Vodafone's Siddharth Banerjee on telecom marketing: "It's not a job for the faint-hearted"

By Anirban Roy Choudhury, afaqs!, Mumbai | May 08, 2017
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Siddharth Banerjee

Siddharth Banerjee

EVP, Marketing, Vodafone

It is IPL time and while the matches are high decibel there is a lot that goes on between overs during the ad breaks. Sony has sold ad inventory of around Rs 1,300 crore which marketing heads bought to garner eyeballs for their brand. One such is Siddharth Banerjee EVP, marketing, Vodafone. He earmarks the event in his calendar and sets aside 20 per cent of his marketing budget to roll out communication through the tournament.

Vodafone has launched the Zoozoo army also known as 'Zumi' to celebrate 10 years of IPL. Between breaks, one can see the Zumis celebrating a decade of boundaries, huddles, run-outs and much more. The telco has also rolled out "Make The Most of Now" campaign where Asha and Bala (a couple in their 60s) go to Goa for a honeymoon. Also, every match features a Vodafone fan army showing off some moves and a Vodafone 'superfan' getting a match ball signed by the winning captain.

Before joining Vodafone in 2015, Banerjee spent around 12 years at Hindustan Unilever. Prior to HUL he worked at General Mills and Reckitt Benckiser. In an interview with afaqs!Reporter, the marketing man of India's second largest telecom operator shared anecdotes of his transition from FMCG to telecom. He also spoke about the ecosystem, challenges and opportunity.

Edited Excerpts


Tell us about your transition from FMCG at Unilever to telecom...

I have spent 15 years of my career in marketing Fast Moving Consumer Goods, but telecom has really redefined 'fast'. The pace, innovation, competition, communication densities and heat in telecom is immense. Also, it is far more digital-oriented.

Vodafone was an established brand when you joined. What does a marketer do with a well-oiled machine when he joins?

In telecom, you need to redefine yourself constantly. The Indian consumer's habits change at a rapid pace. There's a massive evolution in what she does with her phone - and to entertain herself - now and what she used to do a year or even a month back. From SMS to WhatsApp and now video call, the eras have changed very fast. When I came in, one of the key things that I needed to do was reassess our learning curve on digital, think about whether we're able to operate in a world that has gone digital and turbocharge ahead. Also, driving customer centricity into the organisation was a mandate given by the board.

Unlike in FMCG, consumer loyalties in telecom run low. How does a telecom marketer bring in more takers for the brand?

FMCG is about small, medium and large usage. There are some users who will use your brand occasionally, some who will use only your brand, and others who are solus users (those who will use your brand just once).

But in telecom, the first big difference is between prepaid and postpaid. Prepaid consumers see whether relevant products and services are provided at a relevant price point. The prepaid part of the market is very dynamic and has a high number of players in it. In the postpaid segment, people enjoy telecom credit. If you look at postpaid consumers of Vodafone, you will find that they have stayed for a very long time and are extremely loyal. Many have been with us since the brand's Hutch days. We take care of our loyalists with customer services, product offerings and special communication - not just television, but also digital, one-to-one CVM (Customer Value Management), SMS and e-mailers.

A day in the work life of Banerjee

Speaking of communication, all telecom brands are talking about 4G, speed and cost of data. Has telecom advertising boiled down to a share-of-voice game? Sure, you have two unique brand assets - the pug and the Zoozoos...

Over the years, Vodafone has spoken its own language, whether it's through the pug, which means the network will follow you, or the Zoozoos, which are a means of sending simple messages in a funny way, or the beautiful human stories that we tell. Our communication is distinct from that of other players in the market.

Over the last couple of months we set up a clear strategic framework for brand Vodafone in terms of which brand asset to use: the pug stands for network and comes in when there is a big network or customer service related piece of communication.

We won't use the pug for product communication. The Zoozoos deliver simple messages in a funny way. Zoozoos cannot talk and hence cannot communicate complicated messages. Human storytelling is used to craft communication based on specific needs, desires, wants and aspirations of consumers.

