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Karthi Marshan

Executive Vice President & Head – Group Marketing | 21 Sep 2011

In the financial services category, trustworthiness is the price of entry. Expertise, knowledge and service are key augmented attributes people seek. Trust came to us naturally by dint of the actions this firm took time and again… Expertise is an attribute people do associate with the Kotak brand, thanks to the depth of knowledge… As far as service is concerned, since we have never had the benefit of lavish advertising budgets, we have had to rely on over-servicing our customers, to ensure they liked us enough to stay, to buy more and to bring their friends along too.

Karthi Marshan heads marketing for the Kotak Mahindra Group, India’s fourth largest private sector bank and BFSI conglomerate. In his role at Kotak, Marshan oversees marketing efforts across all the verticals that Kotak is present in, including insurance, banking, brokerage, asset management, et al.

Previously, Marshan has headed marketing at IDBI Bank, and co-founded Sharekhan, one of India’s leading retail brokerage firms. He started his professional career as a copywriter, then moved on to account management at Grey Worldwide, and subsequently produced television content for Sony India. Prior to joining Kotak, Marshan was based in Sydney, where he helped turn around an ailing DTH business that catered to the Indian Diaspora in the ANZ region.

An alumnus of IIM Bangalore (class of ’92), Marshan is a Mumbaikar who has been trying to escape from the madness of Mumbai all his adult life. Bangalore is his favourite city in India, Goa comes a close second.

In conversation with Shubhangi Mehta, Marshan speaks at length about Brand Kotak, its USP, leveraging social media and the youth connect…

Q. What has been the main USP of Kotak all these years?

First off, while our firm’s name is that of a bank, we are actually a very unique, fully integrated financial services provider, who is able to serve all your financial needs under the same roof. This in itself is a powerful USP. Especially in this day of the mall, where we are all so used to wanting and finding everything – from toothpicks to tents – at one place.

In addition, the unblemished reputation for expertise we have in all the spaces we operate in is a great weapon. But our most powerful differentiator is our relative youthfulness. And this is especially so because youth is a counterintuitive position in the BFSI category, where age has always been synonymous with trust, therefore interest. Our “coming of age” position has found appeal with the new, energised Indian who is perhaps seeking a peer to work with, not a senior to take advice from.

Q. Who are your creative and media agencies?

We work with a wide variety of partners since our communication interventions are 360 degree in nature. We work with JWT, Cartwheel and Saatchi for creative; Starcom and VivaKi Exchange for media planning and buying; Spatial Access for media audit; Aurum, Convonix, PureTech, Interactive Avenues and a number of others in the digital space; Mudra Max and Madison for OOH; and Genesis Burson-Marsteller for PR.

Q. What are the media vehicles that you intend to use to send across your message to your target audience?

It’s not one size fits all, it’s obviously horses for courses. We pick the media vehicles that fit the task at hand best. We have had great success using TV, OOH, print, digital, radio, cinema, et al. So it’s really what’s right for each programme, linked to audiences, budgets, impact, etc.

Q. Are you planning to do any kind of innovations when it comes to digital and social media?

Our biggest experiment and innovation in the digital and social media space is happening just now, as we speak. We spent a hefty 40 per cent of our campaign budget on OOH, where the only call to action was a website address – www.moneykamatlab.com. However, instead of leading people from that URL to Kotak’s corporate website, we led them to our page on Facebook. This is probably one of a handful of initiatives this country has seen where so much money has been spent to point people to a Facebook page. And it is already proving incredibly effective. Within three weeks of launching the campaign, we have grown our fanbase by 800 per cent and social interactions by 457 per cent.

Buoyed by the success of this radical experiment, we intend to continue to invest aggressively in building social interaction vehicles and platforms to connect with our audiences in ways that are proving meaningful to them, relevant and useful to us.

Q. What do you think are the attributes that help a brand like yours click and connect in the market?

In the financial services category, trustworthiness is the price of entry. Expertise, knowledge and service are key augmented attributes people seek. Trust came to us naturally by dint of the actions this firm took time and again, which may not have been the most profitable decisions, but were always the most prudent and customer-sensitive ones. Expertise is an attribute people do associate with the Kotak brand, thanks to the depth of knowledge of not just the very visible and articulate leadership of the firm, but also the acumen that is self-evident in interactions with every single employee. As far as service is concerned, since we have never had the benefit of lavish advertising budgets, we have had to rely on over-servicing our customers, to ensure they liked us enough to stay, to buy more and to bring their friends along too.

Finally, I believe authenticity is an attribute that is becoming more and more critical for brands in all spaces. We are walking the talk on this by being open about receiving feedback, by inviting engagement and interaction in developing our products and services, and by engaging in agenda-free conversations about the spaces we operate in, the mindsets of people towards money in general.

Q. What are your marketing spends for the current financial year?

It’s more modest than I care to admit, but a lot less lavish than what everybody thinks.

Q. Who do you consider your main competitors? How have you maintained an edge above them?

While we are relatively young and our network is still growing, compared to many of our peers, we are fortunate in that our customers count our name in the same set as those of the private sector majors. Thanks in large part to our unique genesis, viz. being founded by a savvy young promoter, as opposed to being sired by government agencies or large institutions, we have the natural advantage of being very entrepreneurial in our approach to serving customers. This, coupled with the very professional leadership that has joined and stayed with the firm for the better part of its 25-year existence, gives us a very unique appeal.

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