In what our editors voted as the most fun conversation on Marketing Connect, we speak to Ruchika Varma about what does it to take create marketing campaigns that work. And that too when you are all of three months old into the system. And the entire country is under a strict lockdown!
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So, we have Ruchika Verma with us. She is the CMO of Future Generali India Insurance Company. She talks to us about how hyper competitive industry like insurance goes about its marketing function.
Hi everyone! I am Ruchika Verma. I am the C.M.O of the Future Generali India Insurance Company, which is basically the General Insurance arm for the JD between Generali, which has a 189-year history in insurance and future Group, which needs no introduction of course, exempt from the big Bazaar thing.
Amazing! Thank you for taking out time. I know this took a while for us to you know, get you on the podcast for thank you so much for taking out. I really appreciate your time.
To give it an easy question, I’ve some tough question also lined up, but let me start with an easy one. Let’s talk about your journey as a marketeer, you know from your day that I am I ready to where you are right now.
Saurabh, it has been quite a ride since my idea, you know, I actually would have loved to say that my career is an output of careful planning, but the truth is that it’s not, you know getting my MBA journey, you know, I had starry eyes and you know, I had plans of starting my career in the fmcg space because that’s supposed to be the best training ground. Then I wanted to call to the big Tech Giants and eventually started my own. The one industry I was very sure, I didn’t want to be part of was bfsi and you know here I am, you know, 20 years after my post-grad, you know working in the BFSI space. The only common thread in my career plans and my career reality is marketing. You know, so my career actually has been an output of a mix of the lemons that life has thrown at me at me and the amount of lemonade I have made from them. So my summer placement was with Electrolux, which was the Swedish consumer durables giant. They made me open your front door for you know, which was the best thing that could happen to an MBA graduate and on my day one, I was really, you know, hoping that I’m going to start working on advertising and I talked to my agencies and establish communication. But the first year of my career. I ended up selling cool refrigerators in South Delhi.
Okay, can I ask you, are you a Delhite? Did you grow up in a Delhi place?
Yes, I have grown up in Delhi. Being in sales in the 1st year, it was actually a very tough place for a woman. People were not used to talk to women. They didn’t want to talk to you even if you would go and you know sell them something and would go collect the cheque. They were say- a mam you would get your cheque and that wouldn’t happen till the time, you know, my boss or my mentor would go and I need them and you know, I honestly completely hated it if I can be honest with you and luckily for me I moved on to a product management role which I did for two years, got married, my husband was based in Mumbai. And that’s the reason why I’m here wanted to look for another job when I came here and that’s when I joined VIP Luggage in a brand management role and that it was really my first foray into brand management. I realized then and there that this is what I want to keep doing for the rest of my life.
Amazing, so what I mean just a quick nugget of insight and wisdom for all the B school students are listening to us that you know, the I parted from MDI, Gurgaon, so I don’t know if you know this but same story, you know when I was passing out, I thought it alone, so the dream that I had, it came crashing down to people turning it down because people would say, we don’t want credit cards, the toughest alright, everybody has 20 of those and nobody wants to pay for it and so on and so forth. So, for all of these cool students whether it was ultimately the same story.
I guess, it is completely unexpected because you know, when you’re learning marketing, right, you know, you are our source seeped into David occur and Kotlar and you know, and you feel that right from day one you are going to be the king or the queen of marketing communication and honor their career is very different. So I was saying things that you know, moving on from you know the VIP and this is where you know again another bout of reality hits. I was with the VIP for about you don’t two and a half years and it wasn’t 2006 where I actually wanted to join L’Oreal which was my dream company and I don’t think I interviewed with them. I received a job offer, but then you know as John Lennon says life is what happens to you, when you’re busy making other plans. At the same time, my husband received an offer from Singapore. You know, what happens is that when two ambitious people are really working towards their careers, you know, one help you make choices as a family and we chose Singapore and it was then, you know, of course I to give up my L’Oreal dream, but then, you know, my career took a very interesting turn because I started working for the government of Singapore food and I moved on to another really fun travel brand which was Lonely Planet. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that or you remember that. Yeah. I did last world in travel editorial in to me. It was such a fantastically romantic brand to be part of you know, I just I just absolutely love the driving the marketing strategy for that brand. So my 20 actually was very interesting because you know, I was talking to the same travel customer whether you know, I was I was marketing luggage or I was marketing entire country like Singapore or I was marketing, you know travel editorials. It was it was really the same travel customer. I was talking to and it right, you know, it was it was great fun. And that is when I had my daughter and I’d moved on to I took a break for a year and then I moved on to entertainment to me worldwide where I spent 3 years marketing entertainment channels or BBC. I was into lifetyle vertical. I was part of you know, I styled kids, entertainment and drama those were the words that I was managing across Asia and then you know, I mean and that was that was again a fabulous experience and then I moved on to handling the marketing of a museum with Marina Bay Sands. And then moved back to India where you know, my husband was back I moved back with him. And that’s when I actually joined my first BFSI company which was idfc bank. I joined them a brand moved up to CMO to five years and I have just very recently joined Future Generali.
