Venkata Susmita Biswas

afaqs! CMO Dialogues - Kunal Dubey, CMO, Cleartrip

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

Kunal Dubey, CMO, Cleartrip is a marketer with over 18 years of experience. He has worked on brands such as Flipkart, eBay, PhonePe and Vedantu. Dubey is about to wrap up his second stint with the Flipkart group as the CMO of Cleartrip. During his tenure as the CMO of the travel aggregator brand, he has overseen a rebrand and has refreshed the brand’s approach to marketing.

Excerpts from the interview:

The full-funnel approach 

For the top and mid-funnel, we completely use brand marketing. This is to find new audiences cohort-wise using first-party and third-party data, presenting the brand's offerings in a storytelling format, and generating interest among prospective customers. Performance marketing then comes into play to convert these interested customers. It's crucial to set clear objectives and determine how to achieve them throughout the funnel.

You will be very surprised to know that the communication assets that we use are the same for brand and performance because my fundamental belief as a marketer is that for a user this differentiation does not matter. They do not interact with ads based on what the marketer’s objective with that ad is. They are simply looking for something that is useful to them. 

While the call-to-action (CTA) may vary based on desired user behavior, creating desire is essential before any action can occur. For example, if a user has to be served a frequency of 15 in a campaign, the first 8-9 has to be through brand marketing. 

I've moved away from the idea of rigid distinctions between performance and brand marketing that I used to adhere to. Now, I take a holistic view of the entire funnel and activate performance marketing only when necessary.

The CFO-CMO power couple

Marketers often view their role as investing in growth. However, when this mindset shifts to merely spending, marketing can be perceived as a cost centre.

Instead, the CMO should be aligned not just with the CFO but with the entire strategy team on the fact that everyone has come together for only one purpose — which is to take the brand forward. 

Also, brand marketing does not have to mean advertising expenditure. Every customer touchpoint represents an impression that the brand serves in the market. Every call to a CX team is a brand impression. Every time you interact with my brand, anywhere, even the printout that you get for a ticket is a brand impression. Therefore, there's an opportunity to grow the brand from any perspective. 

Once the CFO and CMO are aligned on the realities of the market ecosystem, available resources, and have a common vision of growth, they can create a bloodbath before even the strategy is developed. 

On the right time for branded content

I'm a strong believer in content marketing. It can be effective when you own the content and host it on your own platforms, or when you collaborate with influencers or content creators. I've engaged in numerous content partnerships with creators and believe that successful branded content hinges on finding the right idea at the opportune moment, rather than force-fitting an idea for the purpose of creating content.

Right now, Cleartrip is the number two brand in the online travel aggregator market and has miles to go in terms of building hardcore consideration and being the preferred destination for consumers. So, with the resources that are available for marketing, I want to work harder on making Cleartrip the default destination. 

GenAI, here to stay

AI is here for real, but the rush to prove that marketers know something about this new technology is what I find funny. I believe marketers should not rush to adopt it — it is good to sit back and reflect on how to use the technology to add value for the consumer and find ways to use AI in ways that benefits the consumer. 

We have already started using GenAI for moodboarding for every campaign. Personally, I have been using GenAI to brief teams on the kind of music I want in an ad. I do not have much know-how about music and find it hard to communicate what I want, but AI has made that easy for me. 

It will become crucial for people to upskill themselves and learn prompt engineering. People think they can type anything and achieve results, but true efficacy lies in understanding how to provide the right input for the machine to work its 'magic' effectively.

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