‘Taking bets that pay off’

07 Sep,2011

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

An alumnus of IIM Bangalore (class of 92), Mr Marshan started his professional career as a copywriter, then moved on to account management at Grey Worldwide, producing television content for Sony India, heading marketing at IDBI Bank, and founding Sharekhan, one of India’s leading retail brokerage firms, along the way. Prior to joining Kotak, Mr Marshan was based in Sydney, where he helped turn around an ailing DTH business that catered to the Indian diaspora in the ANZ region.

In a candid one-to-one with Tuhina Anand, he speaks about Kotak’s age, both physical and mental, and why Facebook is better than the company website.


What would you describe as the Kotak Mahindra edge among the other players in the banking sector?

The first edge we can talk about is the fact that though our firm’s name is that of a bank, we are actually a unique, fully integrated financial services provider, which is able to serve all your financial needs under one roof.

Beyond that, we have long had a sterling reputation among consumer segments with respect to our expertise in the various financial spaces we operate in.

Finally, our relative youthfulness is, I believe, our most powerful differentiator. The fact is that our firm and its myriad offerings are all the progeny of the rapid pace of financial reform in this country over the last few decades. Thanks to this, we understand the emerging young post-liberalization India and are able to connect with, customize and serve it best.


When it comes to banking advertising, relationship seems to have become the focal point of conversation for all banks and it becomes difficult to differentiate one brand from another. Agreed that relationship building is important in banking, but how does one succeed in creating a brand that’s not me too?

You are absolutely right, the emphasis on relationships in BFSI communication has rendered the space quite commoditized and undifferentiated.

While the insight is valid, that relationship management is at the heart of successful business in our category, I think a key fact which has been glossed over is that things like service and relationships are merely empty promises if used in advertising, since consumers don’t believe such claims without trying. If you see an ad for a new ketchup that promises something special, next time you can pick up a bottle and give it a chance. If a coffee shop promises great service, you can sample it and decide for the price of just a cup. Banks don’t have the luxury of letting you sample anything, making trial very difficult. And it is compounded by approaches that boast claims which are hard for consumers to digest without trying.

As far as answering how one can succeed at creating a brand that’s not me too, I can only speculate. What we have been trying to do over the past couple of years is certainly an attempt in that direction, but only time will tell if our recipe worked.


Kotak’s earlier campaign was It’s great to be 25; now the campaign is Money ka matlab. What prompted them and how do the campaigns tie with each other?

The grt 2b 25 campaign was our response to what we saw as a disruptive positioning opportunity, rather than just a hoary anniversary celebration. It was our bet that the campaign would help us further enhance our credentials, create disproportionate growth in our recall scores and tell the story of our coming of age.

The campaign did all that and then some. So when it was time to do another round, we sought to consolidate the good it had done, and build on it. So, for instance, we stayed with the strategic choice of allowing regular folks to speak their minds instead of doing brand propaganda, which had worked really well. Needless to say, we also wanted to ensure we kept the youthful flavor of the brand alive. Beyond that, with Money ka matlab, what we essentially are seeking to do is use our age and connect it with a distinctive insight we developed on the evolving role of money in our country.

The bridges between the last and the current campaign are in the creative strategy, as also the fact that the current campaign also continues to celebrate our 25 years in the business.


What is the aim of the campaign and how has it helped the bank?

It is our belief that for categories like ours, as it is for categories like colas, the advertising is a part of the product. Hence a key aim of our campaigns is to make our brand one that people will prefer, at least from those segments that we are targeting. To this end, our research tells us that we need to constantly work on objective metrics like spontaneous and total recall, and soft measures like credibility, trust, et al. It’s too early to say if this campaign has helped move the needle or not, but I can say that the last campaign did certainly make a significant impact.


How long will this campaign continue, and what do you expect going ahead?

This campaign has just reached its most exciting part. We are in the last lap of the broadcast part, where we used TV, outdoor, radio and the internet quite aggressively to communicate the Money ka matlab platform. We have just now kicked off an engagement programme, where two motorcyclists are riding from Chandigarh to Bangalore, and asking people across India what money means to them. These interactions are being captured in video form and will be uploaded every day from along the route.

At the end of the journey, I am hoping we will be able to produce a meaningful document, in video and other forms, which will provide rich perspective on what money means to the people of India today.


As the campaign is active on the digital platform, it would mean you are looking at the young TG. How has the campaign fared with that TG?

The bulk of our fans on Facebook are in the 18-34 age group. However, it is a misconception that our target audience is only youth. We are conveying the brand’s youthful stance, to ensure it resonates with people of all age groups with a youthful bent of mind. What I mean by that is that in mindset terms, we are targeting people who will be comfortable with mobile and net banking, net-based trading, as well as the use of social media etc.


How much has been the spend on the Money ka matlab campaign? Would you say it looks like about Rs 100cr?

I will tell you what I can say. We have taken some fairly radical media strategy calls on this campaign.

First, we opted for very short length films, since we believe frequency is critical in this age of ADD (attention deficit disorder). Our average film length is 15secs.

On TV itself, we took a bet that really paid off, where we eschewed the main general entertainment channels and focused on news, movies, infotainment etc.

Next, we used outdoor as a primary medium, not a support medium. We spent as much or more on OOH as we did on TV. Our insight was that people in cities are spending more time on the road than they are in front of their TVs and its mostly idle time, waiting in traffic jams, providing us a receptive audience. Also, the format of the medium itself lends stature to the brand.

Finally, we focused all our messaging to drive traffic not to our brand website, but to our Facebook page. This again is insight-based. Today, people want to hang out at the mall, not come to your branch. Hence, if we want to engage them, we have to go to the mall. Similarly, few people actively seek out and visit brand websites, but it seems almost everybody will soon be on Facebook. Hence the bet.


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