So, here I am and you know, I thought of it is actually interesting. You know, what I was when I was you know, thinking about all of this has been a while to the really thought about my entire journey, it’s interesting. you know, there’s a famous Chinese saying which life opens the doors, but you must enter by yourself. Yeah. Yeah have so many times actually in my career. I thought I would have to give up, you know marketing you would appreciate is a very culture driven function and that came my way when I was looking for a new job in another culture, which was in Singapore, right. A lot of people asked me this question but I persisted, in fact at that time I had 3 job offers, from Singapore Tourism Board, I was very lucky, similarly when I had my daughter it was in Singapore, in a country where there was absolutely no family support, and I would think I would give up my career but then again I persisted, and was ready to come back to the job market after a year one of the things I got my job at BBC worldwide is was because I had a one-year-old and one of the key channels was a preschooler Channel and I felt that my mother’s instincts are going to come hanging. Wow, so I mean and and many many such instances. I mean the day Say that I had my interview with idfc. You will need same day. My daughter fell ill she badly ill and it came to a point where I had to make a choice between going for the interview or taking my daughter, right? And you can imagine how tough that that choice is.
Absolutely. So, you know, I mean I did I did something which a lot of people, you know have unheard-of actually took her to the doctor, the doctor has you know had a bed in his room and I left my daughter in there for two hours. And I said look I need my interview get done. Right, please take care of my daughter because there’s nobody at home. I have my husband was traveling and I can’t trust my helper, you know with my daughter at such a fever. Please take care of her and I ran out of the door before he could even react.
I think your daughter must be 11 years old now, so if get to meet her when she would be 18 finally, I would give her the news that the other day your mother left you to the Dr.
So, coming back to serious question, during the last 10 minutes that I know you, you come across as someone who is super positive and who grabs opportunities that come her way, even during adversities, and life seems to be offering you lucky breaks, like BBC liked the fact that you have a 1-year old daughter, so what is your take on luck in grabbing opportunities?
Saurabh, going back to the Chinese saying that life opens new doors for you but you need to enter that door by yourself, and that is really been my motto throughout. Life has been very kind very grateful for the brakes and the opportunities that I’ve got. But I think there’s also a great that one needs to have to persist and life can open those doors, but you have to enter by yourself and I think you know with God’s grace doors have been opened and I have managed to enter them.
So, let’s say your bad size would have been less a fifty hundred. I don’t know how many people but we do when you passed out one assumes 120, right and out of those 120, I do not know how many of them went on to become, you know, CMOS at largest companies like idfc to start with and then obviously future generali, like in my case out of 120 people from MDI, only 5 of us reached at leadership level. So what did you do different that, you know allowed you to become a CMO?
So I hung up on the kind of jobs and the kind of Industries. I want to be part of right? I don’t think I would have reached where I am. I I honestly think I still have a very long way to go. By the way is this is just the beginning and I have I have reached the top. I’m on my way there but yes, you know with God’s grace. I have a leadership position which comes with its own set of responsibilities, of course, but I absolutely think I think really, you know, if I have to if I have to really look back I think it was it was a mix of grit determination accepting life as it comes accepting the roles as they come and commitment that is really what kept me going.
So who are your top three or four people that you knock on the doors of if you have a tough marketing problem to work on like in my case, for example, I go to my sister and she’s also an MBA gfrom B school and she was in Vodafone and so on and so forth. So, who are your top three or four people that you go to when you are going to plug them perfect.
Honestly, I don’t have to go very far. I don’t have to knock many doors. I can talk to my husband. So my husband actually, you know is a Star Advertiser until recently, he was the CEO of Ulysses Communications and he was managing, you know, 12 13 agencies. Wow, creative digital media Etc PR Etc. And you know, he left his last year when the entrepreneur bug hit him. He’s now starting off on his own but really, you know, if I need advice on anything at all, you know, he’s the first person that I go to because he seemed life from the other side, you know, so we you know, we are Yin and Yang and you know, very complementary to each other in that sense. I’m in marketing. He’s in advertizing right? So, what kind of understand each other’s hands and you know each other’s challenges. He is the wind beneath my wings.
I think I think I know who to send my CV to. So who you are still in contact or reach out to, like your classmates, etc etc.?
