Vikas Mehta_Resized
Vikas Mehta, CEO, PointNine Lintas

Vikas Mehta, CEO, PointNine Lintas became the first CMO in Indian Advertising in 2013. He has been with the MullenLowe Lintas Group since 2006 in various leadership roles, is guest faculty at premier institutions like IIMs & IITs, has authored numerous papers on marketing and won over a 100 regional and global awards for his path-breaking work. Small Is Big caught up with him on all things marketing!

SIB: Congratulations on your recent new role as CEO of PointNine Lintas – a new full service ad agency of the MullenLowe Lintas Group – it has been over a month since you took over – how has the transition been? What is your vision for this new entity?

VM: Thank you. The transition has been a small change in role, but a big shift in perspective. Being an omni-channel offering, our vision for PointNine Lintas is to be the new agency model, that’s built for an experience-economy. It’s an attempt to re-imagine the agency offerings that will be relevant today, and tomorrow. The initial response from the market has been quite encouraging. We are getting great interest from existing and potential clients. What I’m pleasantly surprised to see though, is the candidate interest. We are getting resumes from creative and media agencies, tech-companies, consulting firms, content companies and media houses. It’s a good sign.

SIB: Today advertisers want to be present at all touch points with the consumer, how is that changing the game within ad agencies? Take us through some of the emerging trends you are seeing in your business.

VM: Agencies are responding to the arms-race of touchpoints by creating offerings they call integrated/ full service/ horizontal/ 360 degree. While it’s the right destination to chase, the path they’re taking to get there leaves a lot to be desired. They end up building multi-channel capabilities and then struggle to bring them together to deliver an omni-channel customer experience.

Here’s the industry conundrum – every agency is selling a full service offering but very few clients are buying it that way. Marketers work with anywhere from 6-12 agencies simultaneously to meet their marketing needs.

One interesting trend that’s gaining traction is the convergence of industries that offer marketing services. Agencies (creative and media), media houses/ publishers, consulting firms and tech companies – are all competing directly for a share of marketing dollars. It creates a whole new set of opportunities and challenges for companies like ours.

SIB: Marketing is an important function for any company. But for a bootstrapped business, that cannot afford to spend too much on marketing (since it is still trying to get its product and customer service right), what cost effective marketing strategies would you suggest?

VM: In a digitally connected environment, technology can be leveraged to somewhat level the playing field between a bootstrapped business and one with large media spends. Taking your big idea mass doesn’t have the prohibitory cost barrier of a multi-million dollar TV campaign any more. If your offering is innovative and you’re able to tell an interesting story about your brand, it’s possible to achieve great results with a relatively smaller marketing budget.

Take ideas like ‘Tea for Trump’. By doing a few small things that were extremely news-worthy, a small brand of green tea was able to get massive attention and visibility for a fraction of spends compared to the leading tea brands.

Young enterprises with limited resources can get started with social media to build reach, content to build stickiness and performance marketing to drive sales. As these efforts start generating incremental revenue, it can be ploughed back into scaling up the marketing efforts.

SIB: “Digital” has become a buzzword today. But is digital advertising relevant to any and every kind of business?

VM: I believe in marketing for a digital world and not digital marketing (or advertising). In today’s context, it’s virtually impossible that all your customers are digitally disconnected. You can’t afford to ignore digital, no matter what kind of business you are in. What you use digital for, can vary drastically from business to business.

SIB: Social media marketing is taking the internet by storm. In a world of brands with huge followings of fake likes and followers, what must genuine small brands do to ensure they are not lost in the crowd?

VM: To ensure you aren’t lost in the crowd you need to choose your metrics carefully. Metrics like size of community, number of likes, comments and shares can sometimes paint a misleading picture of RoI. Unfortunately, most companies continue to chase these ‘vanity metrics’. I think it’s far more valuable to chase metrics like purchase intent and build data-models that can link vanity metrics to RoI.

For small brands (and big), the best way to use social media is to use it like a ‘social’ media. Tell a compelling story and build communities of like-minded people who share the same beliefs that your brand stands for. Be sincere, responsive and authentic. Create content that makes people care, and makes them share.

SIB: How is advertising responding to the fact that our screens are getting smaller and content preferences are increasingly shifting from television and newspaper to independent and intelligent content on the web?

VM: More than the screens getting smaller, it’s the attention-spans. While mobile is the first, smallest and primary screen for most people; the TV screens at home have getting bigger too. Tablets are growing and so is the traffic in cinemas. Point is, people will choose the screen basis what’s on it. Advertising by and large, is still getting its head around this paradigm. Independent content is growing exponentially and will continue to do so for another 3-5 years.

We are headed towards a reality where content will be the primary currency, available on any screen of your choice. Users can choose the most convenient screen to consume it on.

