The former head of digital of realme India opens up about his approach to digital marketing and his experience of building the digital presence of a brand ground up.
Amlan Pati (formerly with realme) was recently assigned the responsibility of elevating the digital presence of CavinKare’s brands. The Chennai-based FMCG major houses iconic brands like Chik, Nyle, Cavin’s, among over a dozen others. The primary task is to improve the digital presence and drive the relevance of brands among the younger audiences.
Pati chose the digital route back in 2015, when he was with Panasonic India. It was driven by the foresight that the world of e-commerce, social media, smartphones, communities and content was about to blow up.
Initially placed at Panasonic India’s customer services department, Pati soon moved on to marketing, planning and strategy for the company’s smartphone business. He set up the company’s first digital smartphone team. This was followed by creating brand websites, setting up social channels and working on content marketing campaigns.
“We had to really make ourselves capable on the digital front, and it was a well-orchestrated strategy.”
In 2018, Pati joined smartphone brand realme as a digital marketing manager. realme then was pretty different from what it is today. The brand was founded as an Oppo sub-brand and was being carved off as an independent identity. When offered a choice between joining Oppo and the newbie realme, Pati chose the latter and joined chief executive Madhav Sheth on the realme journey.
“I got the opportunity to build ‘digital’ from the ground.” While realme has always been a digital-heavy brand, one of Pati’s ‘landmark’ initiatives was the ‘Ask Madhav’ project. It was a direct line of communication for the consumers with the company’s CEO (Madhav Sheth) via social media. This happened alongside positioning the CEO’s social media presence as a credible brand asset, like an official influencer.
“We decided that it will be an open Twitter thread for user queries. The key questions would be addressed via video messages from the CEO. This was something unprecedented in India. No CEO had taken an upfront approach of addressing users directly. This user-centric approach catapulted the brand.”
There are many CEOs, but only a handful of them are social media stars. We asked Pati what exactly goes into creating one.
It starts with the person, he says.
“For a leadership profile, the person himself/herself has to be very free in terms of communicating with the audience base. The days when agencies would handle a social account on behalf of the person, are gone. The leader should have a good feeling about it. It can’t be superimposed.”
"The days when agencies would handle a social account on behalf of the person, are gone."
Sheth’s Twitter account today has over three lakh followers, and is like the brand’s first point of contact for its users. “People like to connect with a real person. A brand is an identity in itself with its own attributes, but only a human can supersede a brand,” Pati asserts.
With many frequent initiatives in the world of digital marketing, we asked Pati about the scale of failure.
“There are situations when a campaign may not work, but the good thing about digital is that you start getting results immediately. If something doesn’t work, you have to course-correct immediately and introduce stimulus, or additional campaign thought to boost it.”
"The digital marketing person is always in the learning mode, and there is no switch off."
Pati mentions that there is no ‘standard’ practice in digital marketing. One needs to evolve continuously with the latest practices. “The digital marketing person is always in the learning mode, and there is no switch off. There is always a new platform, or a new wave, or something new going viral.”
Pati cites the case of TikTok, an extremely popular digital platform that lost relevance overnight. “The careers that relied on TikTok just vanished.”
Among the ‘in’ trends are e-commerce marketplaces evolving beyond sales and finding place in media plans. They are doubling up as brand discovery zones, with exclusive product launches, showcases and brand partnerships.
Pati says that the role today for e-commerce is a mix of discovery and performance marketing, with a slight tilt towards the latter. “The tilt is slightly towards performance because you need to drive conversions. But searches also happen on these platforms and brands can also be discovered there.”
He mentions that the brands should actively push for D2C e-commerce with their own online shops because these generate first party data. With web browsers looking to ditch third party cookies, first party data has become all the more important.
"The brands that have invested in first party data will have leverage over others."
Also, digital marketers swim in troll-infested waters (social media). Pati says that one of his biggest worries is of the brand’s content having multiple meanings. “The meaning, or context can always go the other way round, especially in cases of topical marketing.”
As a precautionary measure, Pati says that digitally-active brands should always have an immediate action team on standby. “The team can include key people from the top management, legal teams, etc. That kind of readiness should be there, instead of waiting for things to happen.”
Five key tools in Pati’s digital marketing kit:
Unmetric – Social media benchmarking platform
Meltwater – Media monitoring and social listening platform
Klear – For influencer marketing
SEM Rush – For SEO, PPC and social media
Auris – Social listening and media monitoring
Among other recent shifts in the approach to digital marketing is ASCI’s transparency guidelines for online influencers. Pati says that while the guidelines will definitely affect the outcome of influencer marketing, what’s more important is putting the right measurement metrics in place. He maintains that the secret lies in finding the right influencer match – in terms of not just reach, but also brand fit and audience.
"The consumers are overexposed, and it is difficult even for them to recall where they were exposed to a brand."
“There will be some metric from the audience/consumer insight perspective, but there is so much proliferation of media. The consumers are overexposed, and it is difficult even for them to recall where they were exposed to a brand. There are ways, like including unique links in influencer posts, which track unique visits. It doesn’t mean that influencer marketing isn’t effective.”
Away from his marketing job, Pati spends his time watching movies in various languages. Another important pastime is scrolling through cat videos on the Internet, and sharing them with his family. This, as he prepares himself to take on the journey of a cat parent.
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