So, who I am today on my career path and you know when in doubt I reach out to them. I am quite lucky. I have some super-duper bosses in the world, who have really really groomed me and made me who I am today, as a career person and when in doubt ,I’m still in touch with my first boss, you know, when I was you know, I had started work now 20 years I am in touch with them and every time I reach out to him, you know, he will he would always make the time of day to advise me to guide me, you know, and and that pattern has carried on you know throughout my entire career. In fact, I’m spoiled for choice because I have such lovely, you know, marketing bosses and mentors who really always been there every time I have a question.
So, to understand, you joined future generali at the start of this year, towards January or February, so the moment you joined, in about a month zero we went into lockdown. So how was the experience? How did you know he’s into the role? How did you manage to speak to your team? You know, how was how was the experience for you talking to a team on a remote first basis?
Yeah. It was it was actually quite challenging because you are right. I just I had just joined in January and and the lockdown happened in March, in fact even before the lockdown we had started work from home by by mid-march know I was lucky that I got about a month and a half to just kind of settle in just understand the lay of the land. I didn’t know my team is but then I think I think what we did as an organization as a whole and it may be in my function as well. You know was that we got very very proactive. We have a very solid business continuity plan in place. We just made for That of course these were unprecedented times, but we just reacted very very quickly. Right? So, you know, our management for example was having meetings on a daily on a daily basis and time management would get together nut out things understand what needs to be done help each other, right and I to be out of that and and did exactly the same with my team. I would have a good thing with the team. You know, we would do it on Microsoft teams and they would just you know, it’s just amazing how quickly we adapted to the situation, and you know it really while it was challenging. I think what also happened was that people figure that this is this is here to stay for a while. It’s not anything and people knew that you know, they had to get used to this new normal to really be effective in their jobs. So they took me they tried their best and you know, we did we created an environment that people were constantly helping each other whether those were technicians whether those who are you know issues of developing communication, right? And I’m anyway the kind of person who always go out and for the entire team if there is an issue because a good idea can come from anywhere right if I find if I am struggling with a Communications idea, you know, I even talked to my PR person I talk to my product person because you know, sometimes it’s common sense right take everybody with me and I think that really helped us and made a very cohesive as a team even today.
I mean even today, after 3 months of lockdown, I have a meeting every alternate day with my team. I’m at at start the day with that because we want to be able to understand what are the challenges they are facing. How can I help them? You know, how can I help them prioritize? How can I help them? You know, you know if they’re stuck somewhere can I step in or if I’m facing a challenge, you know, we brainstorm and we find out, you know ways around it.
So in fact, in fact, that was my next question and maybe you can even do that. So what is a typical day like for you know top not marketeer, from the time you start working at whatever seven eight nine, whatever time you start working at. What is the typical day like for you?
Yeah, so, you know on the onset of basically as CMO over here, I handle a lot more than just marketing. I handle digital assets. I handle the sales call centre, CSR product innovation, I handled those as well and really, you know, you’re talking about you know typical day for a marketeer, this is what new in CMOS and consumers and customers in your local consumer centric companies are doing. it’s no longer just about communication. They are expected to deliver value across the entire business. That was to me, you know, a huge opportunity and something that that I was very, you know, keen on exploring so I decided to give this job a go. But leadership position and marketing is is challenging, the roles and expectations of the marketeer, have completely changed over time. Unfortunately, many years what was happening because that marketing was reduced to just the pure communications role, right? Yeah. It has shifted from a communication specialist to a consumer specialist. Consumer is evolving and the market here has to evolve with the consumer. So, what does it mean this means that?
This means that you have to be constantly in touch with new trends that are shaping the industry, consumer behavior. You need to understand the technology and how technology can give a better customer experience. You need to know how to balance between paid, owned, earned media to deliver your messages. You need to hear on top of all the emerging digital spaces that people are connecting with it’s an emergent that form and very importantly at a leadership position at means having strong people skills. To work with elite members and agencies and that is correct. This doesn’t include some of the other roles that that that I play here and to be able to manage that I need to have a sound knowledge of products of competition. What are the gaps need to understand regulations, as a highly regulated industry and there are needs to happen while driving a culture of innovation.
You know, I know you need to keep an eye on the numbers, especially for me because I don’t use channels as well as channels and I need to keep an eye on the numbers and ensure that it is operational efficiency for our call center and all of us to be there for a typical day is quite hectic, I typically work 10-12 hours a day, and its always satisfying. So, you know, besides the regular activities that you would expect from a marketeer, right, which is what I spoke of above at this level, it’s really really important to make sure that you are a good mentor, a guide and you hang troubleshooting right? So I kept that I usually start my day with meeting with my team members, understand what’s going on, you know, and and, you know give them advice or also at the leadership position, you need to be in touch with the business and you need to make sure to spend some time with the leadership team which would challenge me, you know in a situation in lockdown situation like this, but you need to find out ways and means to connect with the leadership team to understand where the business is headed. How can you support them? Right also, there are constant board meetings, investor meetings, so you need to prep for the right. I also like to spend some time with my agencies not just to give them briefs, but also to kind of brainstorm with them on better ideas, you know just to kind of throw around ideas because sometimes you know you find gems out of such interactions, right? It’s a very symbiotic relationship with an agency and it’s a very important one and besides all of this. Obviously, you need to keep aside some time to read to understand what’s happening, you know in the industry to keep up with some interesting work that other brands have done so, you know, really it’s a pretty full day, but I’m good. Satisfying at the end of day.
