"If you like to challenge things, break up things"

Ashutosh Srivastava, Chairman & CEO, AMEA/Russia/Emerging Markets - ‎Mindshare, talks to exchange4media about emerging markets, the changing role of agencies and the benchmark for Mindshare India, the unit he headed for several years.

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Apr 2, 2018 9:00 AM

For Ashutosh Srivastava, who has spent decades in Indian media business and has led Mindshare India from the front for many years, the Indian market continues to be one of the most interesting ‘emerging markets.’

Now as Chairman & CEO, AMEA/Russia/Emerging Markets for Mindshare, Srivastava has several leading markets like Russia, UAE and Africa, to name a few, under his purview. However, he ranks India as one of the top three leading markets which is growing at a much faster pace than most other emerging markets. In a detailed conversation with exchange4media, here is what Srivastava had to say on the following issues:-

Changing role of media agencies: Earlier an agency’s primary role was media-planning and buying. Now it’s pretty much about advising clients on how to make better use of information, organizing data for them into actionable insights, getting a better understanding of consumers, what kind of content works and what kind of media can engage the consumers.

All those are increasingly complex areas requiring more expertise, insights, tools and the knowledge we develop in our business. So finding the right answers and hence the value of that work keeps going up. I saw an example for one of the financial services clients where we had set up a control room inside the client’s marketing organization which was tracking consumer response and giving them various insights into whether the various channels/media they are using, are working or not and also, what should be said to those people.

This is something we do around the world for clients and India is using it very well. The difference is that in the old days, clients used to do campaigns with a calendar for marketing, now it’s an all-year-round conversation with consumers.

Ad spends in India vis-à-vis other markets: I can contrast it with a country like China which is a six to seven times bigger market, simply because there are six to seven times more companies which are marketing their brands to the media for potential consumers. For this very reason, we don’t have the same number of brands in these categories and so the market is narrower in that sense.

The top marketers in India are going for a much larger percentage of overall ad spends when you compare it to China. It’s a much broader and deeper market. In India, if you search for the marketers that spend money on the media, the top ones will come out of just big cities. If you go to China, the top 15 cities are spread everywhere because there are companies that are springing up and are catering to large, national markets there. Some of them have gone global as well.

So it's simply a market at a different stage of maturity. There are more ad spends because there are more brands chasing consumers and therefore there is more money in the whole ecosystem. In India, it is not yet there.

Targets for Mindshare India: We want to continue to be the number one and keep adding value to the clients and the brands we work on. Things are changing, consumer habits have changed and competition is different.

Additionally, there is such an impact of technology on people and their behaviour is changing in a very fundamental way. So the way marketing was done in India when I was here 12 years ago has changed. Because we were doing things in a certain way in 2006. If we were to wait and sit on the laurels of 2006, we won’t be successful. I think the key to success is to have the vision to stay two steps ahead of the changes.

So anticipate the changes and build a capability to guide brands to do things differently. Also, attract the people that have a curiosity to find out about things ahead of everybody else. And therefore, build their knowledge, expertise and capabilities so that they can guide marketers and clients based on the knowledge they garner here by just being more curious, more creative, finding out things and having foresight in the market.

If you do that, you are obviously ahead of everyone else and more brands and clients want to work with you. They want to give you more work if they are already working with you. If you stay with the market, you will grow at the same pace. But if you like to challenge things, break up things; it is a culture which never takes anything at face value.

There’s a sense of restlessness about what next. Some of it is also shaped by the kind of client companies we work with and their culture as well. Look at Unilever which is about marketing excellence in this country. They may or may not do a great job today but tomorrow, they start afresh. I think some of those values reflect in Mindshare as well.

Changing pace of Indian market: Specific to India, business is growing and very fast at that. India continues to be an interesting market. In India, television is still big and strong. You use the word ‘emerging’ markets but it’s very difficult to classify it so because every market is an emerging market. For example, people call China an emerging market but it’s extremely mature in terms of consumer and technology.

India is not there yet. Factors like demonetization and GST made Mindshare’s role even more important for the clients. We need the skills that Mindshare has even more so now. Mindshare India has clients in just about every product category that I can think of. We’re still growing very fast because the same clients are giving us more work because their needs are expanding from a marketing point of view.

Thoughts on disruptors like Patanjali: They’re basically aiming at the bottom of the pyramid consumers with a value proposition which is all about price, heritage, all natural, Ayurveda, etc. and for them, there is a big market. The whole game for the initial stage of development is about making people aware of the brand and what it stands for and they spend lots of money doing that. They’re not at a stage where they are looking at each category and saying that now, I have reached saturation, I need some insights on what can I change to get ahead from this point onwards. It is natural, organic growth and they’re still in that phase.

At some point in time when it becomes a game of market share and the competitive pressure set in, they will need a specialized agency to tackle the problem. Right now, they’re just working on a simple insight that there are a lot of people in this country who believe in Ayurveda and natural products. But competition is coming there and so it will slow down the growth and they will need to figure it out.

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