SIB: Today’s consumer is very demanding and almost every product or service is trying to create “experiences” to gain customers. Your tips to small and medium sized businesses aspiring to create experiences that can compete with those of large corporations?

VM: The complex decision making process in most large corporations prevents them from creating really seamless brand experiences consistently. Big brands are normally too busy creating big, complex campaigns. Small enterprises can outperform large companies in this aspect, by being nimble, innovative and decisive. For experiences to matter, they have to be memorable, not large.

SIB: Let’s shift focus to startups that are getting into the field of marketing. Is it a hot sector to invest in?

VM: I like how the focus is shifting from Ad-Tech to Mar-Tech. The marketing industry needs radical innovation at scale and a lot of these startups are fueling that. It’s a great sector that will again continue to grow for some time. The challenge for investors, like most sectors, would be success ratios. As long as you steer clear of the me-too offerings, it’s a good sector to invest in.

SIB: How is artificial intelligence transforming marketing today? What are the emerging trends?

VM: We are still in early days of AI’s impact on marketing, and it’s already profound. The first wave is mostly centred on marketing automation for improving efficiencies. It’s trying to substitute human effort. The bigger impact, which we are likely to see in some time, is marketing effectiveness.

Targetting is already becoming a science. With AI powering analytics further, we’d see more aspects of marketing being influenced by it. The true value of AI lies in augmenting human abilities and not substituting them and we’ll probably see more of that in the next wave of developments in AI.

SIB: Finding the right audience/consumer in the larger universe is often the toughest part for a small business. What tips would you like to give small business owners in this regard?

VM: Finding the right audience can sometimes be like finding needles in a haystack. My advice to small (and large) businesses would be to start capturing consumer data. It doesn’t cost all that much, and allows you to start building buyer personas. With a little bit of analytics, you can start developing an understanding of – who is most likely to buy from you. This can build the foundation of your performance marketing strategy, where the investments can be focused, and returns measured.

SIB: Startups find it extremely tough to compete with peers as well as established players in their sector. Should your competition matter to your marketing strategy? 

VM: As a startup it’s important for you to have something that is remarkable about you. It could be your product, the company, its values or the delivery of service. If you don’t have anything remarkable, forget about marketing and find that first.

If you do have something remarkable in at least one aspect, chances are you are ready to be a disruptor to the established players. In that context competition is a consideration, not the focus of your strategy.

If you have a me-too offering in a crowded market, competition would matter more than any other factor.

SIB: There is a barrage of marketing options available today and sometimes that can be overwhelming for a startup. How does one choose the medium?

VM: The touch point and environment has become too complex for just one medium to focus on. I would recommend that a company starts by assessing their consumers’ decision journey and then focus on the important touch points along that journey.  where you want to have a meaningful interaction with them.

The most expensive touch point isn’t necessarily the best answer!

SIB: How important is content marketing for a startup brand today considering producing quality content costs time and money?

VM: The better your content, lesser the effort it needs to spread. If you have finite funds, you may be better off investing them behind making your content great. Distributing content that’s not exciting, can be a lot more expensive.

SIB: Traffic is of paramount importance for any business using digital/social media for promotion. Your top tips for increasing traffic?

VM: Quality of traffic is, in my opinion, more important than its quantum. It’s better to have a smaller user base that’s highly engaged, rather than a large but disinterested one. To steadily grow quality traffic, don’t treat digital or social as a one-time effort. Engage frequently, and meaningfully with your most loyal users.

Remember, it’s not a monologue, so listen as much as you tell. While creating content, make it about people and their interests and less about your company/ product.

SIB: What’s the most innovative marketing/advertising strategy you’ve ever worked on?

VM: I’ve been really lucky to be a part of many wonderful campaigns over the years, so it’s really hard to pick one.

Since you say innovative, an old campaign comes to mind. We were launching a new variant for a deodorant brand (Rexona) in Viet Nam. Deos was a small category and Rexona a smaller brand, so the marketing budget available was small. To make things harder, this was around time of the FIFA world cup 2010, where media noise levels are at their highest. A small campaign would have most-likely got lost in that context.

Here’s what we did. Instead of a communication campaign, we put all our efforts in building a digital platform to augment people’s football-watching experience. Personalised cheers and cheerleaders, powered by Augmented Reality. It went on to become a great success outperforming every metric of consumer and business impact. Approaches like this are common-place today, but this was done seven years ago in a small country like Viet Nam. Later on we were told, that it was the first-ever Augmented Reality marketing program in all of Asia Pacific. Made it kind of special.

You can see the campaign here

SIB: Brands that you admire for their unique advertising and marketing strategies?

VM: Under Armour, for consistently coming up with big ideas around the human aspect of sport; Amazon, for how it uses data to constantly improve shopper experience and Tata Tea, for turning a social purpose into a brand purpose.