So let me ask you easy question to you know, to ease up tension, right? So talk to me about cover the distance and and talk to me specifically from the perspective that you did a large part of it today at home late. I mean and then we would have thought of this campaign to the time it came out. Most of the team would have been, you know in various parts of their homes and cities and they would not have a speech about so this talk to me about from the time you thought about it. Till the time it came out and then what was the some what are some lessons and and whatever will you want to talk about it?
Hmm. Okay. Let me try and break down this question in parts right. So, also launched cover the distance a week after the lockdown was announced at that point of time Indians were struggling. In fact not even at that point of time even now India has nothing with the covid-19 pandemic and install outs on our economy or working situations are struggling.
We are gonna research and research told us that all whopping eighty eight percent of Indians were actually deeply worried about their physical mental or Financial Health in the current context. And what was the new reality that we were all living in and unfortunately, it was a reality filled with uncertainty and negativities. Now as a brand offering health insurance products that treatment for pandemic like covid-19. Our focus at that point of time was to use mobile marketing to really have a positive brand conversation amongst the plethora of negativity around. Yeah. So, you know the campaign Insight actually came from Human truth Fraggle Rock down what we realized was that, you know hard-working ambitious Indians, were constantly running on a treadmill to achieve their goals, right everybody like great working. They were managing the responsibilities, right? And in this quest for moving ahead. He had started to grow apart from their own friends and families and not even realizing it. Yeah for the lockdown and social distancing as an opportunity to connect with loved ones once again, and to recover some of this lost ground. So what we really want to go home. To show people that there is a single line into social distancing and this is a great opportunity to refuel the relationships. So we need some video that focused on leveraging this time to connect with loved ones. Only a message was in the time of social distancing. It was time to cover the distance. But yeah everything about this campaign and you know, you spoke about the lockdown right everything about this campaign the conceptualization, the entire creation and launch was done completely at home it was done through different mediums.
So our agency partner, what’s your problem? And as you know, we co-created this campaign post multiple brainstorming sessions and during one of the sessions, you know, we hit upon the idea of cover the distance and of course, you would appreciate that the campaign was time sensitive as we wanted them to know what as soon as possible after the knockdown right speed of Market. But how does one go about creating a video when you can’t really go out and shoot and you know, how do you get a view of yeah. Yeah according Studios, right?
How do you how do you manage this entire process? And I must say that our creative agency – WIP work really hard and found very creative options to manage these challenges. So, our video entirely used stock footage. We got a VOR, you know, through some people whom we knew and who were willing and able to afford it home, right? The situation was changing every few hours because yeah, yeah want to even allow campaigns that spoke about covid-19, you know in a very upfront manner, right and we had to manage that as well. Right? So we have to adapt on the ground. So I think you know flexibility, perseverance or collaboration of you know, whether creative Agency really kept us all going. We put all our energies into getting this campaign of the ground and and honestly, it just took a week from conceptualization with to launch.
Wow. Wow, that’s fast. I mean, even if without the lockdown if you can crack a campaign in a week that is super fast and you did it in a lockdown to that’s like super cool.
Yeah. I mean it was you know, we were we were up for I don’t know how many nights and when I say we, I mean my team and my creative agency, you know hats off to them to really manage this for us but not but yes, they are, you know, it was a very quick turnaround and we were very pleased with the results.
So, tell me related to this campaign and the lockdown and covid. So what would what would change for you as a marketeer after the covid pandemic is back behind them? You may talk about the consumers are changing either the channel new emerging channels coming up and whatever you may choose. So question of these what would change in the post covid world for marketeer?
We’re on you know covid is honestly not just a Health crisis. It’s a Black Swan event right here. Why don’t you take actions across multiple Dimensions not just limited to loss of human life not just limited to severe economic contraction and that is on a global basis, you know, there’s restructuring of businesses. But also there is an intrinsic reshaping of human behavior and consumer preferences and you know, we have seen this in the insurance sectors as well. And you know, I let me answer your question by looking at their for the various pillars of marketing and how a change in consumer preference is going to impact all of them. Right? So I think as a starting point the most important, you know, being your product mix right angles. So Indians by nature are stables, you know, we have among the highest savings rate in the world and we all know that right we all say yeah, we accumulate wealth. We are industrious we do hard work, invest in loyal but Safe products like if these you know life insurance endowment Etc, but oddly don’t spend money on protection products insurance, which I believe has almost guaranteed usability in urban India, has sadly always been characterized by low penetration and limited democracy.
