Venkata Susmita Biswas

afaqs! CMO Dialogues — Gaurav Ramdev, chief marketing officer, Protean E-Gov Technologies 

In our fortnightly series, we interview marketing heads and CMOs to find out what influences their strategies and how they navigate the ever-changing marketing landscape.

Gaurav Ramdev, a marketer for twenty years now, has wide-ranging experience across various sectors. He spent over a decade at FMCG companies like Coca-Cola, Britannia and MTR before turning to marketing digital products such as Razorpay’s payroll and banking products and now at a technology company, Protean. He is currently building the brand Protean, a population-scale digital public infrastructure organisation. Ramdev shares his insights and observations about the marketing function.

Edited excerpts from the interview: 

“Brand is the moat”

Two things have fundamentally changed in the last two decades. First, it is now well understood that the brand is your moat. Building a brand is essential for small businesses like startups and large businesses that have been doing this for over 30 years. Marketers no longer have to struggle to make themselves heard. That's a significant change. Because if you go back 20-30 years, marketing was under business, growth, or was clubbed with commercial operations. But now, marketing stands on its own.

The second change is in execution. The complexity and choices available to marketers are plentiful. Brand managers are faced with a plethora of media options to execute their ideas. The challenge lies in choosing the right one because good marketing organisations believe in the power of ideas more than throwing money at an average or below-average idea.

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution”

Falling in love with the solution instead of the problem is a mistake we often make. Sometimes when you hear an idea, it may seem great, and you decide to proceed with it. But if you don't fall in love with the problem you're solving, you might stray, leading to significant failures at multiple levels.

In my younger days at Britannia, a very interesting property came our way, pitched to us as Spice Tunes. This was for brands like Jim Jam, aimed at kids in the 8-12 age group. We considered creating an online property, getting them hooked onto it, and offering coins for redemption for more Jim Jams. That was the whole idea.

But over time, as we built it, we added something in the background like a reference code to join the Spice Tunes brigade. Somewhere along the way, the whole idea became about Spice Tunes and not about Jim Jam. I think that was a valuable learning point.

Those were the early days of gaming in India, and we were ahead of the curve in FMCG. While all of that was great, I believe the problem at hand was solving for more mysteriousness, more naughtiness for the brand. We should have invested more time and effort there to build out a legacy for the brand as well.

“CMO vs CFO: Healthy push and pull” 

The real question here is how do you justify every campaign versus how do you justify every marketing effort. I don't think there is a question around marketing as a function. But there are going to be questions about justifying the spend to achieve the objectives you set out to achieve.

So if marketing's goal in an organisation is to build trust, then you measure trust. If the organisation is focused on lead generation, then you build out a performance marketing campaign or any programmatic campaigns and measure the leads. And in traditional FMCG, you continue to think long term and short term simultaneously. At a brand level, long-term imagery metrics matter because time and again, we have seen that long-term imagery impacts long-term business sustainability.

So I think the role of marketing is not being questioned. What is being evaluated is whether the campaigns are delivering against the objectives or not. But that's par for the course. I think that should continue to happen because it's a great push-pull within the organisation.

For more nuggets from the interview, watch the full video. 

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