A brand must have three things: a unique point of view, consistency - you can't keep changing your messaging - and authenticity. We focus on ensuring that our messages are functionally relevant as well as emotionally appealing across all mediums. Vodafone has had long-term agency partnerships with Ogilvy (creative) and Maxus (media buying).

As far as your agency partners go, what are some of the biggest challenges facing them today?

As India goes digital and embraces more mobile, agencies need to re-equip themselves with digital-first thinking. There is an urgency at Vodafone to become a digital-first organisation too. This pervades brand marketing and affects the entire organisation.

In today's world it is not about the 30-second-TVC anymore. It's about relevant storytelling. You have a multitude of channels to tell a story - TV, YouTube, blogs, vines... Do we understand each platform equally well? How to do branded content marketing? Are we open to ideas coming from anywhere?

Did that prompt you to conduct Content Day, like HUL does?

We did our inaugural Content Day last November, where we invited people we've never worked with to come up with ideas based on a couple of briefs we sent out. That led to a fascinating library of ideas. You will see some of those ideas during the course of this year. #LookUp was one such.

In terms of ROI, what does the IPL do for your brand?

Vodafone is perhaps the only brand that has associated with IPL for all 10 years. We believe that we have created a winning formula, which helps us get positive ROI. That's why we keep investing in the IPL year after year.

One of our cornerstones for the IPL is to convey an important message. The Zoozoos were born in the IPL; the brief given to the agency was - Can we have a set of stories which are linked by a character or a cast of characters which offers plentitude?

Similarly, we created multiplicity with the SuperNet campaign we did last year. It comprised eight creatives, some more memorable than others. This year, we launched a campaign called 'Make the most of now'. It has a series of films; so as you go through the IPL you will not get fatigued.

Brands across segments are increasing digital media spends. Where does Vodafone stand?

TV is a very efficient medium. I don't see that changing in a hurry. TV gives us high reach at an economical cost. We already spend a lot of our money on digital - it is the second biggest medium for us, after TV.

The telecom sector has seen a new entrant, with deep pockets and freebies. How does one combat that?

We haven't seen any brand coming in to the market yet. Yes, there is a free services player that has come in. As I said, a brand is built when you have a unique point of view and you are consistent and authentic. It will take some time for the free services player to become a brand. Vodafone doesn't stand for 'free'; it stands for quality, for the 'happy to help' platform built over the years, and for being a wide network with international presence.

In a fast moving, competitive and stressful business, what keeps you motivated?

It is not a job not for the fainthearted. I am passionate about the fact that I can describe to everybody what brand Vodafone stands for and why should one miss it if it is not there.

(This interview was first published in our fortnightly magazine afaqs! Reporter on May 01, 2017)

A Note From the Editor

"The job of a telecom marketer is not for the chicken-hearted." That's one of the many interesting things Siddharth Banerjee, marketing in-charge at Vodafone, said to our reporter during the course of this interview.

We decided to put Siddharth on the cover when we met him few months back; my boss and I went over to his office to discuss the first edition of vdonxt asia, our then upcoming, and now successful, conference on the business of online video. The subject is tied to telecom in many ways. As more Indians use smartphones and consume video on-the-go, the only missing cog in this system, at least in our market, is smooth data support. The fate of mobile video consumption is tied to the price and quality of data.

That wasn't the only line of questioning we explored in this story, though. Siddharth, a former Hindustan Unilever-hand (he spent over a decade there marketing FMCG brands), conducted his own version of Content Day at Vodafone, last November. It was HUL that put this concept on the map after the 6-Pack Band campaign for Brooke Bond Red Label, an idea that was born on HUL's Content Day (June 2015), went on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes.

But of all the things Siddharth spoke about, here's what struck me the most: Within Vodafone, he has created a 'social media command centre', a room with screens and 'listening software', in which technicians track what's being said about the brand on social media. This the third time in four months I have heard a marketer talk about this kind of room (the other two are Nestlé's Chandru and L'Oréal's Shalini Raghavan).

For Siddharth, this sort of digital fortress will serve two purposes - help him take corrective action fast and guide his decisions about parking media money; "I'll know which ad to support more, basis what people are saying about a multi-film campaign..." he says."

ASHWINI GANGAL

To download the PDF version of the article, click here.

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