However, the covid-19 situation has turned this on his head. People get our slowly waking up to realize that health is also an asset that needs financial protection. That’s a good one. That’s a good one. I never heard it from somebody. That’s a good one. Yeah, and and you know, we are we are seeing that I mean the search for health insurance is going up people want, you know Insurance products, especially that cover covid-19 even so that we have already started seeing a positive inclination for health insurance right. On the other hand of the largest selling product in The General Insurance category, which is motor insurance is declining right now. You know, what an insurance is a compulsory product. You have to take it when you buy a waiter, right? So who’s dependency on the Auto industry now keep your industry. In fact, you know, I was looking at some data and you know, what, do you know sort of how many cars were sold in the month of April?
In India, so I have I happen to know right zero and zero. Got it.
Exactly. So there was Zero bars that that was sold in the month of April right and and you would imagine the impact of that on the motor insurance industry. Yeah. I think there’s going to be a turnaround in this set of post a lockdown right to happen is that you know, once the lockdown is defeated across India, of course, we are still hoping ends, of course, you know certain parts of India is not going to want to travel but objects. Absolutely. Yeah, and therefore there’s going to be a demand for you know, two wheelers for you know, entry-level value-based four-wheelers. The demand is product is going to go up and I get him there’s going to be a ressurrection. So the motor insurance industry as you know, these behaviors start to establish, right? If you look at one of the largest growing products which is travel insurance, now is non-existent, right? Yeah, you think it’s gonna be a long long time till people will have the confidence to travel again. And this code according to me is going to continue be to be impacted for at least another two years, you know, if now yeah and therefore, you know with all of these changes, I think the insurance sector will have to therefore redefine the product mix and the business makes as a result of me. Besides products are you know, I see that there’s going to be a huge change in in distribution right now are industry is largely dependent on agents conducting their business through face-to-face interaction with customers. And now obviously, you know, there is an absence of that right people are vary of meeting new people. So they will, you know insurance companies will have to turn to tools that allow digital prospecting whether that’s the selling whether that’s for booking policy is whether that’s for collecting payments, right? So digitization of the sales process according to me is going to be key and the brands that are going to move fast will therefore have a competitive advantage if they manage to make this happen, right?
You know a customer service. I think that is going to be start seeing of belly huge shift towards self servicing non assisted platforms whether those actual apps that are those are tools to your right and therefore the brands that make this seamless give a good customer experience are gonna thank. I believe that the human need to talk to another person to solve issues is not going to go. All right, so they had not call centers will have to work will have to be fully equipped right and and you know, and we realize this I mean when I mean we did face a challenge of getting call center executive to work from home. We’re up to not happen, right but when you get it possible when they were up and running in three four days time after the lockdown was announced so, you know once work from home and work from home is here to stay right will continue technology is certainly going to keep right, you know, if you look at if you look at things like, you know, the media landscape, I think the media Hip is going to change permanently, right you look at the print and cinema, right? I think we’ve suffered because people are going to take a while to get back to watching movies in the cinema Hall and or you know, social distancing has led to online social connectivity. So see evidence of you know, visits of social media sites have increased by 19%, behind these even for those about 35 years, like typically you would say 18- 35% is your key target audience for the social media, but you’re seeing even or Spike for about 35 years right on Facebook and WhatsApp continue the domination but you’ve seen platforms like Bite dance and Tick-Tock, you know, they’re not far behind right? There’s a 32 percent growth in visits to new sites and 11% growth in visit to health side’s, digital consumption on mobile phones have increased by three folds.
Online gaming has seen single 49% hike and you know increase in total minutes and I mean all this is telling us that now consumers are more on digital than ever before it’s not going to change post covid-19.
So tell me as a marketeer for a minute, let’s say that you are not a marketeer anymore. And you are an entrepreneur lets assume that you are going to help, let’s say her husband in getting on him except so what business opportunities you see as I informed educated individual in this post covid-19.
You know as an entrepreneur one, I think, the faster you respond to New Market needs. The most Nimble you are the better you are going to do. See a lot of large organizations have Legacy organization structures. They have Legacy it systems large overhead scores and it will therefore take them while to reduce costs and of scenario where Top Line is under pressure where it is in every in every single industry right there for entrepreneurs, you know, if they really focus on the net on the new needs that are developing in the market, you know, they are going to they are going to end up being on top right now and also some of the new needs which you are seeing just in our category, right you mean that, you know, a lot of people want to look for Insurance that protects them against coronavirus. Yeah. Yeah, you are seeing that there is a lot of nervousness in the current economy about Job losses. Yeah. Yeah, you know also concerned over data security in the commuting. These are new opportunities for Brands to develop category breaking destructive propositions that a drink. And you know, I truly believe that brands that do well and and was Brands could be, you know, led by entrepreneurs but brand do well in this space will firmly get positioned as Innovative and clutter breaking and now they have to break the chain of predatory pricing which is, you know, a huge issue that the industry struggling with today. It is no longer be about price the more you respond to Market needs the more Loyal people are going to be to you because you’re genuinely addressing needs have now come.
