‘Long-term goal is to position Punt as retention-specialist’
Sidharth Rao and Madhu Sudhan talk about the idea behind launching Punt, the challenges and scope of mar-tech
Sidharth Rao, who stepped down as CEO of dentsuMB Group India and Co-founder of Webchutney, recently launched another entrepreneurial venture-Punt Partners-along with long-time friend Madhu Sudhan. Punt is a marketing technology services company based out of Bangalore.
“Madhu and I landed on this whitespace, a potentially $100 billion industry, after dozens of ideas and at least 3 MVPs,” Rao had said while announcing his move early this month.
In a conversation with e4m, Rao and Sudhan open up about their challenges, strategy and long-term plans for the new company.
Dentsu was named Agency of the Year at Cannes Lions. What then prompted you to leave the company at this juncture and launch your own venture - Punt Partners?
Sidharth: Back in ‘99, I saw the need for brands to shift towards digital, maybe a tad too early, and decided to start one of the first digital agencies in India. Today, I get a constant sense of déjà vu while watching agencies not able to fully grasp the urgency with which they need to build their marketing technology services stack. Digital advertising surpassing TV spends across the world is the end of an era. But it’s also the beginning of a complex and constantly changing one, with the mar-tech landscape gaining significance. I do believe that given the complexity that brands face, we’re about to see a giant wave of large-scale mar-tech service providers built out of India. And with Punt, we want to get a serious head-start.
The Indian economy is facing challenges at present. Job markets are tough, inflation is high and AdEx is not growing at the same pace as it was believed at the beginning of the year. Global economy is also steering towards a slowdown, reports say. What were your thoughts when you decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship at this crucial stage?
Sidharth: Well, you can ask any serial entrepreneur with all the conviction in the world, and they will all agree that any new venture, regardless of the macro-economic factors, is always a punt and ours is no different. However, both Madhu and I believe that there is a $100 billion digital services opportunity at the intersection of marketing and technology that’s not being correctly addressed at this moment in time - an industry whose incumbents are either IT services firms handicapped without complete marketing context or traditional advertising networks who’re currently playing catch up through inorganic buy-out strategies. We’ve got large ambitions here and aren’t afraid of putting in the work to get there.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
Madhu: Our long-term goal is to position Punt as a ‘Retention Specialist’. Most legacy advertising agencies are focused primarily on acquisition driven by performance marketing initiatives. However, not only is acquisition less cost-effective, but it will also ultimately plateau for brands. One tends to miss the quantum of first-party customer data that brands acquire over a period of time and continues to remain underutilized. Punt’s goal is to leverage this gold mine of data via technology to not only drive deeper engagements with customers but also increase their lifetime value, which will incrementally drive business goals.
Our short-term focus is to ensure that we bring on board the right talent that can comfortably sit at the intersection of marketing and technology.
How many employees do you plan to take on board initially?
Madhu: Our HQ and first delivery centre is being built out of Bangalore, with key members of the founding team present in both Delhi and Mumbai. Over the course of the next few months, we will also be announcing some key partnerships with mar-tech players and on-boarding a 30-member team to manage the relationships.
Who do you think is your biggest competitor in this domain?
Madhu: The current solution providers in the mar-tech space fall into three categories - IT services companies, Big4 consulting companies and advertising networks
The challenges that marketers face with them are that the Big4 and IT service firms do not understand the nuances of marketing and the big ad networks find it difficult to evolve due to their legacy. Solutioning is quite often driven by the feature set of the product rather than how it fits into the overall marketing stack and the marketer outcomes.
The marketing landscape continues to shift because mar-tech is becoming more sophisticated, enabling brands to better keep up with the ever-evolving customer journeys. Personalisation marketing tools that have been helping marketers for the last 10-15 years are now required to have privacy protocol as the third-party cookie crumbles. What are the biggest opportunities and challenges before you in this scenario?
Madhu: The end of the cookie era throws up a lot of opportunities as brands increasingly will need to use first-party data to develop their exclusive audience cohorts and targeting methodologies. The brands that will win this race will be the ones that are prepared to leverage first-party data, integrate it with new-age targeting tools and effectively cross-sell across platforms. However, the challenge will be the limited talent pool that not only understands marketing but can also comfortably apply technology to achieve outcome-based solutions.
Advertising itself is witnessing a churn with the advent of new digital platforms like programmatic, metaverse, NFT etc. How do you plan to leverage these technologies in your favour?
Sidharth: NFT, programmatic and metaverse are primarily acquisition-driven technologies. Mar-tech focuses on the post-acquisition stage to drive deeper engagements and increase the lifetime value of consumers. This space has also witnessed an explosion of newer technologies, platforms and formats to drive better ROI for businesses.
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