Aishwarya Ramesh

“Ola is digital-first but has penetration of an FMCG brand” - Aishvarya Murali, Marketing Head, Ola

Ola recently appointed Aishvarya Murali as its marketing head. We trace her career over 14 years...

Marketer, mother and brand strategist, these are just some of the hats that Ola’s new marketing head Aishvarya Murali dons on a regular basis. She started her career at Mondelez - first as an intern and then as a key account manager. Murali spent almost a decade at Unilever, working first as a brand manager on brands like PureIt and TIGI hair care and then as a marketing manager for their coffee and gifting division. Her last stint at Unilever saw her take on responsibility as the e-commerce marketing head for foods and refreshments. She worked at Furlenco for three years as their vice president of marketing and growth. Two weeks ago, she moved to cab-hailing service Ola as their head of marketing. We caught up with her over the phone to find out how marketing trends have changed, how her experience has been working across sectors and more.

“The three sectors I worked in were all very different from each other. When I was at HUL, I wasn’t in marketing for the first three years I was in sales. Before that, at Mondelez, I did a bit of marketing. At Furlenco, it was about building the company as a digital brand,” she explained.

“Ola is digital-first but has penetration of an FMCG brand” - Aishvarya Murali, Marketing Head, Ola

Aishvarya Murali

According to Murali, in Cadbury, the marketing was impulse and moment-led. “The category is such that it is an impulse category. We are always looking for small moments of joy and how you can turn them into Cadbury consumption moments. First off, it was a consumer durable that we were trying to sell, then I moved on to selling FMCG products,” she said.

Murali told us that from moment-marketing at Mondelez, she moved on to Unilever, which had her deal with the marketing of what she calls ‘monthly-basket’ items such as tea and coffee. She pointed out that whether it was Bru or PureIt, they were marketing need-based products.

She mentioned that Furlenco was a whole new ball game because the norm is to get customers to buy furniture, but here, the company was asking people to rent. “We needed to create a cultural shift in terms of ownership,” Murali stated.

She stressed on the fact that the nuances of marketing still hold true, despite the different sectors she’s worked with and emphasised that marketing is no longer a one-sided conversation thanks to an increase in the amount of users on digital platforms.

“They’re continuously consuming content and commenting on it. We’re no longer pushing for content; it’s almost like a pull we’re creating,” she said. She pointed out that brands that engage more with their consumers by liking and commenting on social media get more traction than brands that don’t.

She also highlighted that the concept of customer loyalty and a repeat customer are concepts of the past. “With the slew of businesses that have come up, people are not going to repeatedly buy from a brand just because you’re throwing targeted communication at them. They’re repeatedly using a brand because they genuinely see value in it. Consumers are becoming a lot more discerning and a lot smarter because of the influx of information that is available to them on the internet.”

Regarding how handling the e-commerce function at HUL prepared her for her role at Furlenco and subsequently at Ola, Murali admitted that it was quite different, but in Unilever’s case, the intent to consume already existed and products like tea, coffee and detergent are repeat purchases that happen every month. “In this case, digital helped us do thorough research-based marketing; whether it is creating compelling usage frequency-led behaviour inside e-commerce websites themselves. If you look at other categories that HUL operates in - beauty products or cosmetics - digital can play the role of creating demand and awareness and help promote brand advocacy. What the brand’s really trying to do is build more frequency and cashing in on the existing intent versus trying to create aspiration in a category by creating a whole experience online,” Murali explained.

We asked her about the transition from marketing in the offline space to online and she said it was a complete shift for her. “The only learnings I could apply from when I was at Unilever to Furlenco was the fact that basic tenets of building a brand don’t change. There is always an end-user, a consumer to whom you are putting out a product offering or a functional benefit or an emotional benefit to... You can layer the proposition. That’s the only commonality that I found,” she outlined.

“The principles of media are the same - you have to get reach, you have to get frequency and you have to get people to become aware of and want to buy your product. But everything else is completely different,” she admitted.

“It was a brilliant strength that I had people who were way smarter and younger than me to help me with the nuances. What struck me is the fact that most of this stuff is so much more measurable. You have real-time data flowing through your analytics platform and it gave us a clear idea of what’s working and what’s not - what to deploy and redeploy. How we should look at budget splits across various parts of marketing itself and it was insanely measurable,” Murali added. She explained that the only two things she could take from her experience of brand building at HUL are the basic tenets of media buying.

“The adrenaline in seeing how the campaign is running and to see results coming in by way of traffic and conversion on the storefront, that’s exciting to look at and measure. That was a wholly different education for me,” Murali said.

She told us that getting into Ola is exciting for her as it’s a combination of what she’d learnt at HUL and at Furlenco. “Ola, at the end of the day, is a digital-first brand, but it has penetration equal to an FMCG brand,” she stated.

Apart from being a marketer, Murali tells us that her primary role is a mom. “Everything else is secondary to me. I have two kids - a son and a daughter. My time largely comprises of work on one end and kids on the other. If I have any time left, I dedicate it to my interests such as singing, music and fitness. If I manage to do any of these four in a given week, I consider it a success...,” said before signing off.