Super insight and IT must say if let’s say you are doing magic everyday but tough question if you were to hire somebody to replace you as a marketing head of future generally or even for idfc for that matter, for example, what kind of skills and talents, would you look at that person?
I am going to look for somebody who is a loner who is always learning because I think that is something that has helped me and and somebody who’s always learning is is going to be somebody who’s you know, whose humble enough to first say that look, I don’t know everything. I can’t know everything right, but I’m willing to learn. Someone who has a learner mindset to me is I mean that is the first criteria that I look for in any marketeer at any level. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a leadership position or not. So a lot of times that I think is absolutely critical, you know, also the ability to adapt, the ability to be agile the ability to understand that things are moving very very quickly. And if you don’t really keep up you are going to be you know, you will you will get completely wiped out, right and that’s what this is, this is true for marketers at you know, at any point of time. And for today, it’s you know, it’s even more relevant right? I was I was attending seminars, those were the days when seminars were still happening, this was being run by a professor from Harvard and I did he said you know, he said a statistic that will always remain in my head. He said that as a marketeer, if you don’t really invent yourself every 2 years, you can kiss goodbye to your job. Yeah, so I mean and really I mean when he said that I was like that is it really hit home. It’s it is the truth of today.
So, tell me what if I am somebody who got five years of experience in the marketing industry across I mean, I could be working on any sort of product or category. What do I learn today? So that like I am relevant tomorrow is a and b if I want to like you become who you are for example, like a head of marketing at a large company. What do I do? So two sets of questions.
I would say two words: Digital and Data. Okay. Okay data is power in today’s world. Yeah, the more you get familiar with it the more you understand how to use it and how to impact business decisions using data the more successful you are going to be as a marketeer today because a marketeer today is supposed to be back to business and not just Communications, right? So data is absolutely critical. Secondly, is of course digital and you know that that you don’t need to say I mean, that’s that something which you know, everybody knows right but the dynamics are changing very quickly right? There are so many new apps that are coming up. Consumer Behaviour towards these are changing right so you will have to constantly keep up with that.
Having said that, there is one more important subset of marketing that a lot of people forget and people forget, you know, whether they are at the starting of their career or whether there are at a leadership position or any other talk a lot of actually forget the consumer. It sounds completely, you know, non-intuitive right? You would feel that as a marketeer is that you know, you are under pressure to show your ROIs, you are under pressure to you know to deliver campaigns really quickly. You are under pressure, you know to to do what the business wants you to do a lot of time. Yeah, what happens when you loose sight of the consumers when you do this and I think that is the one thing that I will tell all marketers that look it doesn’t matter, you are the window of the consumer into the organization whether your business like to hear it or not, whether or you know, your leaders like to hear it or not, there is a consumer truth out. It is your job to make sure the consumer group the truth is represented properly to the people so that the right business decisions can be made.
How do you actually get to know the consumer? But I understand that you know, you have a planning head in your House itself, but how do you go about learning a company mobile device?
You know, there are various ways of doing that. You know, what is it? I mean the starting point of marketing is really about understanding consumer behavior and culture and there are various ways that you can learn about culture and you can learn about the consumers, you know, you know, of course there are tools which are available which are your marketing research tools, there is social listening, right? All of those are I’m assuming everybody is going to do right in. Yeah, but you don’t only learn from this, you know, you learn from reading books you learn from understanding what is happening in the culture you learn from you no more even watching movies you learn from just talking to people right? And if me actually. I got a lot of inspiration just talking to people, you know, and I will be talking to people you know who I meet at parties. I’ll be talking about Uber driver was gonna drop me home, you know to understand what my maid is going through to understand facets of what is really happening in people’s lives. What are the challenges they’re going through? How are they solving them? What are people thinking right and and this, you know this understanding of psychology of what’s really effecting their minds, contributes towards your overall learning of marketing.
So Ruchika, I just have like three four more questions to ask you as we close. In the previous one you mentioned that you even you draw inspiration for even from even films and Bollywood, do you want to talk to me about some other unconventional ways when you draw inspiration, like one of the whenever guest says says that you know, what he does is that he stands at the shop floor office, you know manufacturing plant to hear what consume what workers do, what unconventional ways you use to get the inspiration of yourself.
