Advertising Interviews

Raj Gupta

Chief Strategy Officer - Asia Pacific | 12 Jul 2013

Though India is very important, but from a marketer’s point of view, China is the focus. At this moment, brands are still trying to win in China because they don’t think they have won there. To me, right now I think India should be playing at that level. But that doesn’t mean that India isn’t a priority. For most of our clients, India is a top priority market. For MEC, India is among the top ten priority markets.

As Chief Strategy Officer for Asia Pacific at MEC, Raj Gupta is the agency’s most senior strategist. He also heads up product and product development for APAC regionally and locally. Both the Analytics & Insight and MEC Interaction competencies in APAC report to him.

Gupta has been with MEC for 11 years, starting his career at TME Australia as a planner and leaving Sydney as Director of Strategic Planning. As Regional Planning Director, he has been involved in the communications strategy on clients such as Accenture, Citi, Chanel, Colgate, Campbell’s, Energizer, Mercedes-Benz, Singapore Airlines, and Sony to name but a few.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Gupta compares the India and China markets, elaborates on MEC’s Momentum offering and more...

Q. MEC launched its proprietary approach to understanding and quantifying how consumers make purchase decisions at Cannes Lions 2013 last month. What were the insights that led to this launch?

Momentum as a product for us has come about from the conversations we were having with our clients since the past five years. Clients felt that there was something missing that wasn’t telling the entire story from a consumer’s perspective.

We knew there had to be a better way; consumers don’t just follow a linear path – starting from awareness to preference to intent to buying something. Specifically in the digital age, people are clicking in and out of the buying process, and no was able to measure this.

Our initial visualisation was a complex matrix since people were taking so many different paths. We have put in a lot of our energies into this research, which has involved thousands of people and carried out over a duration of 18 months to two years.

Q. What has been the response to this?

We’ve got 20 projects lined up already, which shows the demand from our clients. In the beta phase, we had taken the product to clients like Citibank and Orange.

We were seeing a lot of disparate research happening around us, for instance, someone was doing an active purchase pathway journey or a perception study, but never something that offered the complete picture in one single study. People were trying to create proxy groups within their studies and use these proxy groups across other studies. What we were seeing is the ability to do this at a single source, which is so much more powerful for our clients in terms of completing that story.

Q. How will the launch of Momentum impact MEC’s India market?

One of our very first pilots was in India. From the conversations that I have been having with Gangs (T Gangadhar) over the last two to three weeks, Momentum is very much applicable to India, especially now since MEC has started to pick up bigger clients in India like the Britannias and Reliances of the world. We are able to have more strategic conversations with them now. Earlier, China, the US and the UK were priority, now we are getting brand scale in India on the back of the work that our India team is doing to bring this to life.

Q. How has the India market evolved from your perspective?

There are many economies in the world that are still growing and India is one of them. Although the GDP at the moment is being tempered, we are still seeing GroupM predict 8-9 per cent growth for India from a media point of view. We saw positive growth last year, which we can’t say for a lot of Western European markets. India, to me, is one of those markets where there is still so much untapped potential.

It is still one those markets on the growth path in terms of digital. I know that our teams at GroupM are very much into digital, but it still doesn’t compare to the other markets when you see the percentage of spends.

We are moving more into the mobile space with Dialogue Factory. In my opinion, India will become a completely mobile-focused market because of the number of phones out there, the GSM networks, and the way 3G is being built and expanded. India has latent potential. It is one of those markets that I look at from an APAC point of view. India should be competing with China.

Q. India is not on a level playing field with China yet...

Though India is very important, but from a marketer’s point of view, China is the focus. At this moment, brands are still trying to win in China because they don’t think they have won there. To me, right now I think India should be playing at that level. But that doesn’t mean that India isn’t a priority. For most of our clients, India is a top priority market. For MEC, India is among the top ten priority markets. That is why Charles Courtier, our global CEO; Stephen Li; Mark Patterson; and Rob Norman were here earlier this year.

Q. What are some of the challenges that are keeping India from reaching that level?

India has everything going for it. A lot of talent from India is being exported to developed markets such as the US and the UK, who will hopefully bring those learnings back into bigger jobs. But I don’t see India being a net importer of talent like China. In India, it’s the home-grown talent that is getting to the top.

As for the challenges, when it comes to digitisation, you are dealing with a market that is not growing at the same speed as some of the developed markets. Compared to this, China is currently getting to over 20 per cent in digital spends. My home country Australia is getting to 30 per cent, in the UK it is over 30 per cent.

Q. What are the tipping points for India to move ahead in this direction?

The advent of 3G and when broadband reaches critical mass – these will be the tipping points for India. These would result in changes in the market that are quite significant in the way communications are being deployed.

Again, to give you an example of China, internet connectivity has resulted in the explosive growth of online video. Now, there are more than 600 million people in China who have access to broadband and 700 million-odd phones that can play video.

Q. What are your focus areas for 2013-14?

We need to constantly improvise our media planning and buying products. You cannot stand still, otherwise your competitors with catch up with you and take over. Gangs has been very successful in terms of keeping that edge. My focus for Gangs exists in the strategic planning, insight digital areas, and planning space.

From my point of view, it is about how we deploy data into our business more effectively; to be able to plan with at a faster speed with more real time data. In some markets, we use Facebook and search to constantly reiterate the plans and use them as real time response devices to gauge whether an idea is working or not.

Launching Momentum in India and taking it to some of the bigger clients is another area of focus for me next year.

Continuing to grow our digital is also a focus area. I think, at the moment we have a strong digital operation, which is backed by the strength of GroupM. My biggest concern when it comes to digital in some of markets is when we are just planning in silos.

I want to continue to raise the consultancy within MEC going for our clients.

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