a platform and portfolio integration strategy. Mattel was the market leader but increasingly being threatened not just by Lego but by a slew of local brands. They needed to maintain leadership position. The issue was they were losing relevance with young moms whose idea of parenting was a far cry from how they were brought up. Yet they were trapped between those traditional approaches to parenting and their independent, nurturing passions, chasing happiness over success selves.


Championing a new participatory ‘play’ brand of parenting and the discourse ‘a happy child is a successful child', we succeeded in convincing and converting them. We created a Mums who Play platform that hosted content, CRM, a community, a growth tracker and recommendation engine and offline partnerships. The became a case study for Mattel globally and earmarked to be replicated globally. We recruited 1 m moms in 3 months.


Another case is Cathay Pacific ‘Marriage in the Air’. This one also won us global awards. It was a campaign whose genesis was simply a brief to announce a rebrand of Cathay Pacific and Dragon Air into Cathay Dragon. The marketing task, however, was, needless to say, a tall order: communicate rebrand, ramp up brand awareness, drive understanding and nudge conversions. This when for 7 years, the brand had largely been quiet in the mainland and for a budget of 10m RMB all-inclusive.


We decided to take a targeted approach and go where travelers naturally go when they need to travel rather doing broad-based targeting, and partnered with content and OTA platforms like Mafengwo, Qiongyou and CTrip. We then came up with a PR idea as this needed to create a big splash if we hoped to have any impact. We pitted 3 pairs of travel KOLS from each of the above platforms willing to get married and showcased their love stories in a campaign called ‘Marriage in the air’. A chance to win a wedding in the air hosted by Cathay. Each couple would post their travel love story, why they would choose Cathay and then invite fans to vote also enabling them to win a chance to be a guest at the wedding/on the plane from SH to HK which would be livestreamed.


The campaign launched in phases over several weeks from a teaser and wedding invite, a love story and Cathay video, voting, and final wedding in the air livestream and video, followed by reception at the Cathay lounge in HK. We also bundled in a tactical Honeymoon campaign to sell packages. We became the 2nd hottest topic on Weibo organically.


Strategically speaking, our research had told us the problem with Cathay was people didn’t really understand the value in their product offering or points of differentiation. The driving consumer insight was ‘With a quest for self-enrichment, for people, it was not about where they went but what they brought back from a journey’. The only problem was that for people, the ‘journey’ began only after they got to the destination. Nobody wanted to spend money on the flight or was posting images from the flight save for the free Haagen Dasz or thinking this experience could also be special. The strategy was to tell people, ‘Enrichment begins with the journey’ and to showcase our RTBs from the stewardesses, the food, the entertainment, the small touches (Chinese and yet ‘international’ – best placed to ease the Chinese traveler into the world beyond). 


Jokia: From your perspective, why big innovation needs great marketing?


Animesh: Innovation needs marketing because you can have the best product in market and nobody will know. Internally, you may have the most transformative idea/strategy but if you can’t convince and sell it to the key decision-makers and budget controllers, it will all come to naught. Marketing is all about selling ideas, products, services or processes by convincing the audience of its value. This value is not just value for your business but potentially value for the market.


Sometimes it can be tricky, especially when you need to sell a strategy/idea. While measurability is great, it is not always so straightforward, e.g. there's no measure for advocacy and yet that is the biggest value add from CRM. the CEO will want to see immediate/quarterly uplift in sales but that can't always happen so fast. That said, everything can be measurable. I tackled this problem by leveraging a Kotler metric and adapting it to China and to the Dyson business. BAR (Brand Action Ratio), which was a composite of several metrics.


The good news is long-term doesn’t mean 5 years down the line anymore. It could be as distant as 12 months or even 6. Marketing is about convincing multiple stakeholders, demonstrating value.


Jokia: How will you predict the future of marketing in a technology driven world?


Animesh: The more I think about this the more I am tempted to believe the future of marketing is human. Whilst data and tech-powered marketing is certainly creating impact and efficiencies, there is a balance to be struck. If everything is hyper-targed and automated (and this is ubiquitous), it also risks alienating the user/consumer beyond a point. The human touch, how value is added to people’s lives, cliched and non-revenue generating as it may sound, will become crucial to selling as it becomes rarer. If I am a mom and my baby is having issues with digestion, beyond content, I want to be able to talk to someone who understands, empathis and who has the expertise to advise me not a chatbot.


The other hazard of precision marketing and data is you will be fed what you like, have consumed before and what is aligned to your interest tags. This creates a sea of sameness and once you hit the tipping point of your boredom curve, you might churn/drop out. This is a paradox – people crave newness and yet are served more of the same stuff. A classic case of the snake eating its own tail.


Jokia: It is said that KOL are experts, KOC are friends. Who are KOCS and why they matter?


Animesh: KOCs are people are not KOLs yet. They're people like you and me, people who can influence their friends and family. Hence, unlike KOLs, who are paid for their engagements and not loyal to any specific brands, KOCs are authentic fans of the brand and genuinely loyal.The way I see it, marketing has been moving downstream and the distance between the brand endorser and the consumer is shrinking. Celebrity to KOL to KOC.


This long tail of marketing appears to be delivering a higher ROI than other popular forms of marketing. WOM marketing is the most authentic form of marketing.


Jokia: We’ve noticed that you are the famous and insightful speaker for many leading events, what’s your benchmark to select the top-tier conferences?


Animesh: I suppose it is about relevance, the nature of participants, not just what I can share but also what I can learn.