You know Saurabh for me, I think I think I draw a lot of inspiration just by talking to people and I think I mentioned that in my previous answer as well and that really, you know, I don’t know if it’s conventional or unconventional but you know, I really learn a lot by you know, by by just having those conversations or even just by observing people, right? Even if You observe people, you know at a party for example, right and you observe the kind of conversation that they are having you can feel the pulse of where culture is moving right and and that you know, those are some of the insights that I then kind of take forward, right? So for example, you know when we were to when I had joined idfc bank, I was still the head of brand at that point of time and you know, we were looking at at all campaign, the launch campaign for ourselves right and of course, we have done a lot of research and you know are all of that but they were resolved know what I was talking to people about, you know banking experiences and things that are because you know, obviously when you meet people they be like, oh you work for a bank and you know, then you start talking about adding experience, is started noticing a Common Thread and that Common Thread was that people would deeply unhappy with their banking experience. The research told us what I had to in fact the research also corroborated that but the inside that we really got was that, you know, a lot of banks out, there are trying to be your pals trying to be your you know Humsafar and you know, and you know, all of that right huge promises, but the the reality was that, you know, they were not able to deliver a good experience on the ground and people would like to look when I walk into a bank or when I reach out through digital, you know digital sources, whether it’s through the app or you go through the website or whatever. It might be. I just need a simple experience. I just want to get in there and get out right. Nobody went up on a Saturday morning to say lets do banking today, you know, it’s a chore, right? So people understand talking of course now things have improved but I’m talking, you know, you know six years ago right where a lot of people were very unhappy with their current experience and really that became the premise of our communication campaign that we launched which was a banking and how Campaign which was really to say that you know, we are not going to make false promises to you. We are pure to do simple banking you get in there do your stuff get out there. We will support you. We will make sure that you have whatever you need to do things fast, simple, simply efficiently and that is really where the inside Kingdom lies.
So tell me if I told you that I want you to throw open a marketing challenge to our listeners and they could be like your extended brain of sorts of they have like one big marketing company that you want to solve when you want somebody like your extended brains of sorts.
That’s an interesting one. Yes, of course. And of course, I don’t know. I feel I think if I’m not mistaken most listeners are millennials, I would imagine. Now, insurance has a category typically has no traction with millennials. In fact, you know, most most millennials believe that this is something that you look at a later stage of life. You know when I get married or you know, when I have kids is when I’m going to start looking at insurance.
They said down the line that I get often is once I settle down well, you can’t be serious thing like insurance.
Bang on, bang on now my challenges as an insurance brand, right? What can we do to connect better with Millennials? What product they look at? You know, how would Millennials like to buy them? You know, how would how shall they communicate to them? Right how as a brand we be relevant to the largest segment of population in India?
And they are free to choose whatever channels and whatever they like.
Absolutely and you know marketing, like I said, doesn’t have to be only communications, right? So starting from you know, what products what distribution channels right? What experiences where can I come and find you right? The whole world is your oyster.
Like that allows consumers to look at insurance in a different manner and then start looking at you know, no consuming it in buying it.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.
So apart from this like going back to GMI after 20 years and taking fabulous job of teaching marketing, so what exactly you would teach them or would like to change about marketing from what it is taught in IMI now.
Our professors did a fabulous job of teaching marketing to us and it’ll be very very hard to beat what they’ve done. But I think I think what what I would just add to through what they already do is that I would give a sense of of ground reality. Yeah, because like they started discussing at the beginning of our conversation, you know, the ground reality, especially when you passed up a b-school is very very different, right.
The kind of skills that you require to survive, forget about thrive are very very different right you need to be able to you know, understand business problems and use marketing to solve business problems. You just don’t get in there and start creating You Know fab, you know glamorous advertising campaign, right? I think I think I would possibly do a session which is just zipped into reality that that you know guys when you get out there, for the first 5 years, this is all this is what you will have to do, you know brace yourselves and its not at all pretty.
I think you will be one of the most hated people on the campus because you will bust their dreams before they get out. So last two questions one tell me what is your take on and it’s a little controversial in terms of questions. What is your take on all these you know girls and boys mix doors suddenly becoming influences of sorts and dictating marketing effort by a lot of these at least consumer companies.
