Advertising Interviews

Kanika Mathur

President & Co-founder | 02 Jul 2010

It’s been a roller coaster ride and we don’t plan to get off! 2009 was quite challenging as many clients cut back on their marketing budgets. Despite the slowdown, we were able to acquire and grow many new key accounts in the FMCG and telecom verticals. We have been actively rolling out new campaigns in the last few months, with many more on the anvil. For us, 2010 looks really exciting. All our services are in demand and are growing.

Kanika Mathur provides business leadership at Solutions | Digitas – South-East Asia and India’s marketing services company. Mathur leads six offices in India and five in South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines). With over 300 employees, her team has consistently offered high-quality services to clients such as HP, Intel, Sony Ericsson, Cisco, P&G, Pepsi, Aviva and Philips.

Mathur started her marketing career at McCann Erickson. She co-founded Solutions in 1995 and has played a key role in creating a pan-Asian footprint for the company. She firmly believes that brands need to make connections with consumers and has worked closely with a large portfolio of multinational brands to create connects that amplify the brands’ propositions. She strongly believes that brand connects can be amplified through ‘integrated thinking’.

Mathur is known today for creating a heady mash-up of promotions, events, direct marketing and shopper marketing. These take on the avatars of large integrated marketing programmes that are unique and have demonstrated great business results.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Mathur speaks at length about the growth path of Solutions | Digitas, the strengths, and the road ahead.

Q. ‘As an agency, we are strong and are growing our digital business 100 per cent year-on-year for the past two years’, you had said that an interview last year. How has the year been for you?

2009 was quite challenging as many clients cut back on their marketing budgets. Despite the slowdown, we were able to acquire and grow many new key accounts in the FMCG and telecom verticals. We have been actively rolling out new campaigns in the last few months, with many more on the anvil. For us, 2010 looks really exciting. All our services are in demand and are growing.

Digital: We offer completely integrated digitals services to clients. This includes media, creative, analytics and insights. We offer state-of-the-art tools to our clients to listen, measure and analyse. Our clients recognise that today, with 80+ digital colleagues, we are probably one of the only companies who can ‘really’ offer an integrated digital solution.

CRM: As a company, we are deeply committed to CRM as a practice. We have the best talent in the industry as well as the access to global tools. We have the capability to build campaign management engines via our technology team .These tools are able to track individual customer interactions and also analyse and segment customer interactions. Armed with this data, a specialised creative team develops ideas and concepts that appeal to segments and give us great results. We offer CRM services both for trade and consumers. I am proud to say that this division has won several awards like the MAA Globes and PMAA.

Retail & Trade Marketing: Our retail and trade marketing services can be broadly categorised under three heads: (A) Retail design and merchandising (B) Retail audits, and (C) Sales & distribution programmes. Today, we design and deploy retail outlets, shop-in-shops, POP/POS. Run technology enabled retail audits (with PDA devices) that enable actionable data that drive business results and also run large filed force management programmes.

Events & Promotions: Experiential marketing business has grown considerably over the last 18 months. We run more than 300 events every year and several complex promotions that include activations in over 300+ cities in the country.

In addition, we have a small strategy and planning team that works closely with our account management teams to develop ‘integrated programmes’ that include all these services. It’s here that clients see maximum advantage as we are able to integrate our services and develop customised marketing programmes that drive ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) for our clients.

Q. How has the Solutions | Digitas tie-up worked for you? Please elaborate.

The Digitas acquisition has helped us accelerate our growth in three ways:
We work very closely with several US and UK offices to bring our clients the latest thoughts and strategies leading to cutting edge programme development. We have access to domain experts and highest order thinking in the digital and CRM space, and several clients have already experienced this.

In addition, we are setting up an analytics hub in New Delhi for Digitas as well as developing skills in specialised technology areas like Interwoven. Our India team has been working on off-shore assignments, and while doing so, we have been able to transmit Digitas tools and processes for our clients in India.

Learning & development: We have charted out a learning and development agenda for our key resources to better equip them for the challenges of 2010 and beyond. These include skilling in digital thinking as well as a personal development calendar.

Q. Channel marketing, trade and shopper marketing are big areas for you. How have you built up these areas?

Yes, these are big areas for us. We have over the years built an expertise and understanding of channels and we are running several channel marketing, channel development and retail loyalty programmes for IT, FMCG, telecom and industrial products companies. Shopper marketing is also very big. We are working with several clients to help drive more and more traffic into retail as well as help improve conversions at the point of sales.

We are focused on delivering innovative solutions for trade marketing and shopper marketing for our clients. Having run channel loyalty programmes for many years, we have rolled out many new successful initiatives, including PDA-based retail audit programmes, WOM (Word Of Mouth) programmes targeting retail channels, new analytical models for trade incentives, and retail signage and branding solutions across diverse verticals including FMCG, telecom and durables.

Q. How has the journey been for you till since your inception in 1995?

All I can say is, it’s been a roller coaster ride and we don’t plan to get off! From a two-bedroom flat to an APAC presence, we have grown from a 30-member team to a strength of over 300 employees. A lot has changed in the last 15 years, both internally and in the marketing landscape, but the passion hasn’t changed; we still share the same passion with which we started, to create great ideas and results for our clients.

Q. Which kind of clients are you servicing? Could you name some brands?

Ever since our inception, we have been a reliable partner for many technology vendors, including HP, Cisco and Microsoft. We have added many new clients to our portfolio, including ITC, PepsiCo India, JK Tyres, and Samsung, to name a few.

Q. What are your growth targets for 2010 and the way forward?

We have significant growth targets both in the digital and offline domain. As always, we aim to grow faster than the market growth.

Q. What processes have you introduced to unshackle creativity within the agency?

Creative freedom is the most important process needed to help people utitilse their full potential. Over the last year, we have been able to attract really talented people to our creative team. This year, Nanadu Narsimhan joined us and he is helping lead our initiative to integrate information and skills across our offline and online creative teams.

Nikhil Swarup doubles as Head of Digital Creative and Tech as well as being the strategic person who is infusing digital thinking into the company.

Q. How does the company deal with talent crunch issues faced in the industry?

It’s been an uphill climb retaining good talent during the slowdown, but we have managed fairly well. We have been able to get many talented colleagues on board. Employees appreciate our flat organisational structure, the inter-department camaraderie and the Digitas exposure. All this has been instrumental in helping us build and grow a dynamic workforce.

Q. Please share some of the recent developments at Solution | Digitas?

We just revamped our entire office to be more in sync with today, with a cool cafeteria and a new colourful look. This was inaugurated by Laura Lang our CEO, during her recent visit to New Delhi.

Q. What kind of media analytics and media analysing do you do for clients?

We offer a wide range of media analytics services, right from transactional analysis to web analytics to predictive modelling for CRM programmes. Our clients appreciate our consultative approach, where we collaborate and help create benchmarks and models for data analysis for a wide variety of marketing campaigns. We use several tools, including proprietary tools such as Digitas proprietary ‘Bench’ tools and ‘Listening’ tools to ensure we give best of breed analytics to our clients.

Q. How do you measure ROI for the client?

It all depends on the campaign objectives of our assignments. Many clients are looking for brand awareness, some for lead generation, while some are clearly focused on sales. Not only do we help establish the ideal benchmarks for a campaign before it kicks off, we also ensure we monitor them regularly. Since most of our campaigns use multiple media, we also try to establish KPIs individually based on industry-benchmarking tools and our own learning.

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