You know, I think there’s been a lot of chatter about influencer marketing lately right not to you know about a year ago. It was a sure fire way of getting brand message out there. Not anymore. Right? So I think is there a merit in an influencer marketing. Yes. Absolutely. There is but you have to be careful about the choice of influence or the influence of has to have the same values as your brand has to really connect with the story and the message that you’re putting out there. It shouldn’t be a force fit and it has to be authentic. I think a lot of times where you know brands lose out is when it’s very clearly is a force fit, just because he was a celebrity who has a lot of followers. So, if brief starts with that then in the wrong starting something on that side, but no, absolutely I do. Absolutely i do fight with my marketing agency, yes have I done influencer marketing, yes, in fact part of my cover the distance the second stage of my cover. The distance was influencer marketing, but we were very very careful about choosing the right influencer for were doing sessions which really resonated with our message yeah, because it was very seamless terms of the message that you know, we were we were trying to put out. So for example you Know cover the distance was really about connecting with your loved one’s right? What we did or in the in the first phase of the campaign of course was launched the video in the second case of the campaign. We got influencers to do live sessions on our social media pages which actively created moments for families to come together and cover the distance even families were not living together. Right?
We had you know, we had you know, somebody who would come in and you know teach kids how to make a simple dish for Mother’s Day, right? So they know the father and the kids are in the kitchen, you know, whipping up something interesting for the mother, right? You know, we had we had you know now in the current context with a lot of household help not being available, there’s a lot of pressure on you know, I mean, especially to women to get into the kitchen and and whip up meals right for we didn’t have to answer session on on how you can create a nice meal for your wife. Even if you’re an amateur cook. You don’t have to be a cordon bleu of cook. You have to be, you know, even if you know the very very basics, right? We will teach you how to make very simple dishes which you can you know do and give your wife a break, right? We had done sessions where you know friends came together, from different parts of the world where you know, they could learn the choreography together. So just examples but you know the point I’m trying to make here is that it was it was it was thought through and brands who are very careful about making sure that it’s a seamless to their strategy. It makes a lot of if it’s a force fi, it is not authentic. Then you will be at the losing end of the stick.
Well last question and then I have one more plug for you. So last question is where is Ruchika Verma headed in say the most cliché question of the world up, where do you see yourself in five years? Where is Ruchika after 5 years?
Imagine if you’d asked me this question 5 years ago!
I learned that was coming, I did not want to ask this question, but like you started the conversation by saying that you are just at the beginning of your career, even though you spent 20 years of your career, so where do you see yourself in 5 years, what would be that ultimate high for you?
I have always taken life as it comes. And for me you know where I am, which company I am in, I think I will be doing what I was doing 5 years ago – Learning! Which is learning how to be relevant to today’s consumers.
So apart from this. Like do you do anything serious, like painting or any other hobby that you pursue apart from work?
I used to play Piano. But I have unfortunately given that up, because I do not find time to do it. But I love dancing and everytime I get a chance to dance, be it Bollywood or I am an Odissi dancer, so I just get down to it and practice it. That is really my stress buster.
So, these were the questions I had. So Ruchika super insight on what an insurance brand would do to excel in the world. Any other category, or brand would you like to work on, post Covid?
So, there is no specific brand/genre to work on. I think brands will be the winners, if they follow 5-point mantra: 1. Adaptability. So throughout the marketing plan that you made from the beginning, reassess the reality, few needs, consumer behaviour, reassess if your brand can genuinely fit in to today’s need, reassess what will you say, how will you package the message, where would you find the relevant audiences for these messages. Secondly digital destruction. Brands have to constantly reconstruct themselves to survive in this new world and I had spoken about the digitization of the sales process but that is just the starting point. There is a great opportunity to arm distribution with the right tools to enable digital prospecting, make sure agents get their voice heard in distribution channels, even if they can’t meet customers face to face and really think of deployment of the AI machine. Now, AI machine learning is going to pitch less for detecting and repairing but more for predicting and preventing so use it for long-term benefits. Third is agility. Speed to market is key, so be nimble. At future generali, I spoke about it. Our business continuity really consisted of initiatives that we used to do anything so quickly, even before the government announced the lockdown, which made us respond to the consumers, when they needed us the most. Fourth is Empathy. If you are seen as opportunist this time, you are going to loose out. You cant be toned deaf at this time. Brands that genuinely listen and go that extra mile to solve people’s problems, are really the brands that are going to win and believe me that brands that are genuinely standing by their customer’s needs during this time, actually prevents the loyalty shifts later. And last but not the least is innovation. I have spoken about it how insurance brands are breaking consumer destructive propositions, how innovation can work in your industry, there are similar examples across many industries like Louis Vuitton can make their sanatized masks, so there is always going to be a spark to be able for you to innovate. We all know that the world is never going to be the same again. For brands that embrace these redefined marketing strategies and consistently deliver consumer needs, will gain preference.
Thank you so much Ruchika for your time. It was great talking to you, I did not know that the journey from Delhi to Mumbai to Singapore would be such an interesting one, thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much Saurabh, anytime…
That was Ruchika Varma. Thank you for listening us. Do write and tell us how we can improve this show and do better. Afterall, we are a show of marketeers, by marketeers. Thank you.
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